Friday, October 31, 2008

Look Closely

It's been a tough couple of weeks.

You'd think being out of work all this time would be a good thing. But I am so limited in what I can do, it's driving me nuts.

Speaking of driving, I can't. I tried to drive my car since it came home last week, but the manual transmission is giving me a hard time. So, I still depend on chauffeurs (thanks, Ron and Phil!). Not like we can go far, since I can't sit in a car for long. This is the perfect time of year to go for a ride to enjoy all of the fall colors but yeah, I can't do that.

Perhaps working in the garden, planting all the spring flowers I wanted to plant this fall? No, can't do that. I know! Playing POGO on the computer! No, can't do much of that either. I still have to pay someone to come clean my house since I can't do that either. Something is just wrong when someone tells you in your own house to move your feet, so they can vacuum. Yeah, that's kinda wrong.

I have developed a new respect for my local library. I'm there often. Reading is one thing I can do sitting up or laying down. My one joy in life right now? Large print books from the library!! Yeah, I'm old AND laid up! Hey, sometimes it's hard to read lying down when you have to look through a bifocal.

So, this has been my life lately. Therapy that doesn't seem to do crap and doing my best between a chair, a recliner and the bed.

However, I did have two MRIs yesterday. This truly was one of the worst things I've had to do physically in my life! I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. I made the mistake of choosing an MRI facility without an open MRI. I didn't realize this was going to be as big of a deal as it was.

Lucky for me, I had the foresight to take a little help in the shape of a pain pill before I went. It wasn't much of a help but it was better than nothing. The MRI was a freaking tube about 6 feet long of which I had to fit INSIDE. Trust me when I tell you, there is more room in a coffin (appropriate analogy for the day) than there was in this freakin' tube for me. Perhaps if you are a skinny minny, this wouldn't bother you. But, if you have some meat on your bones like I do, this was as close to hell on earth as I ever want to see.

With back pain, the first challenge was getting me comfortable on the table. Once as comfy as I could be, they put the headphones on me. The machine is extremely noisy (especially when you are IN it) plus I was able to bring a CD from home to have some comfort while I'm in there. Then I was given my panic ball. It's sort of like a call bell for the nurse when you're in the hospital, but instead of having to find the button on top of the switch, any part of the ball would sound the alarm. If sounded, the techs would rush into the room with me to get me out of the machine. I tested my panic ball a few times, just to make sure it worked . . . it did. Then I tested it a few more times, again, just to make sure.

We started the MRIs with the upper back, so I had to go into the tube head first. I walked all around this thing before we started, trying to assure myself that I would be ok IN it. While laying on the table, I still thought I might be ok. Then the table started to move. I'm guessing I'm in the machine to just before the shoulders. The technician told me to close my eyes while she centered me in the machine. Ok, I'm calm, collected, all is ok in my world. Then she told me it was ok to open my eyes. HELLO?!?!?! The freaking top of the tube was only INCHES from my face! INCHES! As soon as I saw that, I started to panic. This was not going to be as easy as I thought.

Immediately, the two technicians with me started to talk to me, and put a hand somewhere on me to comfort me. They didn't want to bring me all the way out of the machine, but they wouldn't put me in farther until I was ok with it. So, they calmed me a little and let me catch my breath and then we'd try again to get me in this tube. To be honest, I didn't think I was going to fit.

My shoulders touched the sides of the tube. By the time we got lower, my arms were absolutely compressed to my body and I thought for sure I was going to be crushed in there. To absolutely be held in place was a frightening experience. With modern technology what it is, I can't believe we have to live with this inhumane machine. I knew the machine would be loud and I expected that. I heard what sounded like a dentist's drill followed by what sounded like a jackhammer. After that, it sounded like a fire alarm. Ok, that started a mild panic again. I waited to hear if they were running into the room after me, but no one was coming in. Then I thought maybe it was because it was the machine that was melting down and there could be a radiation leak so no one WOULD come in and I would just burn up in that damn machine. Trust me, it got hot in there when the scan was running. Finally, it ended and the techs came through the headphones telling me I was doing great and they asked me how I was feeling. I asked about the fire alarm and they told me that it was part of the scanning and to be expected. That allayed some fears but I wish they'd have warned me about that one. I was terrified in there for the thirty minutes of the first scan. It was the longest thirty minutes I can remember living through. Especially the last couple of minutes; there is a fan blowing air in to you (of course, I had that fan on full blast) and it is blowing up by where my head was. I had my hair balled up and under my head so it wouldn't get caught in the moving table, but one hair came loose and was blowing in the wind and of course, tickling my chin. You want to talk torture? I couldn't move my hand up if my life depended on it! Finally, a hand on my leg told me the first scan was over and they were bringing me out of the machine. AMEN!

