Off-topic: Inject, drip, convalesce, and thank you.

Off-topic: Inject, drip, convalesce, and thank you.

Summary: This is completely off-topic, but tomorrow morning, I'm heading to a neurologist's office to have a pain killing formula epidurally injected and dripped onto the root of the sciatic nerve that sits between vertebrae L5 and S1 in my lower back.   For close to three months now, I've been in a battle with three herniated discs in the lumbar region of my spine.

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TOPICS: Telcos
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This is completely off-topic, but tomorrow morning, I'm heading to a neurologist's office to have a pain killing formula epidurally injected and dripped onto the root of the sciatic nerve that sits between vertebrae L5 and S1 in my lower back.  

For close to three months now, I've been in a battle with three herniated discs in the lumbar region of my spine.  The discs have been herniated since 1991 but the pain was managable until I gained too much weight and then, one week before Christmas, my three year old son very innocently jumped on my back for a horseback ride.  I was immobilized for about a half an hour, unable to get up from the floor.  Surgery is a last resort for herniated discs.  Time and physical therapy are better, less invasive choices if they can work.  Losing weight isn't a bad idea either.  You don' t have to be overweight to have problems with herniated discs.  It just takes that 1 extra pound beyond your back's threshold  to trigger a debilitating episode. I was not careful about my weight and apparently crossed that threshold.  My discs were already complaining about my weight when it was apparently time for a horseback ride.  Since then, I've lost 20 pounds, visited both the accupuncturist (with amazing results) as well as a chiropracter and the pain in my back itself has subsided.

But one of the discs (the one between L5 and S1) decided to do something new for this episode. In the middle of January, just when I was really feeling as though I was coming out of the woods from the horseback ride, it decided to pinch a sciatic nerve.  The sciatic nerve that's rooted at L5/S1 runs down your back, into your but, through your hip flexor, down your thigh to the outside side of your calf and terminates in your big toe.  So intense can the pain get when the nerve is inflamed or "hot" as the doctor likes to say, that there's literally no position (not standing, sitting, or laying down) that can ease it.  To make matters worse, my right foot is completely numb and the muscles in my right leg have atrophied.  To give you an idea of how intense the pain is, Percoset is like baby aspirin. Accupuncture and chiropractic manipulation couldn't scratch the surface either. So, in saying "there's Vicodin, then Percoset (which is like 4 Vicodins), and then there's this," my doctor has put me on something even stronger.

Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.  Without the meds, I can't sit at my computer and do much work let alone do anything else (eg: play with my kids).  I can't get into the car to get to the doctor's office. With the meds, I'm back on my feet, but it's difficult to concentrate on anything and all I want to do is sleep (and with the meds, I can also get into the car, but I really shouldn't be driving).  In either case, blogging is damn near impossible.  Podcasting is a little easier because I don't have to stare at a computer screen, write or edit.  If I lay off the meds just to get my sanity back and try to get some work done, I can only work for very short periods and I still feel like I need to take them just to get to sleep.  This must be how addiction begins (which is why I have to ditch the meds as soon as possible).  Laying down (to sleep) is a position that intensifies the pain and I've yet to perfect sleeping while standing up (the position that is the least of all evils). 

Without sleep, the sciatic nerve thrives on exhaustion and the pain intensifies. The problem practically feeds on itself, trapping its victims in a no way out situation. The goal of the epidural injection is to eliminate the downside of the meds, kill the pain for about six weeks, and get me started on the physical therapy that's apparently needed to cool down the hot nerve (currently, physical therapy is too painful to consider). In other words, the injection is to get out of the trap.  It will also enable me to do things like sit on a plane as long as the seat belt sign is illuminated so I can go to events like PC Forum next week.  It was a combination of the meds and a homeopathic remedy that got me to California for Mashup Camp and that kept me on my feet for those two days, crooked as I was.  But did you notice? Dan Farber did all the blogging.  I could stand and talk.  But that was it.

So, why am I writing about this?  First, it's at times like these when you're down like this that you find out who your real friends are.  You, know -- the ones that stand by you, pick you up, and say things like "whatever it takes."  So, now that it looks like I'm about to turn a new corner, I'd like to say thank you to the people that got me through this ordeal so far; Folks like Dan Farber, ZDNet senior editor David Grober, CNET broadband senior producer Marianne Wilman, Mashup Camp co-organizer Doug Gold, my new hero Mary Hodder, my new friend Kaliya Hamlin (both of whom were critical to the success of Mashup Camp),  my neighbor Tim who kept our driveway clear of snow throughout the winter, [updated: Dan Bricklin who routinely checked-in on me], and most of all, my best friend: my wife who has proven throughout this ordeal what it means to be someone's soul mate.  When I basically didn't have a backbone, she took its place.  And then some.  Babe, I will always stand by you.

