That’s what my wonderful and amazing physical therapist said to me. She was having me walk side by side with her while she held her hand up, palm towards me, and had me lean my left shoulder against it as we walked. It was to retrain my brain, though she didn’t specify that, I knew that was the purpose of the exercise.
I tend to favor my left leg, therefore, I walk crooked. My gait is off, with the resultant muscle cramps on that side. Muscles screaming at me, hey, this is not our regular job!
But that’s what naturally happens with an injury, you subconsciously splint whichever part of the body has suffered, to protect it. It is primal, it is reflex, it is the survival instinct.
After the horrific pain I experienced for weeks, due to sciatica and a slipped lumbar disc, my brain wants to avoid a repeat. I don’t even have to think it. It’s like breathing. I limp when I don’t have to.
Now, I have to interrupt the distress signal that’s automatically being sent out. I have to teach my brain that it’s OK now. It’s OK to put my full weight on my leg. It’s OK to walk normally. It’s OK to climb one step with it, and step back down with it. I won’t crumble.
Now at the end of week 6 since this saga began, I am doing much better with medication and even better with PT, after only two sessions so far. I thought for sure there would be hell to pay the morning after my first session, but amazingly there was almost no pain in the morning, which is when I suffer the worst pain of the day, usually.
My therapist is showing me what my leg can still do, putting it through a workout, which even includes pedaling a stationary bike. At first, I was skeptical, but I got on the bike, put my feet on the pedals and got going, and it was like: Look, Ma, no pain!
I have to admit that my favorite moments of that hour and a half are the heat treatment in the beginning, followed by massage to my sore left side and leg, and the ice treatment, along with lower back muscle stimulation, at the end.
In between those moments, I could very well be at a gym with my own personal trainer coaching me through one exercise followed by another and then another. Everyone is masked, given the age we live in now, and everyone is pleasant and accommodating.
I actually look forward to going to my twice-a-week sessions, and I’m thankful to having my leg back in action and my pain mostly gone. And I do my exercises faithfully every day to strengthen my leg and my core. And hopefully, I will need no further intervention.
My pretty IV. Never had one that’s pink and purple before.
just like I never had sciatica land me in the hospital before.
it’s been a wild two weeks. I had faith that my doctor’s conservative treatment of steroids and nerve pain medication at bedtime would do the trick.
just like I had faith in him. For the past twenty years or more.
Exactly one week later on Monday, I returned to his office, after making it clear to his staff that it was either his office or urgent care.
Can you be here within the hour? they said. I could and I did. He suggested that we increase the nightly nerve pain medication dose and that I start a narcotic to treat the pain that had settled like hot daggers in my calf. Plus Motrin 600 mg every 8 hours for pain as well. And he would order an MRI.
I said, what about the inflammation? He said since the steroids didn’t work, why repeat them? He said that the Motrin would help with that too. Now, he knows who he is talking to. I gave him a look and all he said to me then was, “OK, Irma?”
Since this wasn’t McDonald’s, I couldn’t change my order at will. I took my prescriptions and limped to my car where my husband waited. I scheduled the MRI, the soonest was Thursday, while in the car waiting for prescriptions to be filled.
The pain was doing me in. Especially in the mornings. I don’t cry easily, but I did a lot of crying Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning. Bent over whatever countertop I could get to, I bawled with the pain, a walker at my side. We ended up with two of them from when my husband had an MI five years ago, and boy, did they come in handy now.
I ended up taking one Motrin 600 mg. It tore my stomach up. I took it with trepidation, but I was desperate so I took the plunge. I lived to regret it. The narcotic he put me on was like taking water for the pain I had. I sought relief from hot showers, letting the water soothe my leg. And from my trusty heating pad, half expecting to incur 3rd-degree burns before it was all over. Sleep? What was that?
I made it to the MRI on Thursday evening. I was glad it was an evening appointment because that was when my pain was near tolerable, but still, lying in that constricting tube with my eyes tightly shut, my ears plugged with soft foam plugs, and covered with heavy headphones that were supposed to provide music, music that was overpowered by the loud clicking and clanging noises of the machine, all I could think of was that my leg was hurting me. I had to lie flat on my back, and that position was not the most forgiving. And I had to lie still, 30 minutes the tech said. I couldn’t move, even if I’d been able to, wedged in as I was.
