(Story ahead!) When I was 19 I ruptured a disc in my back, and the idiot doctor (at Kaiser’s, where I usually had good experiences) DIDN’T DIAGNOSE IT CORRECTLY. She told me I’d probably pulled a muscle and to go home and rest. Now, I was dancing 30 hours a week – I knew damn well what a pulled muscle felt like, and it did NOT feel like this. I hadn’t even been able to get off the floor the night before (where I’d been watching TV), and it had taken me an hour just to get to the doctor’s office, which was 10 minutes from my house. The other 50 minutes were spent easing myself into and out of the car, into the doctor’s office, into the exam room, etc. Pulled muscle, my ass. Grrr. I finally told her I was not leaving without at least getting some painkillers, seeing as how I COULDN’T WALK. She got very huffy with me and said, “Well, if you’re asking for painkillers, I’ll have to put a note in your chart about that.” It was a good thing for her I was in too much pain to leap across the exam room and rip out her eyeballs with one of those wooden tongue depressors on the counter. Instead, I smiled what my sister calls my “serial killer” smile, and said tightly, “Fine. Put a note in the damn chart. Hell, give ME the chart, and I’ll SIGN it! But if you want me out of this room and you don’t intend to do anything about my back, you better write me a prescription or call security, because I AM NOT LEAVING without something to help this pain!!! And I swear to God I will sit here all fucking day if I have to!!!!” She wrote the prescription. :P
So for two years my back hurt. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but pretty much all the time. When I was 21, I finally went in (for the fourth or fifth time) and they told me (for the fourth or fifth time) that before I could see a specialist, I had to go through “physical therapy” (for the fourth or fifth time). I don’t know if you’ve ever been to physical therapy, but let me tell you, it’s pretty much a crock. They make you watch boneheaded videos where you “learn” things like, “lift with your legs, not your back,” and “hold heavy objects close to your body, not away from it,” and my personal favorite, “don’t stand in one hip – distribute your weight evenly between your two feet.” No shit, Sherlock. They told me my hamstrings were probably too tight, because that causes many cases of back pain. “I’m pretty sure that’s not it,” I answered. “No, no,” they said, “That’s almost always the problem. You lay on this table, and we’re going to check your flexibility.” At this point I was definitely laughing on the inside, because I knew what was coming and I was about to enjoy this immensely. I lay down on my back, and they took one leg and started lifting it. Remember, I was still dancing, so that leg went up, up, up all the way over my body and toward my torso. When it hit the vertical point, the therapist started repeating, “Let me know when you feel a stretch!” “I will,” I answered. My leg passed vertical, descending toward my face. “Let me know,” she said, sounding worried. “Don’t worry, I will.” Here comes my leg, right toward my face, and alllllllllll the way down. Now my foot is on the table and my knee is next to my head. “I still don’t really feel a stretch,” I offer helpfully. “Do you want me to move over so you can push my leg past my torso on the table?” “Um, no, no that won’t be necessary,” says the therapist, wide-eyed. “I don’t think the problem is with your hamstrings.” “I know,” I comment (always helpful, that’s me).
After that session, I walked back to the front desk and announced, “I know I’m supposed to have another 6 visits with the therapist before I can see a specialist, but this is dumb. I know all the stuff they’re telling me, since I’ve already gone through these classes, I know it’s not my hamstrings, it’s not my muscles, it’s not general soreness, dammit! I’m LYING ON THE FLOOR in classes at school (thank God I was an arts major, where no one cared if I laid on the floor!), and I WANT TO SEE A SPECIALIST NOW!!!! My insurance will expire in 4 months when I graduate, and I don’t have time for this therapy bullshit, so I’m not leaving until I get an appointment – with a SPECIALIST!!!”
For some reason, when I have tantrums, I get results. Maybe that’s true of everyone, I don’t know, but it works for me. The receptionist stammered for a minute, pushed some buttons on the computer, and voila! A specialist appointment!
So I trotted my placated little self back into the office 4 weeks later, and saw an orthopedic surgeon who listened to what hurt, where it hurt and for how long it had been hurting and promptly sent me for an MRI, where they discovered – guess what? A ruptured disc. The specialist was livid. Not at me, but at the fact that other doctors had misdiagnosed it for 2 years. Apparently, it was fairly obvious on the MRI (he even showed me, and I could see it). It wasn’t a “normal” rupture, which was how I was walking at all: it hadn’t exploded completely, but had basically sprung a leak. So I had a hole in a disc that was leaking spinal fluid about as fast as my body could replace it. That meant that although there was never a point at which I had NO disc cushion between my vertebrae, there was also never a point at which I had ENOUGH cushion, either. Hence, I was able to walk around, but not without varying degrees of pain.
Now this doctor was very cool, and kind of funny. He told me, “Well, I’m really supposed to suggest surgery, but you’re awfully young, and back surgery is far from a sure thing; half the time it works, a quarter of the time nothing changes, and a quarter of the time, it’s worse. Sometimes much worse.” Well, I’m not a fan of cutting my body open anyway, so I’m looking at him expectantly. “Um, well . . . “ he hedged. Finally he spit it out. “How do you feel about alternative medicine?” I could have hugged that man. He was Asian and as it turned out he was first-generation American, and had grown up in a family that put as much credence in Eastern forms of medicine as Western. Woo-hoo! So he told me to go get a bunch of different minerals and take them in various doses several times a day.
I also got a couple of exercises to do and a new way to crack my hips that wouldn’t put my back out of alignment. (My back was so bad that my hip joints would lock and I couldn’t walk unless I cracked them. Unfortunately, I had apparently inflamed a bunch of tendons and nerves and ligaments by cracking my hips the way I was doing it, and that was making my back WORSE, which of course made my hips lock, so I had to crack them, which made my back worse . . . you get the idea. :P)
Anyway, his theory was that since the rupture was really more of a leak and I was young, that if my body was given the tools to repair itself, it would. So I took the supplements and did the exercises (mostly because the looming specter of back surgery terrified me), and lo and behold, it worked!!!
He also had told me in no uncertain terms, “I never told you this. As a doctor here, I’m supposed to just tell you that you need surgery, and the supplement course, although researched, is NOT an approved method in this health care system. So if you tell someone I said this, I will lose my job.” Poor guy. But I was so glad he gave me the option of not having surgery. He was awesome. Sometimes I drive by the freeway exit where his office was (is?), and I always wave out my car window and say, “Thanks, Dr. ______!” My sister thinks I’m nuts. :D
But now, my back hardly ever hurts. Here’s the weird thing, though: if I’m worried about my finances, or if I’m hating myself for being fat, my back will hurt. A LOT.
My mom does a lot of energy medicine, and the lower back aligns with the 2nd (pelvic) and 3rd (stomach) chakras, which represent (among other things) your financial support and your self-image, respectively. I learned that AFTER I’d made the connection about when my back hurt, so I was pretty amazed. Our bodies know more than we think they do. Interestingly, it’s usually my self-image (3rd chakra) problems that throw my back into a tizzy. And apparently, my rupture was higher by 2 or 3 vertebrae than is normal. The doctor checked the MRI twice, and kept commenting how weird it was that I had such a high rupture. Aaaaaand, it was during the worst of my eating disorders and self-hatred that it ruptured. Craziness.