They got me out and I'm telling you, I was about ready to kiss the ground. The tech told me I could have a break between scans while they reset the machine and I definitely took advantage of it. I headed out to the lobby where my chauffeur of the day, brother Phil, was waiting for me. I got a hug, a glass of water and a little sympathy. It was then time to go back in for more torture.

This time, they minimized the torture; they put me in the machine feet first. Going in feet first for my lower back scan, I didn't have to go in as far (I'm guessing) and instead of having my arms at my sides, I could put my arms up and over my head. That helped negate the helplessness feeling. I was in the machine until my head was just inside of the machine. Helped with the breathing that way too. Then again, after the first half hour, just about anything was better.

This scan did go a little easier. After my half hour this way, they pulled me out to shoot me up with some dye. Since I've had previous back surgery, they needed some contrast in case scar tissue was hiding anything. She put one needle in and blew my vein. Since she didn't get enough dye in before the vein blew, she had to stick me again. Not pleasant for sure. However, once the dye was in, the last of the scans took about six minutes and I was DONE. I never thought I would make it through all of that! But it was finally over and I was totally spent, emotionally and physically.

Now, today is my last day scheduled of physical therapy and Monday I go to the doctor to get the results of my MRIs. I do have a set of films here, but I can't make any sense out of them. I'll update when I know more.

So, there is my horror story for Halloween. Actually, I have another blog I need to write since our house has been a little more active than usual this week! But, that's for next time.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What's New?

There hasn't been a lot to report on lately, so I haven't reported. I'm still hurting, I'm still not at work, physical therapy is kicking my ass, I'm not getting better as fast as I'd hoped. That aside, here's what else is going on around here.

My car is finally ready! I'm not sure I can drive my car yet, being a manual transmission, so Phil was nice enough to be volunteered to go with Ron and I to pick up my car and drive it back home for me. The car came home on Friday. It looked ok; but the back bumper does look a little different. It's hard to explain, but the bottom of the bumper is different. I am not saying it's bad; just different. The good news is that for the $4,000 it cost to fix my car, I got my car back after it had a good cleaning. Windshield is spic and span and it once again has that new car smell. Cheap at half the price, huh?

The three of us then came home Friday afternoon for some rest and relaxation. Ron and I were downstairs playing a little Wii pinball (the only Wii game I can do since the accident!) when eventually Ron needed a smoke break. He headed out to the front porch for a smoke when he immediately stuck his head back in the door to inform me of the "police activity" in the neighborhood.

Anyone who has read this blog knows that police activity isn't that unusual in this neighborhood, and when it happens, we are outside, front and center to view it. However, when I went outside to look for myself and saw the SWAT van, I felt we hit the jackpot and HAD to get a closer look!

I grabbed my jacket, and eventually all three of us ended up walking a little ways down the street to check it out. There were numerous police vehicles, including one specifically marked "Sergeant" and one marked "Lieutenant". Regular police vehicles had one block of our street blocked off from traffic. There were also a few unmarked cars parked inside and outside of the barricade. And, the best part of it all: the SWAT van right in the middle of the block!

As we were walking closer, we see that there are numerous police officers standing around, one of them is putting away a battering ram. So many things to see! Then the coup de grace was the officer stationed on top of the SWAT vehicle. Ok, I at first thought he was getting a good view of the target house. Then I noticed that this SWAT officer on top of the van, complete with rifle, actually had his back to the target house and was pointed out at US! Ok, maybe not US in particular, but US as in the crowd that had gathered to watch. What the heck was that about?

Ok, Ron explained that the sniper on the van was probably there to watch the backs of the other officers to make sure that none of us crazies were going to rush the officers. But c'mon! When's the last time you had a sniper looking your way with a loaded weapon in his hand? This is like four in the afternoon for crying out loud! However I was not taking any chances. I was keeping a big old tree between me and the sniper. I wasn't stupid! I was all about hiding behind a tree, no matter how guilty it was making me look.

The worst part of this all is I've been checking on line daily with the local newspapers and can't find out anything about what all this was about. You'd think with 10 or so police cars plus a SWAT van that this would make the local news. Oh well, I guess in our neighborhood, since there wasn't a bloody shootout, no harm, no foul.

Anyone wanna come over? Bring your own flak jacket.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Day One - Success or Failure

Monday was day one of therapy. I just can't tell you right now if it was a success or a failure.

