Aaaah, My Back

I went to the hos­pi­tal for a sched­uled pro­ce­dure on my back to help alle­vi­ate the pains a her­ni­at­ed disc had been caus­ing. So far, it seems to have helped.

So, I guess because things have been pret­ty busy at work and at home late­ly, I haven’t had much of a chance to pro­vide an update on the sit­u­a­tion with my back yet (how­ev­er, I did­n’t find some time for a very odd con­ver­sa­tion regard­ing 20th cen­tu­ry min­i­mal­ist plays…). The results of the MRI were, lit­er­al­ly, black and white obvi­ous: I have a her­ni­at­ed disc in my low­er back. The L5‑S disc, which is by the way the one just above that odd­ball sixth lum­bar ver­te­bra of mine (just a coin­ci­dence, though, as far as any­one knows). The disc has bulged out to the right enough to press against one of the major nerves for my right leg (the sci­at­ic nerve, it appears). The pres­sure on this nerve caus­es the sen­sa­tion of pain in my right ham­string, from but­tock to knee. It’s impor­tant to note, just in case you’re hop­ing to glean some sort of med­ical infor­ma­tion from this, that this pain is very hard to dis­tin­guish from an actu­al ham­string or oth­er leg issue. If your hav­ing pain in your leg, you should con­sid­er see­ing a doc­tor (I rec­om­mend a ortho­pe­dic or sports med­i­cine spe­cial­ist, per­son­al­ly) to deter­mine what the cause is. I know Angela and I were both very sur­prised.

While the sen­sa­tion of pain was very real, the fact that my leg has noth­ing to do with it was a very odd thing to get used to. Even after learn­ing this, I found myself instinc­tive­ly limp­ing as though it would relieve the pain or even grab­bing and mas­sag­ing my ham­string mus­cles as though it would make any dif­fer­ence. Now, after hav­ing some time to adjust to what is caus­ing it, I find myself dis­trust­ing my lying brain and spine. And I don’t mean that to be fun­ny. I have noticed myself actu­al­ly ignor­ing sen­sa­tions in my leg – writ­ing them off as fig­ments of my back sim­ply pok­ing on a nerve.

While I don’t wish to engage in a tan­gen­tial debate on the top­ic of intel­li­gent design, I feel pret­ty strong­ly that using that descrip­tion for this sec­tion of the human ner­vous sys­tem would be a stretch. As any good process engi­neer or soft­ware design­er will tell you, hav­ing such an eas­i­ly cor­rupt­ible sig­nal or feed­back path is a very big design error. You very much do not want your main mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem to be so eas­i­ly mis­led.

Waiting at St Marys

So, this past Thurs­day morn­ing, I went to the radi­ol­o­gy depart­ment of St. Mary’s to have a ESI, or epidur­al steroid injec­tion. This is a pret­ty sim­ple pro­ce­dure but it’s still very cool to me. I was tak­en into the flouro­scope x‑ray (sim­i­lar to this machine) room at the hos­pi­tal and laid on the mov­able table. The machine they have is bi-axi­al so they were able to have real-time imag­ing of my spine from both the side and rear angles. The doc­tor, after numb­ing the area with lido­caine (which felt like get­ting stuck with a hot pok­er in my spinal col­umn, just so you know), inject­ed a track­ing dye into the area. Once he was able to see the exact path, the steroid then replaces the dye on the nee­dle and is inject­ed along the same path­way. The doc­tor indi­cat­ed to me that it was­n’t actu­al­ly that impor­tant that he hit the exact spot, as the steroid would act over a rel­a­tive­ly wide area (rough­ly two ver­te­brae). About halfway through the pro­ce­dure though, I began to notice the sen­sa­tion of pres­sure in my right upper leg, exact­ly the same spots where pain was liv­ing the past cou­ple of months. I asked the doc­tor if he had begun inject­ing the cor­ti­sone and, sure enough, he had. As he con­tin­ued the pres­sure built up on the nerve until it felt as though my leg had swollen up like a bal­loon and could burst. But as the flu­id moved around, that feel­ing went away, thank good­ness.

They kept me around for twen­ty min­utes or so just to make sure every­thing was okay. Angela came by to pick me up (they did­n’t want me dri­ving, which seems a lit­tle sil­ly) and she took me back to work. Since, the pain in my leg does seem to have sub­sided. It may be part place­bo effect, but since the pain was­n’t the result of any­thing real in my leg, what do I care where the relief comes from? Any­way, as the doc­tor indi­cat­ed, this isn’t a cure and is only to pro­vide tem­po­rary relief. I’ll have to get more shots, no doubt. Hope­ful­ly, though, this will help to push (way) back – or even alle­vi­ate all togeth­er – the need for surgery.

So, I’m going to see the sports-med doc in after a while and I’ll like­ly do some phys­i­cal ther­a­py for my back to help alle­vi­ate the pres­sure. Oth­er­wise, I just have to keep aware of the prob­lem and not do things which will com­pound it.

Oh, and the first thing on that agen­da is to get a new office chair at work.