10 Minutes of Nothing New

I was saving an update on my back until today, when I was supposed to have a wonderfully enlightening visit with my physiatrist.  Unfortunately, the words “enlightening” and “wonderful” could not be applied here today.

I have seen this doctor once before when I first had my MRI for the herniated disc.  She prescribed me some medicine and physical therapy.  She told me that if things did not progress well conservatively, I would have to start thinking about a steroid injection.  I have not seen this woman since and have worked solely with my physical therapist for the past many, many months.  I should note that I really love my PT and feel he is very helpful and encouraging.

The doctor, however… Not so much.  I spent ten minutes with her today.  Ten minutes in which she told me the following:

  • I could have re-herniated the disc a couple weeks ago. I could also just be one of those people who is prone to doing such things.
  • I should finish physical therapy. Despite my questions, she did not give me a time frame for this, only said that my PT would know when I should be done.
  • I don’t need another MRI because she would only need that if she were going to give me an injection or have a surgeon look at it. Neither of those things are necessary unless my leg pain gets worse.
  • If the pain in my leg gets worse or if I have another episode, I should call her.
  • Do not bend, twist, or lift things for six weeks.

My internal monologue:

  • I was already told that by your colleague at urgent care when it happened. Read charts much?
  • I have been in PT for a really long time now. A really long time.  And this still happened.
  • Thanks for not making me spend a whole load of money on a diagnostic tool for treatment that is not in consideration. This is not sarcasm.
  • If the pain gets worse or I have another episode, I am going to find another doctor.
  • Duh. Seriously and completely: duh.

I really appreciate the focus on conservative treatment.  I don’t want the shot or surgery.  I really just want to feel like I can do something to get better and protect myself against this happening again.  It’s frustrating to hear that I just need to keep doing what I’ve been doing and even then, it could just be for nothing and I could re-herniate again. Maybe another doctor wouldn’t tell me anything different.  The position I am in is just not the best one.

There is good news though!  Yesterday, my physical therapist told me I could start going on walks.  I did for about 30 minutes and added a little very slow, light jogging.  I had no problems with my back or legs during or after! I am really excited about that.  He also gave me the clear to at least walk the quarter marathon for Cap City.  I figure that in a month’s time, if things keep going well, I can probably run some of it.  Good news! Good news!

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Disc Herniation, Take 2!

I know I have mentioned my herniated disc before, but for those not following along, here’s the story:

March 28, 2011 – I was deadlifting over 100lbs.  I came up wrong on the lift, felt a pop in my back, dropped the bar, and thought I was going to pass right out.  I could barely move, but luckily one of the trainers was nearby and helped me sit down. I couldn’t breathe very well and I was deathly pale, which made them think that my blood sugar dropped the minute the injury hit. One of the owners sat with me and iced my back for I am not sure how long.  Eventually, with the help of everyone and a very big stick they loaned me, I was able to drive myself home.  I had to re-ice my back just to get up the stairs to my apartment.  I have no idea how I did that because by the time I landed in bed, I could barely move.

Most of that week was an awful experience and the pain wasn’t something I’d ever felt before.  I am lucky that my friends are helpful and a couple of them came by those first few days to help with the cat, get meds, get food, etc. Not so lucky that it hurt so much to move that I almost passed out any time I had to get out of bed.

I was able to get along better as the week went on (I remember rejoicing when I could sleep on my side again), but it took a long time for the doctor to send me for my MRI.  I didn’t get that until part way through April of last year and then the appointment with the physiatrist didn’t take place until May.  By that point, I had made quite a bit of progress on my own, but still used a cane to walk at times to help me feel more stable on my feet with the leg pain and residual back pain I was experiencing.

L5-S1 herniated disc

From my MRI: To my untrained eye, this certainly looks like a disc popping out...

During the appointment with the physiatrist, she explained that I had a disc herniation at the L5-S1 (which is in your lower back).  The disc was pressing on a nerve, which was causing the sciatica in my leg, so she prescribed me a medication to help with that.  I was told about my options, which included an epidural steroid injection and physical therapy.  I chose to go with PT for the time being and only do the injection if it didn’t work.

Physical therapy started in June. I’ve been at it ever since with varying amounts of attendance. The main focus has been to develop my core muscles so that they could support my low back. I started back into the gym at some point and that’s when I started running due to lack of other possible activity (read: no heavy lifting).  I’ve been pretty regular in my activity level for the past couple of months. I finally felt like I was out of the woods and almost wondered why I was still in PT every other week.