Secondly, I'm curious to know from others who've been through this; either a inflammed sciatic nerve, an epidural injection (but not for pregnancy), or both.  What has worked for you? Did the epidural work as advertised? Were there any side effects?  Were you able to return to normal life?  Were there relapses?  Thirdly, I've heard about people who live in chronic debilitating pain.  Sometimes, I'd see them on TV, particularly news magazines. But I was never able to relate. I often thought it was all in their heads.  That can't be how the human body really works.   It's a hard -- almost impossible -- to relate to someone else's pain because you can't feel it or see it.  Now, I feel badly about thinking that.  Now, I can completely empathize. To those of you in that sort of pain out there,  I'll never think that again.

Topic: Telcos

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23 comments
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  • Get well soon David!

    And if you need to dictate any 10,000-word blog posts to me over the phone, I'm there for you. :-)
    David Grober
    • Thanks David

      I'm working on it. And don't worry, I may be able to write 10K word posts. But in my current state, I concentrate long enought to come up with one, let alone hold it in my head long enough to dictate it.

      Thanks again.
      dberlind
  • Chronic pain

    Is one of many conditions that "don't show." There's no real objective test, there's nothing that others can see and relate to. To them it's hard to believe in.

    David, my best wishes -- but if you can spare a moment to think of others, remember that pain is only one of many "invisible" disabilities. ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders, etc. are all similarly invisible and hard to believe.

    It's educational when you run head-on into them.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Amen Yagotta

      I'm actually intimately familiar with another one of the ones on your list. It too was one I had to see to believe. It sure is educational. And I'm way less skeptical now than before. Thanks for your best wishes.
      dberlind
    • Invisible disabilities

      Right there with you - thought parents just didn't care for their kids until two of mine were diagnosed with ADHD. Now, I know better than to think the parent doesn't care or doesn't know how to parent.

      You adjust, you learn, you start spotting things before rushing to judgement...
      grillin_man
  • Been there, had it ALL done...

    Three Operations.
    A dozen MRI's.
    Cat Scans.
    Myelograms (ouch).
    Discography (super-major omg ouch!)

    I'm now fused at 3 levels with steel rods, plates and screws.

    I'm very familiar with the term sciatica!
    BitTwiddler
    • Man, my heart goes out to you...

      three operations? one for each of the fusions? How has that affected your mobility? I can't imagine how fusion doesn't impair your mobility. Especially if it's a three locations in a row in the lower back (which it would be for me). There are some new experimental surgeries... I saw one on TV where they replace your disc with the equivalent of a stainless steel universal joint. The results that I've seen look promising. Fusion is the one that I worry about. I feel badly for what you've been through.
      dberlind
  • Sciatica

    My Wife had a severe case, couldn't sleep, really couldn't even lay down. Doctor prescribed Physical Therapy, Pain Killers. The Physical Therapy was excruciating. Finally went to Chiropractor. The Chiropractor wouldn't do a thing until he had Xrays in hand (something the MD didn't seem to deem necessary). After a series of treatments (2-3 weeks), She has been pain free. She has a simple exercise to do daily. If she starts feeling good enough to skip the exercise, the pain will come back, but as long as she does exercise, she is fine. I'm sure everyone's experience will be different, but in her case Chiropractic was preferable to Physical Therapy.
    jimbo_z
    • Daily therapy/exercise is apparently key

      Good to hear a success story. That's the other part of what got me here. When I originally herniated the discs and they seemed to get better, I was less motivated to do the therapy (basically, stengthening the wrest of the abdomen to take over the job of supporting the torso). So, she did the physical therapy with the pain killers and it was still excruciating? I can see how. Even with the pain killers, there are somethings that I still can't do. I've been to the chiropractor and she's actually the one that first recommended the injection. She was having no luck because she couldn't even get me into the positions she needed to get me into to do the manipulation. She felt the injection was really my only choice. My doctor concurred.
      dberlind
  • Sympathizing.

    It's often inappropriate to give advice to someone who's hurting, partly because pain and attempted relief affects judgment, and partly because reality gets very demanding.

