Saturday, 20 January 2018

Discomfort and disquiet

I get that what I experience as pain is probably nothing compared to what others experience. But this is my blog and I’m uncomfortable. In the sense of “you may feel a bit of discomfort”. In the sense of “you will know great pain.”

I have had three serious back spasms in my life. The first in 1984, then in 1990, and in 1996. Each had a similar progression: Rob is fine; Rob falls to the floor in blinding pain; Rob is unable to move for about four hours; usually with the help of a handy dorm-mate or friend Rob gets to some kind of medical service; and then Rob spends several weeks in various degrees of pain and discomfort while things work themselves out.

I am currently experiencing something akin to a back spasm, but have skipped steps 2 and 3, having not had an obvious 'event'. Since just before Christmas, my lumbar back has been ... off. Ranging from a little twingey to sharply owie to basically okay. With better days and worse days. Starting Thursday I guess, I went from ‘not great’ to ‘downright owie’. Which I’d still characterize as ‘occasional’ or ‘episodic’. There are times, particularly if I’ve been standing up straight for a while, or lying down for a while, when I actually can’t tell much is wrong. Until I move.

But similar to previous experience, the pain is in my lumbar back. In previous episodes it started clearly in one spot (one doctor looked at my back, and saying ‘oh yeah, right there’ was able to shove his knuckle into the middle of it). This didn’t start in one spot all at once, but sort of started ‘vaguely my lower back’ and has started to concentrate in a spot just to the right of the base of my lumbar spine. Which as I recall is actually a vertebra or two lower than I think it was in the past, but that could be just not remembering exactly correctly. Or it could really be different. We’re definitely approaching the sacroilial end of the lumbar spine, I think.

So depending on how I move, I get an acute (both in terms of sudden and in terms of sharp) pain that happens when I try to move, particularly going from relatively curved over (slouched) to a properly curved lumbar spine. I’m better the straighter I can keep my back. So standing up or sitting down, or lying down is kind of an adventure of trying to realign my spine. I can actually bend over (a bit, with my back straight), get down to one knee (for instance, to pick up the slice of turkey I dropped on the floor because I dropped it trying to get it onto my sandwich from the wrong angle), get myself in and out of bed, in and out of the shower, on and off of the toilet, and so on. But twingey twinge. I have taken, apparently, to trying to turn my gasps or squeals of surprise and pain into warblings of familiar songs. Most recently the Star Spangled Banner. “Owie, Ow ow ow Ow”, like a one-man Muppaphone.

I’ve also noticed a familiar post pain-flare symptom, which is that a dull ache seems to radiate around and down my right ilium (hip bone), as if those muscles that attach there (notably quadratus lumborum) are either working really hard either trying to keep me upright, or are getting yanked on by my (erector spinae?) muscles in spasm. Which is why I have decided this is an actual muscle spasm, and not just me getting old and decrepit and increasingly out of shape. I mean, I’m sure it doesn’t help, but this is different.

What I learned from three previous trips to the doctor is once you get vaguely ambulatory, it’s best to stay that way—there’s no benefit from three weeks of bedrest. Also heavy muscle relaxers don’t really help a lot, especially if you get so depressed on one you become afraid to take it in the third day.

So I’m not just going to crawl into bed and hope it goes away, although I plan to spend as much time as possible flat on my back for the rest of the weekend probably. My immediate problem, aside from being in variable degrees of pain, is that weekend was meant for the reading of manuscripts and marking of papers. I could probably still read, standing up, with the tablet, but this plan doesn’t allow me to make notes trivially, which is kind of the point of reading. I think marking papers, which pretty much requires me to bend over a stack of papers for a couple of hours, is not going to happen.

If I feel better tomorrow, I might try to rig up something that will let me stand at my desk so at least I can read on the screen comfortably, and possibly type notes with the keyboard. But for the moment, I’m just going to try to not collapse in pain crying.*

I used to own a pair of forearm crutches that I bought cheap off a friend who had CP (I think she was switching to a wheelchair--anyway she had a set she sold me for $20 or something), because it was easier to bear my weight on my wrists and shoulders than my back. I also made my mother buy me a drafting table when I went off to grad school so I could sit more upright when I read. I left the drafting table in California because I couldn’t figure out how to move it to Wisconsin in my car, and I finally got rid of the crutches when I moved in 2015. So of course I’m wondering if having kept them would have made anything easier. On the other hand, this is Canada and it can’t be that hard to get a pair of used forearm crutches from somewhere. Which I probably won’t need again for another 20 years, in which time I will get rid of them just in time for my next spasm. I guess.

In brighter news, this is Canada, and you can get OTC methocarbamol, which I’d never even heard of before I came here. Marketed specifically for back spasms, it may not help, but it isn’t going to hurt—I’ve never gotten depressed or scared on it, and its potential for abuse is extremely low.

*I’m not actually a crier. That is, about pain and horror. It has been known for me to lose it over a coffee commercial**, or the odd sporting event, but that’s not the same. So I don’t actually cry, unless I’m actually in personal despair, which I’m unlikely to be unless I become seriously disabled by this. Which is, to say the least, unlikely. But knowing I have, likely, a week of serious hobbling is going to get me down, especially if it means I can’t get what little work I was looking forward to doing done.

**It’s an old Folgers one that comes around again every once in a while, with the teen boy bouncing a basketball in the kitchen, when his brother comes home from the army, and the coffee he has wakes up the mother. “You two never could let us sleep. My baby! My baby!” That one. Excuse me for a sec.***

*** Also, it’s been about 40 minutes of me sitting here typing and not doing any work, which I can already tell has been a huge mistake. In more ways than one. Ow owie ow, ow ow ow owie ow.****

****O Canada.