Thursday, October 21, 2010


So my back's been acting up since the day after Harley died. It hasn't gone into full-fledged spasm, but it hasn't been right, either, and my usual remedies -- like swimming -- haven't helped as much as they usually do.

For the past two days, the pain's been worse (although still not quite as crippling as in the most acute phase of a spasm). I've only been comfortable when lying down; sitting and walking have been increasingly unpleasant.

The day after Harley died, I had my primary-care doc call in a script for muscle relaxants, which I've used sparingly, mostly at night, ever since. But I've never gone this long without the back getting better, so I called today and got an appointment to see him tomorrow morning. In the meantime, though, I had an appointment with my rheumatologist today, so I told him what was going on.

He did an examination, discovered that I can't extend my left leg without sharp pain in the lower back, and frowned. "That's not good."

"That's sciatica, right? Which can be a symptom of a slipped disk?"

I was correct on both counts. He's sending me for an MRI, although we probably won't be able to schedule it until Monday, since we need to clear it with my insurance company first. In the meantinme, he's put me on bedrest for the next two days; I can go see my PCP tomorrow, can use the bathroom and get up to eat, but that's about it. (And I'll probably have meals in bed too, since sitting up is so uncomfortable.) I asked if I should take muscle relaxants, and he said they don't actually do anything directly for the muscles: they work on the brain and make people sleep a lot, which helps the muscles heal and also helps the time pass so you aren't bored in bed. So he said I could take them if I wanted to, and that I should use a heating pad (not ice, which I had been doing).

So here I am in bed with my laptop, phone, Kindle, knitting, and mountains of grading. We'll see how much I get done. I canceled my fiddle lesson tomorrow, my hospital shift on Saturday, and dinner with friends on Saturday night. Gary's being a dear about fetching and carrying, and when I'm lying down (even if I'm propped on lots of pillows) I don't hurt much, so things could definitely be worse.

One of my best friends from college has had a slipped disk for years now, and she's done great without surgery or anything: her main medicine is lots of swimming, which the doctor recommended too. (I swam today and it definitely helped, although I'm still worse than I usually am after swimming.) So if I do have a slipped disk, I also have a role model of someone who's stayed active and healthy.

Elsewhere in the realm of fun, the car woudln't start yesterday. The "check engine" light had been on since about two hours after my last oil change, but when I called my garage, they said the light probably had something to do with emissions and not to worry about it until the car needed servicing for something else. The AAA guy who came yesterday jumped the car and told me I needed a new battery, but when I dropped the car off at the garage, I told them to do the engine check too.

Turned out some nitrogen sensor was out, or somesuch. That plus the new battery ran me $662. Ouch! But yesterday we also got some of the money from Mom's estate, so again, things could have been worse.

As I drove home from the doctor's office today, the "check engine" light came on again. Criminy! I called the garage and my mechanic said I should bring it back next week, when I'm feeling better (he gave me a ride to campus yesterday, and was worried about how cautiously I moved getting into and out of his truck). He said there will be no charge for the follow-up visit.

So yeah, things could surely be worse, but I wish things would stop breaking!


  1. Anonymous9:40 AM

    Dear Susan,

    I hope your back both feels better and gets better soon!

    Good luck with the grading in the meantime,


  2. Anonymous11:03 AM

    Sciatica can also be caused by muscle spasms, not just by slipped disks. The piriformis muscle is a common culprit -- search on "piriformis syndrome" for more details. Deep tissue massage can help stop the spasms, which relieves the sciatica. For long-term help, people usually need to do stretching and strengthening exercises. A good physical therapist can be your best friend in this situation!


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