I got stabbed in the back today — literally — so I’m temporarily out of action

I’m sure you can see the problem right away…

It’s OK — I asked them to do it. It was done with a needle.

I had my reasons. It all started about 40 years ago…

Recently, I had this old problem with neck and shoulder pain — and numbness, all down the right arm, which is the most disturbing part — crop back up for the first time in about a decade. It started when I was on the high school wrestling team in my senior year (1970-71). Burl was there (not on the wrestling team, but at the school), but he didn’t really know me yet.

We used to do these drills that would probably get a coach fired today (let’s hope so), designed to “strengthen” our neck muscles, but which caused an injury to mine that caused me to quit the team after my right hand started going numb and I had trouble holding a pen in class. My favorite: We’d pair off and one guy would stand on his head on the mat and the other guy would hold his legs and bounce him repeatedly on the mat — the illegal piledriver, essentially. Oh, but that wasn’t all. We had this other drill — also done in pairs — where one guy would stand with his legs a bit apart, and you would come up behind him, bend double, stick your head between his legs, and pick him up, using your neck to lift his full weight, until you were fully standing with him sitting on your shoulders. (You have to be pretty strong to be a wrestler — and stupid.) Then, finally, we’d get in a bridge — you know what a “bridge” is? Here’s what it looks like (but it’s not a FULL bridge until you roll back so that your weight is on your forehead). And while we were in a bridge, the coach, walking around amongst us, would suddenly and without warning drop down onto our chests with his knees, his full weight from the knees up testing the strength of the bridge — a position in which the main stress is on your unnaturally bent-back neck. Fortunately, he was a little guy, smaller than most of us. Probably didn’t weigh 125 pounds. Which is probably why I can still walk.

The coach’s picture is on this page of the Virtual Yearbook Burl created years ago. I’m not going to point him out, though — although you may be able to pick him out because he looks the part, the little fascist. No, really, he’s all old and decrepit if he’s still alive, and probably sorry for all he’s done, and no point picking on him now. Hey, I’m feeling kind of old and decrepit — thanks to him…

Anyway, I recovered the feeling on my right side and sort of forgot about it mostly until 1993. I was in pretty good shape just before I had emergency major abdominal surgery that year, which kept me from working out for a couple of months. The first day I started back, the very first shoulder press I did made something go crunch, very painfully, amid the cervical vertebra.

I dealt with pain and numbness from that off and on for years until doing something about it about 10 years back. The MRI then showed one vertebra sort of cockeyed and squeezing bundles of nerves both above and below. I went through all kinds of things to try to fix it — home traction, chiropractic, massage, muscle relaxers — but nothing really worked until a specialist sent me to the hospital for cortisone injections next to the spine. That reduced the inflammation around the area for long enough for me to relax (muscle tension always exacerbated the problem) and heal up.

And I did really well for a decade.

The problem came back suddenly on April 13 — no trauma, it just came on gradually over a couple of hours. Next morning, I called my internist to ask for a prescription of Soma — not the Aldous Huxley kind, but carisoprodol, a muscle relaxer. I’ve taken it pretty much every night to enable me to sleep the last couple of months. More than once, I’ve waked up in the middle of the night and taken another, if it’s been long enough. Along with ibuprofen. Lots and lots of ibuprofen. That eliminated most of the pain. But my whole right arm goes numb in certain routine positions that can’t be avoided in the course of a day, and two of my fingers are numb and itchy ALL the time.

So I went back to the same doc, and today I got another shot of steroid next to my spine — between C6 and C7. It’s not bad enough for surgery — in fact, the neurosurgeon was very encouraged that he didn’t see much deterioration from last time. Just the rather disturbing experience of having a long needle inserted next to my spine and stuff injected into there. Feels really weird.

