Thursday, December 24, 2015

He Is Risen Indeed

I know I'm mixing religious seasons in my title (this is Christmas, not Easter), but it feels something of a miracle that I've been able to get out of bed after a week of being down with intense lower back pain.

It's hard to know what to attribute the improvement to: a) alternate applications of cold packs and a heating pad to the afflicted area; b) upping my dose of ibuprofen from 400 mg to 800 mg; or c) bed rest. Maybe it was all three. In any event I'm improving.

I went down late Wed night (Dec 16) and did nothing more courageous than walk (slowly and gingerly) to the bathroom for five days. By Monday (Dec 21) I knew it was time to get help, and I was up for five hours going to an Urgent Care facility and getting a couple prescriptions filled with the caring assistance of my son, Ceilee. I am now taking Flexeril as a muscle relaxant and Naproxen as a more potent substitute for ibuprofen. While achy throughout that adventure, I suffered no muscle clenching and it was great for my spirits to know that I could do that much.

Tuesday I rested (excepting that I took a shower and did boy that ever feel wonderful—especially having hot water streaming onto my lower back), and yesterday I geared up for a five-hour bus ride from Los Angeles (where Ceilee lives) to Las Vegas (where my daughter Jo lives), which required my being upright for nine hours straight. I wasn't sure I could handle it but it worked out OK. Jo was waiting for me when the bus finally pulled into the drop-off in the back of the Excalibur Hotel. I'd made it!

I lay down for a 60-minute nap and then went out for a two-hour blowout teppanyaki dinner with Jo & Peter (a belated birthday present). By 9:30 pm I was toast and gladly went to bed.

So here it is Christmas Eve, and I'm now semi-ambulatory—which doesn't feel so good on the way down, but it feels surprisingly hopeful on the way up. I don't move very fast, but I'm moving, and I feel that I now have a clear path to my red-eye plane flight to Minneapolis (followed by a van ride to Duluth at dawn) in the wee hours of Sunday, as it will require nothing more heroic than I accomplished yesterday.

OK, so what am I going to do to turn around this 16-month back problem?

I asked that question of the physician I saw in Urgent Care Monday, and her take was that I should first see my primary care physician and follow their recommendation for physical therapy. The main awkwardness about that is that I don't have a primary physician (yet) , but I'm just about to change that. In fact, I get back to home base in Chapel Hill late Jan 9 and I have an appointment to establish that very relationship Monday morning, Jan 11.

The Urgent Care doc walked me through her protocols to determine that all I had was a sore back (fortunately, I had all the right answers: no shooting pains down my legs, no difficulty urinating, no numbness in my hips, groin, or thighs). When I shared with her that friends had advised me to consider Rolfing or myofascial massage (by the way, I've discovered that opinions about how to treat back problems are remarkably similar to belly buttons—every has one), she suggested that I hold off on alternative therapies until I tried the PT that my primary care physician advocated. Then, she reasoned, if that brought no joy I might get the physician to sign off on something else (say, Rolfing or myofascial massage) which would make that treatment far more likely to be covered by health insurance (because it was backed by a health care practitioner that was acknowledged by Aetna—my Medicare provider).

While I'm in over my head trying to sort out the bewildering array of options, the important thing is that I've finally reached the point where I'm ready to do something about addressing it. I've decided that back pain is clearly overrated as a recreational pastime. There has to be an easier way to take a break, and the long-term solution cannot lie in a pill bottle.

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