My therapist, Kara, was very nice. We had a long talk about how I was injured, how my life is affected (the fact that I cannot play Wii at the moment was prominently mentioned and is now in my care plan as a goal!) and what my goals are for therapy.

All of this in mind, we were going to start the evaluation. I was started on a recumbent bike to get me loosened up a bit before the testing. The recumbent bike is just a bike with a seat with a back on it instead of just a little triangle to sit on to peddle the bike and you are in a bit of a reclined position instead of sitting up straight. Ok, it made me cry. But, not because of the motion but because of the pressure on my back. I am still sore to the touch. But, as I told Kara, I am committed to making this better and not suffering with back pain for 10 years like I did before. I will NOT go through that again.

I think she knew I was in distress on the bike so she stopped me after only a couple of minutes. From the bike, we went to the table to test range of motion. Laying on my back, she moved my legs to test range of motion. I was to tell her to stop when I was feeling pain. To be honest, I was surprised myself at what I thought was a good range of motion. My legs were feeling the pain of the stretch way before my back was feeling any distress.

From the range of motion, we talked about treatment. I was going to spend the rest of the appointment on what Kara called "something similar to a TENS unit". Well, I've been on a TENS unit previously (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) and this felt exactly like a TENS. And, the TENS never worked for me before but hey, this was a new problem so perhaps this would work now.

The purpose of a TENS unit is to send electrical impulses to parts of your body to block pain signals. It is not painful nor is it uncomfortable. You feel the electrical impulses and after a few minutes, the therapist adjusts the intensity because you stop feeling the impulses. She thought I'd go home and have a few pain free hours. Yeah, that didn't exactly happen that way, but I digress.

So, I was on the table with the TENS like unit attached to my back with an ice pack on top of that. (Ice is one of the few things that does help the pain.) I'm guessing I was hooked up 15 or 20 minutes. Once all of that was off of me, Kara went over some exercises I was to do at home before my next appointment on Thursday afternoon.

As soon as I got off of the table, I told Ron I felt very stiff. Maybe just the way I was laying on the table.

Later in the evening, I did all four exercises that were suggested. I was to do the exercises in a pain free range. However, none were too difficult. While laying on the bed, legs bent, feet flat on the bed, I was to take my knees side to side; no problem. Then, with legs straight, one leg at a time, I grabbed behind my knee and pulled my knee to my chest; again no problem. The next exercise was similar to the last, pulling the knee up towards my chest, but then raising my leg straight up while holding the back of my knee; yep no problem. Lastly, laying flat on the bed, arms across my chest, I was to tighten my stomach muscles and then push my lower back against the bed. I took it slow, never was in back pain while I'm doing them and thought I was successful.

Then this morning came and I can barely move. I immediately went downstairs and laid on the ice packs. I hurt more today than I've hurt in a week. Is it the exercises? The TENS unit?

One thing I feel is that this is not muscular. I still think my range of motion was good and the exercises went fine with no back pain. For some reason though, my back hurts worse; it hurts where it originally did and the pain has also moved upwards from there.

Does this mean I'm really f-ed up? Or is this just the dark before the dawn and it has to get worse before it gets better?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Where Did It Go?

I am an idiot some days. Ok, most days.

As I said in the previous post, I was put on a steroidal anti-inflammatory. The pharmacist that filled this prescription was thorough with me on the instructions for taking this medication. I guess this is an old medication, but the doctor felt that the old remedy may be just what I need. The best part of this anti-inflammatory is the dosing. It comes on a little card where you push the pills through the bottom.

I am to take the top line of six pills on day one. Check. I did that yesterday. Today I take the second line of pills, a total of five pills, taken in two installments. (is that the right word?) Then Friday I was to take line three, four pills, three on Saturday etc until I am down to the last pill.

My last installment for today's line was three pills to be taken after supper. I popped one pill out. Then the second. The third bugger is the one that gave me issues! I looked in my hand and it wasn't there. It wasn't still in the card with the rest of the pills. I started looking all around the sink area, on the floor, under and over the rugs, I can't find it. By the way, it's a little white pill. It's a good thing there are no pets here. They would probably find it immediately.

Brother Phil was upstairs in his room so I asked him for help. He came to the bathroom, flashlight in hand, and together we combed the room thoroughly looking for this little white pill. Nowhere to be found.

I'm not that up on many medications. But since this one had such a strict dosing schedule, I thought maybe one pill might be important. So, I called my Walgreen's pharmacist! I was lucky enough to get the same pharmacist that talked to me at length yesterday on this very pill. I explained to him what an idiot I am, what I did and now I can't find the pill.

