Okay, that title is completely blowing it out of proportion, but the alliteration was just too tempting. I mean, I guess inevitably my spinal issues could kill me. Eh, it’s not a lie, it’s an exaggeration. F’ it. I didn’t say “…and what I did next will make you pee rainbows!”
I have had neck pain for about 15 years. Never saw a doctor for the first 14. Had a crappy doctor ignore it on 15. And yesterday I finally got a real look at my neck and why it hurts. Here’s what triggered it. A friend ignored a mildly annoying thing he had for a long time, went to the doctor, and got told he may have to have major surgery. This made me realize what I had been ignoring and…
I’ve had that bump on my spine forever. Holy shit could it mean major surgery? I don’t have time for that. I should keep ignoring it. What if I die in surgery? So much I haven’t done. I’m so lazy. I should stop facebooking and sudoku. Or what if they screw up and I can’t move? But they say neck trauma can lead to stroke. And stroke can lead to paralysis. Oh my god I’m going to be in a wheelchair. How can I do all the things I never done if I’m in a wheelchair. But there are people who have much fuller lives than me in wheelchairs. A wheelchair isn’t what will stop me from living. Too much sudoku will. I’m such an ableist. I can’t die yet, I just learned what ableist means. I hate doctors. Why can’t I just google this? webMD says I have cancer…
Yeah, right? Welcome to my brain.
But the inner dialogue did end in a proactive decision and I made an appointment for a new doctor. He referred me to “a spinal surgeon.” After what I assume was a face of utter horror, he then described the man as a “…spine GUY. He’s a spine doctor. Good friend. You’ll like him.”
Friday morning, I nervously got my neck x-rayed and slouched in the chair awaiting results.
Spine Guy noticed I slouch. Didn’t mince words about that being a bad sign. But hey, so I look a little early Igor. It’s just looks, right? Not really. It’s dangerous.
The moment it sunk in was while he went over my x-rays with a high tech red dot, going from vertebra to vertebra. I was looking at an x-ray of my neck. I saw a neck. My neck. The slowly growing protrusion (my “early Igor”) was a white mass on the lower part of the screen. And I was already tuning out. His tone said it all and I didn’t want too many details as panic attacks in doctor offices are never productive. He was saying things I didn’t quite understand -angles, curvature, etc. Numbers I didn’t have an reference for. It felt like a lecture or a rev up to surgery or a rev up to pills…I just wanted to know what to do. No. I wanted to know what to do did not involve something that scared me. Here’s what I heard:
Dr: See that angle of your neck? It’s 2.3 degrees forward.
Me: That doesn’t seem bad at all.
Dr: It should be 30 degrees back.
The rest of the conversation is an even foggier blur. He took out his toys and showed me what my neck should look like and why I could feel popping and what that popping is. I do recall “This right here? This is shot.” I don’t remember what he really said. I just kept doing the math…
30 plus 2.3. Maybe he meant 30 degrees more. So it should be 27.7? Did he really say 30? Maybe he said 13. Should I ask? This doesn’t seem relevant in the grand scheme of things. I should have made a list of questions. “This is shot” means it can’t be fixed? I should put that question on my list. Why does he keep explaining this? I don’t know what he’s saying. I’m a smart woman why is this not making sense? Is this how people are told to prepare for surgery? What about my bump? Can I get rid of my bump?
Dr: That bump is this bone here protruding.
Okay. I’m out. I’m done. Justina has left the building.
The session ended with how to fix this. I had to make changes.
1. Computers are bad. This is great news when we are talking about the computer for my day job. Oh, what? I gotta step away from worksheets? Okay! But this is actually devastating for me because I identify as a 24/7 writer. People have mocked me with awe about how I fall asleep in front of the laptop, wake up, write, fall back asleep, wake up, write. I’m generally propped up on a couch, on the floor with a box, or on the bed with pillows. To be told this must end is actually saying I must change who I have invested myself to be. I will likely dedicate a whole blog about this, how our identity, and our connection to our self-created labels are sometimes unhealthy. Maybe always if we invest too much.
2. Mom was right, sit up. In the last 24 hours, I’ve been looking like a yo-yo. I suddenly realize Friday morning and sit up like an arrow. This actually hurts. My body is so accustomed to slouching that sitting up straight is painful. And thus the cycle of good behavior, pain, guilt, bad behavior, pain, good behavior, pain, guilt, etc.
3. Physical Therapy – Let’s just say this phone call has not been made. It will. But not right now.
4. Yoga or Pilates. If you’ve ever worked out with me, you are a unicorn of friends. And also, you have witnessed that I don’t like exercise. I do it. I hate it. I’ve tried everything. The bottom line is I don’t catch the exercise bug. No matter how long I do it for (and I’ve run a marathon, so I have done it), I hate it. It is a necessary evil. But evil is its core.
5. I get to go shopping. Yo, bitch, it’s science. I gotta go shopping! There’s always a silver lining. Now, the first purchase will either be a LumoLift or a kneeling chair. Same price. Both will inevitably happen. You will get an update when either do.
After 24 hours, I have learned just a little about lifestyle changes to save our lives. I have friends who struggle with this. I would tell you they succeed or fail, but the first lesson is learning that we don’t succeed or fail at change. We travel through change with successes and failures. There was not a moment of my last 24 hours I was not aware of a minor success or beating myself up over what I thought was a major failure. I hope blogging this will give me some clarity to be easy on myself and firm in dedication. I welcome stories from others because I know many of you have been on the journey for much more than 24 hours. And my admiration for you has grown exponentially as I start my own journey.
UPDATE: I sat up straight 17 times while writing that blog.