As long time readers of Burritospecial already know, I’ve had back problems sporadically since 2003 when I ripped a muscle in my lower left back. That pain led me to pass out later the same night of the injury, which led to my head bouncing off the tile bathroom floor, which led to a seizure, which led to an ER visit in the middle of the night. Which led to an EEG and medication to prevent further seizures. As a result of all these facts, I retired early from teaching English and started a counseling practice in 2004. Off and on over the past 13 years I’ve had some brief periods of back pain that laid me up for a week or ten days per episode. Resting, heat, and ibuprofen usually took care of the flare ups.
Back in December I was jogging on the treadmill in the mornings and going for brisk walks in the neighborhood. I felt good, foolishly good. One December day I was scrubbing the bathtub while leaning over and the next day I decided to scrub the grout on the tile floor. Tweak! Something went way wrong. A flare of pain shot across my lumbar (low back) region. It felt like a sharp knife slid in between my vertebrae, L4 and L5 to be surgically precise. Aye ya yie!! This was different from the old muscle rip. Heat, ibuprofen, Tylenol, and rest over time did not help much. This was different, as I was to learn painfully over the next five months.
Riding a bike or lying flat did not provoke pain. Dancing, sitting, leaning, or bending over did. Why? My disk was bulging onto my sciatic nerve. Eventually I reported to my primary care physician. Thanks to our genius managed care system, he had to go through the insurance company’s protocol. Physical therapy was first. That had helped with my original injury, but this one was different. The muscle based exercises only seemed to make my disk pain flare up. After three unproductive sessions I returned to my pcp. Time for an x-ray and vicodin. Okay, the vicodin did take some of the sting out of the $278 copay for my x-ray. Then a referral to the Pain Management Clinic followed.
More vicodin and an MRI, $2500 worth of MRI. I crawled through a few weeks until my first cortisone shot was scheduled. By that time I was going to the fitness center daily for hot tub soaks and pool walks. They helped but did not last. The cortisone shot lasted four days and then the pain came back. I was scheduled for my next cortisone shot a week after the first one; however, I had also fortuitously scheduled an acupuncture appointment for the Wednesday of the same week, a day before my second shot. Well, I drove the ninety minutes to Hershey Medical Center and met my Chinese doctor. She listened to my tale of pain and woe, and then stuck me with 15 needles in my neck and back and left leg. That needlepoint was followed by an electromagnetic heat lamp treatment for 30 minutes. After that half hour she returned and plucked the needles out.
“Stand up now. What’s your pain level?”
“Good, good. Now do the hula.”
“You mean the hula hoop hula?”
“Yes, yes. Good. Bend over. Good, good.”
“You got pain?”
“No. None at all.”
“Good, good. Now this needle hurt.” She probed the exterior of my right wrist with a needle, sticking it in and wiggling until I gave a guttural noise of pain.
“Good, good. It hurt more?”
I complied and felt an electric storm pass down my back, across my butt muscles, my thighs, knees and ankles. Boom!!
Dr. Xu pulled the needle out and told me that all my muscles had just released from their formerly rigid positions. I believed her. I hulaed again and hallelujahed. I felt like I’d been on a stage participating in a magic show. It was magical. Nearly six months of a grinding, fatiguing pain that shot down my low back and exited in my left sole was gone like an old Neil Young song.
“I’ve seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie’s like a settin’ sun”
Well, I was not a junkie and the song references a different sort of needle, but it still hit me down in a deep wormhole in my amygdala.
(And you thought you’d seen it all. “The colors on the street– red, white and blue. People shufflin’ their feet; people sleepin’ in their shoes. But there’s a warning sign on the road ahead, there’s a lot of people sayin’ we’d be better off dead. Don’t feel like Satan but I am to them. So I try to forget it any way I can….keep on rockin’ in the free world. That Donald, he’s a hand puller.)
“Okay, you come next week. I do one more treatment.”
Now if you think Trump and Neil are an ironic match, chew on this irony: the one treatment my insurance does not cover at all is acupuncture. So Dr. Xu was a happy $100 out of pocket expense. I’m thinking the total cost of traditional Western medicine’s approach ran around $5,000 for nothing. That, my friend, is not a good value for the consumer.
I was not expecting a follow up to the magic, but I agreed to keep coming, quietly wondering where I’d be if I’d begun with her chi and meridians. If I understood her correctly, my chi was constipated by the injury I had suffered 14 years ago. The meridian highway was closed by the muscles in my back and hips clinching tightly. The recent tweaking of my disk was the result of an uneven torque on either side of my spinal column. This made sense to me. I pictured the Leaning Tower of Pisa as my spine, though I know it leans due to soft foundational soil. The end result is the same, however.
So, the takeaway lesson? If you cannot find your answer in the West, look East, my bloguerons. And if you can’t debate an honest health care policy, sneak it in around midnight before the summer recess. In either case be sure to smile while you stick it to them.