I then asked him how important that one pill was. Should I just take four out of five today and then the four tomorrow and three the next day and on and on? Or, should I take one from tomorrow to make five today, and just keep stealing one from ahead to make the current day correct until I got to the day of one pill and just not take any? Did it really matter?

I guess it did.

There is one pill waiting at the pharmacy for me to pick up any time. At no charge. One pill. I can't wait to walk in the pharmacy tomorrow and admit I'm the idiot that lost one pill. One. At least this wasn't the worst blunder I've done!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I Think I Broke It

Well, the saga from the car accident is still not over.

My mid back has been hurting since the accident. It's an aching sort of pain, but it is continuous. I can sit up only for so long before it gets the best of me and I have to lay down. After I lay down for so long, I can't take that position any longer and I have to sit up again. It's been a viscious cycle.

Due to pressure from the Corporate office, I finally tried to go back to work on Tuesday with disastrous results. By the time I drove over an hour to the audit site, I was hurting a lot more than usual. I tried to work for a few hours and actually lasted about 4-1/2 hours before finally calling it a day and crawling home. As soon as I got home, I was on my ice packs. More about my ice packs later!

Wednesday was my appointment with an orthopedic specialist. I have had previous back surgery in 2002 so I was really worried that I reinjured something. However, the pain was not in the same place as before. My mid back hurts the most, but I do get occasional stabbing pains down really low on my back, just up from my tail bone.

Since I couldn't get in with my original surgeon until the end of October, I decided to take an appointment with one of his associates in the same practice. I think I made a great choice!

The new orthopedic specialist gave me a thorough exam and really listened to everything I had to say about how my pain is. He asked me what remedies I had tried and I told him the best was the ice packs. I had quit taking the muscle relaxants and the narcotic pain killers, and am sticking to ice, hot showers and Aleve. He was happy to hear that.

Previous to my appointment, I had contacted the hospital I was taken to after the accident and requested them to forward my x-rays and results to this new doctor. He received only the results, no x-rays. My lower stabbing pain he accepted what the report stated and called it muscle strain. Not too much to fret over since the pain comes and goes.

The mid back ache was another story. It wasn't addressed too well in the report so I had new x-rays done at his office today. The doctor is leaning towards the mid back problem being a compression fracture. It did not show up on the x-ray but the doctor doesn't think this is too uncommon. The vertebrae is shaped differently and not every fracture will show up on an x-ray.

Regardless, the doctor said the treatment would be the same with or without the fracture.

I was put on a five day dose of steroidal anti-inflammatories. As an added boost, I will start physical therapy on Monday. I am thrilled that he is not overly concerned with the injury and believes that we can make this better with the drugs and the physical therapy. I'm all for his plan of action.

The down side to all of this is, I am off work until at least 10/13. While I will never complain about time off, I will worry about paying the bills later. Work isn't happy with me, but after this appointment, they are finally more understanding that hey - I might actually be injured. Based on the crap I've been taking from them, I don't think they believed me.

So, there is my scoop on my injury. I am to rest and heal. Yeah, I was working on that already! I will anxiously await the therapy.

Now I have to give a shout out to my good friend, Ruth in Ripley New York!! Hi, Ruth!!

When I was first injured, I was talking to Ruth about the accident. I was telling her that the ER doc told me to apply ice packs to my back. Now, let me tell you about the old way I used to apply ice packs!

I own a couple of bags of frozen peas. Everyone knows how much I hate peas, but two bags of frozen peas makes GREAT ice packs! Whenever I get my migrains, one of those bags goes to the top of my head and one goes to the back of my head and viola! Relief! Well, that didn't work on my back. My back is sensitive to the touch so the peas were killing me. Then my good friend Ruth, came to my rescue.

Frozen kitchen towels.

Yes, frozen kitchen towels. You wet down a kitchen towel, fold it neatly to fit into a gallon zip loc bag and put in the freezer. When frozen, take out of the freezer, and put between back and recliner! Heaven, I'm telling you!

At today's appointment, when the doctor asked me what I was doing for self treatment, I said "frozen kitchen towels"! That was a head scratcher for him. Once I told him how well they worked, and why they worked (because they are flat towels and light weight and bendable and pliable even when frozen!) he was really intrigued. He asked for step by step details and how I froze the towels and how I applied them and he said he is going to recommend this to his other patients. He thought it was a great idea!

Speaking from experience, it IS a great idea! I feel the best when I'm lounged out in the recliner with two frozen kitchen towels between me and the recliner. Thanks, Ruth! My doctor thinks you're awesome!! My back thanks you too.