That night I made an effort to sleep, but by 4 a.m., when I’d struggled to the bathroom, I lay in bed and cried. I knew the gig was up. It was time for the ER. I took one of my fake pain pills, and gave it an hour. Meanwhile, my husband was up and ready to go. Don’t push me, I said.
We got to the ER at 7 a.m. and it was blissfully empty. Not a soul except the staff. That was a bonus in this covid age. I was in the back getting an IV started within 10 minutes. My nurse was this cute little guy that could have been my son. He pushed Dilaudid and Decadron into my vein and smoothly removed those boiling, hot daggers from my leg. I almost cried again with relief. They’d been in there for over a week.
I had a barrage of doctors come by. They all agreed on the treatment, steroids to reduce the inflammation around the nerve, potent narcotics for pain, a strong muscle relaxer, double the administration of the nerve pain medication, among other meds, and admission until pain controlled sufficiently to go home.
A neurosurgeon had been called and he was the first to arrive. I saw the MRI, he said. You have a slipped disc which is causing pressure on the nerve. It’s a slight protrusion he said, but you have degenerative changes and I would not want to go in there to fix it. Thanks, RA! was my first thought. But I didn’t want him to go in there to fix it, either.
An injection into the nerve was also suggested, but I decided to make that plan B. We would go with the meds, body mechanics, exercises, and physical therapy first.
Last night, I had another great nurse. We spent half the night talking. When the day nurse had asked me what I wanted to share about myself on the info board in my room, I said I have RA, thinking clinically. And she said no, something personal, so I blurted out what I like to do best, reading and writing. He noted that and the conversation started from there and went on most of the night.
He held my hand on the way to the bathroom and back. This was an observation unit where the rooms do not have their own bathrooms. It wasn’t far from my room, but it might as well have been miles away. And once on the way back, which was the most painful part as my nerve was now awakened to the fact that I was upright and moving, I said the bad word that rhymes with truck.
I immediately said sorry, but he started laughing. By this time we felt we knew each other, and he said, I never thought I would hear that word from you. And then I started to laugh, in-between gasps of pain.
I fell asleep between 3 and 6 a.m., when he woke me up for my meds. And later, when I managed to get to the bathroom alone as the day nurse didn’t respond to my call, I discovered that half my pain was gone! It only hurt from the knee down and that was cut in half as well. It was hallelujah time, and time to arrange for going home. The meds had made progress in less than a day.
The beast has been tamed. Though not altogether vanquished, its growls have been reduced to whimpers.
I had a total of four physical therapy sessions that boiled downed to learning some exercises to strengthen the muscles of my legs and limit pressure on the sciatic nerve itself. They all happened before I flew to Los Angeles exactly three weeks ago, a five-hour plane ride that I was dreading, and which dread spurred me to hurry up and do something!
The flights were not fun, there and back, but were thankfully direct so were over and done with as quickly as humanly possible. Aisle seats helped a lot as I didn’t have to maneuver that tiny space between seat rows.
Sitting hurt, but standing up hurt worse. At least, for that first step or two. I managed to get through the four days we were there fairly well. The ache a dull roar down my leg. But I’m very glad we went because we got to see my father-in-law in good spirits, and albeit with a cane, walking better than I was.
I held off taking Prednisone during the trip, but after flying back on a redeye, and with the three-hour time difference, the jet lag threatened to bury me. So I caved and did a six-day hit (20, 20, 10, 10, 5, 5 mg). That did the trick and also soothed away the egregious pain, for the most part.
I remain quite conscious of that leg, or that nerve, I should say. I turn over in bed with great caution. The wrong move sent an electrifying jolt down my leg and left a painful residue behind. For hours and sometimes for the whole rest of the day or night.
I’m careful not to sit too long either, which kind of puts a kink in the works since I work sitting down. I keep hearing my PCP’s admonition as he scribbled away on his Rx pad, “Don’t sit!”