Fast forward to two days ago. I had gone on a short run, come back and started to stretch.  I was about to go into one of the yoga poses that I do during stretching and that’s when it hit. I tried to stretch it out with things from PT. I applied ice pretty quickly and that seemed to help, but I could no longer stand up straight and the pain was intensifying.  I tried to call and talk to my physical therapist, but he was out of the office until Tuesday (incidentally when my next appointment with him is) and so they referred me to the orthopedic urgent care that they have.

I went in as soon as I realized that I wasn’t going to make it better on my own and that the pain was not subsiding. They asked some questions, did some quick tests, and told me that I had re-flared the disc. “Oh, yeah. This can just happen at any time now.  There might not seem to be any reason for it,” they said.  Great news, right? They did a thing on my legs that indicated that my nerve was being pushed on again.  I was given a prescription for steroids to help get the inflammation to go down, but I was told I could wait to use them since I could maybe wake up in the morning and feel better. They also gave me a muscle relaxer and told me not to return to work until Monday and to not do any heavy lifting.  I have to have a follow up with my physiatrist in a couple weeks and keep my PT appointment.

I am back to being friends with my cane.  My leg pain has only gotten worse in the last day, but I started the steroids yesterday morning. The back pain is nowhere near what it was the first time around and I’m thankful for that. My mobility really isn’t that bad and I can do most things, just uncomfortably. Yesterday was a big friend gathering and I had to leave not very far in because my leg pain was only getting worse and I couldn’t get comfortable. Ice and rest seem to be the biggest help and I’m hoping that the steroids will start working fast. I’m going to spend pretty much all day today resting so tomorrow at work won’t be a bad experience. I am anxiously awaiting my PT appointment to see what else I can be doing and I’m sure that I will get more info about the whys and hows of relapse.

Here’s to hoping this is the only relapse there is.

Mental Dominance.

Alpha Brain

Say hello to my friend, AlphaBrain.  AlphaBrain is a nootropic, or smart drug/brain enhancer.   I first heard about it courtesy of the Joe Rogan podcast ( this one with Aubrey Marcus is especially informative). It has a lot of stuff in it that I will let the website inform you about rather than try to put all the technicalities into my own words.  The basic idea: it makes your brain work better.  You’re supposed to dream better, focus better, think better.  Sign me up!

Since I started physical therapy, I have been on a medicine called Neurontin. It was supposed to help manage the problems I was having with my herniated disc hitting a nerve. I think it did that job pretty well, though it’s hard to tell what was helping, when and how between the PT and the medicine.  As one of it’s main purposes is helping people with epilepsy, it seems like a pretty serious drug and I was interested to come off of it as soon as I could. My intention was to come off of that and start taking AlphaBrain to try and clear my head.

The problem with the Neurontin was that I felt foggy. I felt like my brain wasn’t right. I felt like I was becoming more scatter-brained and forgetful. I also had a period of time where I was really irrationally angry and then I started to lose a lot of focus, especially with conversations. If you were talking to me, I might not have been able to focus very well on what you were saying.  I often had to piece together the conversation or just plain fake it to get by (sorry, friends). Overall, while I think that it helped my nerve/disc problem, it wasn’t helping my brain problem.

After about a week of no Neurontin, I ordered the AlphaBrain. It arrived a week ago today and I started taking it almost right away. The directions say 1-3 pills in the morning and then you may take more in the afternoon to up the lucid dreaming possibilities. I have stuck with 1 in the morning. I take it with my breakfast and other vitamins/supplements.  At first, I noticed increased memory of my dreams. I wouldn’t say they’re lucid or that they’re crazy or anything, but I remember them much more clearly for longer than I used to. I was kind of disappointed over the next couple of days. I had heard about all of these people who had gotten immediate, crazy effects from it. That’s what I wanted! It took me having a conversation about it the other day to really realize how it has been working…

My brain is much quicker to problem solve.  I received an email that really kind of discouraged me. Instead of staying in that mind frame, I started to figure out how to fix the problem.  I have also been in a really great mood for almost the entire week of taking it. Despite getting angry or discouraged during that time, I haven’t gotten stuck being down about it. That part has been quite the relief from my perpetually bad mood not that long ago.

I’m still waiting in hopes that it helps my focus. I do feel that it’s gotten better than it was, but I am still not where I would like to be. The same goes for memory. Small improvements are better than no improvements, but I could use a lot more!  I imagine that with continued use, the effects will settle in more.  I hope so. If nothing else, I’ll take what I’m getting and keep going with it.