Sunday May 20, 2018
The pain in my right shoulder blade introduced itself while eating lunch with my father, and before long was telling me we needed to pay the bill. Midway on the 30 minute drive home on the tollway, I had to pull over. The pain was drastic, worse than anything I had ever known. I felt I was too distracted to drive, and called my doctor to see if I could get in immediately. I am the kind of person who goes for a yearly physical, nothing more, but this felt untenable, even for me. The doctor asked if I had done anything to warrant this symptom, and there was an obvious event ten days prior that I thought could be the culprit.
Playing Tuesday night basketball in the old neighborhood was something I had done without injury for six years straight. I felt stronger and more fit than any time in my life. But on that recent August night, I had a collision, a bad one. I was retrieving a rebound when an opposing player, who was much bigger and stronger than me, with a big head of steam, met me at the ball. It was like getting t-boned at an intersection, where he was the SUV running the light and smacking me, the Kia Soul, on the driver side door. I was plowed into the side of the church stage behind the basket. I stayed on the floor there for a long time, cognizant of what happened, but I was afraid to move, because I was expecting something to be very wrong. I got up. Let’s play. I finished the night. The next morning I expected to be sore, but it wasn’t too bad. I played the following Tuesday, and was amused at the bruise that had developed covering my entire left butt cheek. I felt decent though, and played with no problems. Three days later I was in misery on the side of the road.
The doctor said take Advil for the pain in my shoulder and let’s get an X-ray taken. The pain had died down somewhat by the time I got to his office, and I felt like the guy who takes his car in for repair, but it won’t make the rattling sound at the garage. But after an hour or two at home, pain came back with a vengeance, with a deep, dark destruction, and I called back to the doctor’s office in desperation. My doctor had already gone home, but another doctor prescribed me opioids on good faith after my description, and urgency in my voice.
Here I am a year and a half later. The pain in my shoulder blade disappeared after two weeks, a chiropractor seemingly took care of that, but after a couple more visits and physical therapy, the pain was in my left buttock, and in succeeding weeks, shot down my leg, and found the other side of my body which eventually became numb.
I got an MRI. When my doctor saw it he gasped. When the chiropractor saw it he gasped. When the specialist saw it he gasped. They all said variations of the same thing. Herniated discs in two places and stenosis everywhere, my spine was not a bass line, it was white noise. I would need more PT, a life time of chiropractic adjustment, constant ice packs, ibuprofen, epidural shots, and probably surgery at some point, try to push it back as long as you can. And no more basketball, are you kidding?
Three shots later, I have myself thinking about pain day and night. There have been times I couldn’t sleep in a bed, drive without intense pain after getting out of the car, and I have wondered if I can continue to work as even a part time faculty member. I rarely go see a band because I can’t stand or sit very long. I am currently with an acupuncturist who is great, and has helped me cope. He has pointed me to some Chinese herbal remedies that claim to reduce the dreaded herniation. I have been optimistic.
But now I know it’s a ruse. A hoax. I have blamed an accident and herniated disc for my pain.
And today I ridicule the pain, although only a smidgen remains. I taunt it when I get up from sitting.
“Are you kidding me? I’m not falling for this game! You are a poseur. I have empowered you, and you think you can take over? I gave you power, and now I take it away. Be gone!”
My secret weapon is not a drug, or an exercise, or a manipulation. It is knowledge. It is knowledge that my pain has come because my brain has called for it.
Dr. John Sarno describes it all in his book, Healing Back Pain. I found out about it after seeing a documentary called All the Rage, by Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley, and David Beilinson which chronicles Michael’s experience with his pain and Dr. Sarno
All the Rage Trailer
All the Rage Trailer
Dr. Sarno knows my type. I:
-am a high achiever
-expect a lot from myself
-am my own worst critique
-am the problem solver for others around me
-don’t like being judged by others
I have had painful emotional experiences in life. We all have. But it’s likely, despite acknowledging that it exists, that I have left anger underneath the wreckage. I have long been someone who avoids anger, avoids blowout arguments, and doesn’t like confrontation. Dr. Sarno instructs to make a list of the events of childhood and beyond that may have caused sadness or emotional pain. Write about them. Understand that there may be anger beneath it all. It’s okay, anger is not to be ashamed of. Acknowledge that the physical pain I have experienced is a result of my brain and not a basketball accident and herniation.
Monday morning after a weekend of feeling good. Getting out of bed, I expect the same soreness that I need to stretch out. The routine includes reading the paper on the couch and crossing one leg then the other before getting child one up for breakfast. There is some of the pain. It makes me question and doubt that what I experienced the last three days was not the new reality. I am still hesitant to trust my body, but what I realize is that the trust is in my mental process. I will have some pain in the coming days, if only because my expectation of pain is imprinted by experience over 18 months. Getting out of the car and bed and off the couch is going to get me in coming days, and I have to call it out each time. Doubt will be the foe to defeat today. I noticed that last night after a long Sunday of activity, including a graduation party, I felt some pain returning. I think that I was tired. I was irritable and angry, especially when Ronnie ate potato chips just before bed, and got crumbs all over his room. I didn’t have the same mental energy, and I regressed a step. So be it.
There were moments yesterday where my pain felt conspicuously absent. Walking the dogs can sometimes be dicey, and usually at that late afternoon time of the day when the sciatic jolts down my leg are at their worst, I have to cut the walk short. But yesterday, there was none. I almost found myself missing it, we have been so joined at the hip, pain and me. Why? I think pain has given me an excuse, it’s gotten me off the hook. Don’t expect anything from that guy, pain gestures as I grimace. And I’m given the space to suffer.
Yesterday, after writing, I rose without pain, and made it the rest of the day without. I worked out. I felt a bit sore later in the familiar places, but I knew it was a different kind of pain. I anticipate that it will take some weeks to feel strong again, to get the courage to make certain movements, and to even run. Just two weeks ago I tried to dash a short distance (out of necessity), and crumpled in the worst pain I’ve experienced. It is brandished it my mind. I didn’t drink tequila for twenty years after that eight shot mistake when I was eighteen because my brain wants to protect me. I’m guessing the same happens with pain. Just looking out for you Rick. Thanks id, but I’m taking the keys away. Someone else is driving.
After 5 months...
Happy to report that the immediate relief I found after viewing the film and reading Dr. Sarno's books has held since I first wrote. As Michael Galinsky has reported about his pain, I am human, and pain -free is a description I haven't truly had since I was twenty-five. But the sciatic pain that used to shoot down my leg has run away, has been banished. My sleep is no longer disturbed and I do not fear getting up from sitting after a drive or a movie. Standing at a concert can get uncomfortable, but I'm 61, give me a break. I just visited my primary physician who knows me as the guy headed for surgery someday, and after delivering my good news to him, he accepted my mind-body healing as a positive and recommended that I run to strengthen my lower body. Since my Sarno experience, I have exercised as he advised, to "resume all prior activity." I have played driveway basketball and worked out at the gym, but I have not done much running. I have been scared. My first experiences trying to run post-back pain have been spotty. I can do it, but pain creeps in and I stop. Is it in my mind? It doesn't seem like it. I hate running anyway, always have. So, I started running up the sledding hill--sprinting a short distance on a steep incline. Started with five reps, then built it up to ten. When I started to get tight, I backed off, but the next day I felt stronger and pain free. Confidence is gaining. My goal is to play full court basketball. I'll let you know.