    So, when it's not an imposition, I hope you'll consider what it will take to resolve the problem. If surgery is needed, surgery should happen.

    Recovery from fusion is long and aggravating. The most important part is how you feel about each day, and you sound very lucky in the people around you. Not luck in the sense of chance...

    But now, my sympathy. The recollection of pain does fade, even if you do remember clearly how you reacted. This will be something you look back on, and now the job is to get it out of your present.

    Do well. Get well.
    Anton Philidor
    • Much appreciated...

      I intend to put this behind me. But I can't forget it either because as long as I remember what this is like, I'll do the exercises, the therapy, the yoga, the tai chi, or whatever it is that I have to do to make sure it doesn't happen again. So thanks for your well wishes and sympathy. Now, if only they'd make a special workstation for people in this sort of pain. There is one position that is a good one if you can get away with lying around like a sack of potatoes: draped across one of those big medicine balls you see in a gym. This puts your back in traction. I tried working like this.. .with a notebook computer propped up on a box on the other side of the ball,... but it's not workable long term. It has inspired me to invent something for people in my predicament though.
      dberlind
      • Speech recognition

        Still not perfect but has improved with the last CTP for Vista. Dragon Naturally Speaking is pretty robust as well. Might allow you to work while "assuming the position"
        grillin_man
        • Guffaw.

          Assume the position! What a hoot. I need to use that phrase more often when I get down with my rear end just waiting to be kicked. Speech recognition isn't a bad idea. Part of the problem is finding a position where your neck isn't bent in some weird angle to keep a steady view of the display (in such a way that you don't wake up with a stiff neck). As you may be able to see, I've put a lot of thought into this... which is why I think I'm going to invent something that people in my predicament will just love.
          dberlind
  • Get well soon

    David,

    Not experienced with what you have. Have watched my wife go through painful times with back and knees - still not easy to do as the spouse. Times like this do truly show who the friends are - don't forget them when you're back to 100%.

    Listen to the physical therapist...even when you think you're good to go...do the exercises until the professional tells you stop. :-)

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
    grillin_man
    • Speedy as possible

      Thanks Grillin Man... (that's not a George Foreman grill, is it?). Somewhat equally important is not to do more than they say. I'm the kind of person who will say, oh, this feels pretty good, I'm going to do 10 more. Recall that I said that my sciatic nerve went "hot" just when I felt like I was coming out of the woods. My sense is that part of what triggered the sciatic nerve event was that I was pushing to hard, and I was more confident in what I was capable of than I physiologically really was. So, thanks for the advice.. I won't forget those who supported me and good luck to your wife.
      dberlind
  • I haven't experienced...

    anything like you have, but my uncle suffered from a pinched sciatic nerve about a year or so ago. I was there when it first hit him: I was in my room(We live in the same house) and I heard pained noises coming from his room. He was on the floor, laid out and in a lot of pain. I asked him if he was alright, and he said he couldn't stand up and felt a hot-like sensation shoot from his waist to his feet. He knew something was wrong with his back, and he was scared thinking it might lead him into a wheelchair for the rest of his life. For about a half-hour, he stayed on the floor, unable to stand. When the sensation subsided and he was able to stand, he immediately went to the hospital. They did surgery on his back to relieve the pressure on the nerve, and he had to take meds to relieve the pain while recovering.

    How is he doing now? It's not completely gone, but he's pretty spry and he's pretty much off his meds. So I'm hoping your trip to the neurologist will bring a similar ending to your ordeal, and some much needed rest. God speed and good luck, David!

    PS - It turns out my uncle's also a ZDNet talkbacker, ObeyMeIAmRoot, so there's a possibility you may hear from him, too.
    Tony Agudo
    • That's a good happy ending

      I'm glad to hear things ended happily for your uncle. Spry is a good goal. I may not be able to go to the public trapeze, but I'd like to be able to take my son to the batting cages or the golf course to knock a few balls around. Anyway, thanks for the story wth the happy ending. I'm hoping to avoid surgery. But if it comes to that, it comes to that and at least I'll know that I tried everything else first.
      dberlind
  • Ouch!

    Sorry to hear about your condition David. I wish you all the best.
    P. Douglas
    • Mucho gracias

      Thanks for the well wishes P.
      dberlind
  • Best of luck

    As we discussed at MashupCamp, I can only feel your pain - having my last two discus crushed. Get better soon David.
    JeffClavier