I was ordered to take it easy. So I sit at home, trying to take it easy with the frickin’ telephone ringing every five minutes. Everything from Mike Huckabee auto-calling me to enlist me in the Kulturkampf (something about atheists and the National Day of Prayer) to my auto-insurance calling NOT to check on my tree-falling claim (I’m already set to take it to the body shop on Monday), but to routinely check all the data on all the cars on my account. Took forever, and made my neck more sore.

Tomorrow I can return to normal routine. Driving and everything. And in 3-4 four days, I’ll know whether it helped.

Anyway, the last few days I’ve blogged less than usual on account of trying to get real work, the kind I get paid for, out of the way to take today off. And today, sitting at the laptop is sort of uncomfortable. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.And once it’s all better, I’m definitely going to start exercising again, which I think might have prevented this onset. Y’all hold me to that.

16 thoughts on “I got stabbed in the back today — literally — so I’m temporarily out of action

  1. Steven Davis

    Maybe you need one of those Barney Fife neck stretcher things.

    Don’t mess around with any of these quacks in Columbia, get yourself an appointment with Southeastern Spine Institute in Charleston.

  2. Brad

    I’m sure they’re very good down in Charleston as well, but so are these people. Very impressive, very professional. Quacks, by contrast, would have insisted on doing surgery.

    They took care of me the last time this flared up a decade ago, and did a great job for me. Hey I was able to take up kickboxing after that. Of course, I got four broken ribs, but my neck held up great.

    I think this happened this time because I have NOT been exercising at all lately. All that sitting at a computer and never doing anything to stay flexible and maintain muscle tone.

    Once I’m over this, I’ll do something about that. A year from now, I’ll be a lean, mean, fightin’ machine, to quote Dewey Oxburger.

  3. Steven Davis

    “I’m sure they’re very good down in Charleston as well”… I’m nominating this for the understatement of the week.

    Sometimes surgery is the correct solution, you can fix the problem or mask it with drugs and more drugs. If they examine you, they’re not going to necessarily recommend surgery. If you stick to it up here, make sure you see someone who is a spine specialist and not an orthopedist who does everything from toe knuckles to jaw bones. When you call ask for Don Johnson, who also happens to be the Chairman of the Board at MUSC.

  4. Wes Wolfe

    Dude, you wrote more than 1,000 words on personal body pain. With Tony Kornheiser going off the radio for weeks, this is my new go-to source for old man gripes. That, and local tea party sites decrying all these young kids ruining their politics.

  5. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Dunno if it’s relevant, but I had what I called neck sciatica forever, off and on–sounds like what you have–and by being very careful about body mechanics–ergonomics at the keyboard, etc., I haven’t had a problem in a few years. I hope your injection helps.

  6. Brad

    Wes, I can write 1,000 words on anything. That’s easy. It’s writing shorter that’s hard.

    And I think I’m feeling better already…

  7. Karen McLeod

    I think you’re right about the exercise, based on my own experience with chronic injury. I hope you feel better soon.

  8. Steven Davis

    “Warthen… walk it off!!!”

    Of course you feel better, that’s what happens when they deaden or numb the nerve at the injection site. Does it fix the problem, nope… you just no longer feel the pain from the injury site.

  9. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Actually, Steven, sometimes numbing the site can restore the ability to move normally which can help get the juices flowing to the injured site and other great things–you are finally able to “walk it off.”

  10. Scout

    Steven, I don’t think cortisone numbs the nerve – it reduces the swelling in the area, if I’m not mistaken. I am fairly healthy except orthopedically I’m a disaster. The Moore Clinic has put my left knee and my left elbow back together on more than one occasion. I had nerve compression with the elbow thing which made my left hand go numb and I started losing motor function too. It was HORRIBLE. I very much sympathize with the numbness in the hand – it is no fun at all. I hope you feel better soon.

  11. Brad

    Thanks, Scout.

    And yes, that’s right. It’s an anti-inflammatory. The idea is to reduce the pressure on the nerves by reducing the inflammation around the problem area. That gives everything a chance to relax and start healing — and should end the numbness due to pressure on the nerve root.

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