This has also put my home downsizing project on hold. No more climbing the stepladder, no more lifting heavy books, no more pushing furniture around. Now I look at our record collection longingly. Yes, vinyl records, about 200 or more taking up space. They need to go into another room where I can’t see them anymore, as I’m not allowed to get rid of them. I guess I could carry them there one by one. Two by two.
Since I couldn’t sit and I couldn’t lift, I turned to culling my photo collection, and framing some of my more treasured moments. This fun trip down my personal memory lane was facilitated by using my cutting table as a work area. It’s high enough that I can stand and cut out countless quilt pieces without incurring miserable lower back pain.
I have not returned to PT, though they’ve been calling me. I don’t see the need. I should probably tell them that. I think I derived enough from those sessions to basically practice prophylaxis and prevent another attack of sciatica in future.
Still, I thought more info wouldn’t hurt so I bought a book last night. It’s written by a sciatica sufferer and at a whopping $4.99 for an eBook, I expected a lot more than I got. True, clinically, I realized I would know quite a bit, but at the very least I expected something that couldn’t be read in one sitting. What was even more disappointing is that it could have used some editing and a whole lot of proofreading. It feels like I threw my money away, but I guess, caveat emptor.
Though my screaming leg has shushed, I remain vigilant. And for now on standby, with a bag mentally packed. We have received word that my father-in-law is failing. He has battled multiple myeloma for several years and it appears his time is near.
Big Al with us at my husband’s graduation from Texas A&M Maritime Academy. A long, long time ago.
So, I’ve been home for over three weeks. My zest for cleaning out my nest is unfaltering. Seems like an addiction. I can’t stop myself. Twenty-six years in one place will result in an accumulation of unmentionables, and I don’t mean those kind of unmentionables. More like: What was I thinking when I bought this. Quick! Into the trash before someone sees it!
Closets that I considered too small for anything are springing forth a surprising amount of things. It’s not quite the ubiquitous movie scene where a character opens a closet door and is immediately buried in stuff, but close. Where did I find the time? Not only to collect all this stuff, but to store it. So neatly even.
It’s like I’m peeking into someone else’s life. And in a way, I guess I am. That me barely exists anymore.
That me was busy, night and day, raising kids, holding down a job, running a full house. I didn’t have time to be sick. When RA came knocking, I ignored it, who knows for how long? I had no time, no room in my consciousness for me, for my goals, for my dreams.
So much has changed. And the trip down memory lane as I was cleaning out my younger daughter’s room was bittersweet. Six years after she moved out, I accept the fact that she has moved out. But I’m happy she “takes” me with her on her adventures around the world. I’m her editor, copyeditor and proofreader. She has to take me!
The room will now be strictly her dad’s office/bike room. The wall of shelving in her room yielded all kinds of memories, plus toys and books that I will donate. One thing those shelves held was a mother lode of Barbies. Twenty, if I counted correctly, all in their original boxes, untouched. I doubt she has any use for them now. I will ask, but I think I can safely assume that my granddaughters will end up sharing this booty.
I will give the dolls to them slowly, gradually, over several years so that I can stretch out the joy. I picked one out already for the four-year-old, who’s in her Disney Princess phase. I placed it in “her” room, waiting for her next visit.
And what else have I found during my epic housecleaning? A bout of sciatica. Though it rarely bothers me, I developed it thirty years ago while having my older daughter. It landed me on bed rest at seven months into the pregnancy. The irony: she was my tiniest baby, five pounds seven ounces.
By contrast, my younger daughter weighed exactly the opposite, seven pounds, five ounces. And though I feared being left crippled by another pregnancy, having her was a breeze. I even got my first epidural, ever. Wow! What a difference a little needle makes.
So now I’m on a Medrol Pak, more steroids! And tomorrow I start some physical therapy. I’m not down or out, mind you. Just inconvenienced. After a two-day rest, my cleaning goes on at a slower pace. No more heavy lifting, and the hopping on and off the stepladder has been temporarily suspended.
What’s prompting the physical therapy is that in less than two weeks I will be sitting on a plane for five plus hours on my way to Los Angeles. Ouch!