the back of me..

the back of me

There’s a story (that may be apocryphal) about someone traveling all the way across the country from the east coast, out into the desert to find Georgia O’Keeffe.  When he arrived he explained that he had hitch-hiked his way across the country, “just to see her”

“This is the front of me,” she turned around, “this is the back of me.  Goodbye.” and she closed the door.

The back of me, as it turns out, is a literal pain in the neck, and pain in the ass.

I’ve long known about two herniated disks in my upper spine.  As best as I can theorize, these were at the root of the upper back/arm pain that I experienced during last winter’s six month stretch of chemotherapy, for which I took copious amounts of narcotics.  At some point during those six months, a new pain developed running down the back of my left leg.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been suffering from considerable sciatic pain ever since.  As it turns out (MRI last monday), I have two herniated disks in my lower back too!  One with “compression of the left S1 nerve root in the lateral recess.”  Nice to know that the pain is in my back and leg, and not just in my head.

The puzzler is, how on earth did I herniate two disks in my lower spine during a period of relative inactivity.  The pain developed during a time when cooking dinner was the most active and gymnastic that I ever got.  The upper back disks, I feel pretty certain, were the result of too much break-dancing in the nineties and noughties (I broke).  If the lower back disks were a result of tissue breakdown caused by the chemotherapy (my theory..  not something about which there seems to be much data), why would it just be those two?  Why not a spine full of disk herniation?  I will discuss this further with the doc next week.   My guess is that it’s a combination of the two.  Maybe leftover non symptomatic injury from my dancing days that was pushed over the edge by acid in my veins.

As if on cue, yesterday the disks in my upper spine acted up while I was working on the lathe, and made the sciatic pain feel like a nice massage.  Nice to have things put in perspective.  At the urging of my dad and my wife, I resorted to codeine in the evening.  This morning, it’s still there.  Feck.  This poor old body.

Tonight my whole family will be coming over for easter bunny.  Cooking rabbit for easter has been my tradition (and favorite joke), for years now.  This year, it was pretty hard to find the little critters, maybe because of this?  I guess it’s a pretty obvious joke, in the end.

10 Replies to “the back of me..”

  1. I too have herniated disks between 5, 6, &7. Misserable pain which shows up unwanted and unanounced. It shrugs off pain killers like water on a ducks back. Like you, there is no explaination as to the cause of the injury. Physical therapy has been the only relief.

    As far as Self Aware Chemical Reactions are concerned, you are a mess. But you are our mess. No one who has read this blog walks away unaffected.

    Feel better quickly.

  2. It’s one thing after another dude! Man, I feel bad for you guys.
    Can I make one smaller suggestion, that you read a book called healing back pain book by John e Sarno?

  3. Thanks, Robert.
    Laura! Don’t waste too much time feeling bad for us. Life is great! The Sarno book has been recommended by a few others as well.. I’ll check it out..

  4. Also would like to recommend the Sarno book. Really helped me and hope it helps you. I know how terrible back and sciatic pain can be.

  5. I often think that herniated discs are a term they just throw around for anyone with back problems.
    I experienced the worst pain I ever have, far worse than kidney stone attacks, about 3 years ago. Sciatic nerve problems running down my left leg, the seemed to be aggravated by a pulled muscle that was very deep inside the dimple part of ones bum……
    Long story short, I have become an expert with sore backs and can atoll you that narcotics and pain pills do NOT work.
    The only meds that do work and solve the problem, are Naproxen. Here in Canada we have it on prescription. You can get it in some aspirins like Alieve I think but its no where as strong as the prescription meds can be.
    In any event, the nerve has a muscle pressing on it, so simply, the Naproxen w which is an anti inflammatory, brings down the swelling so eventually the nerve is no longer being pinched.
    But it must be combined with lying straight down on the floor with your legs up on a chair so your back,to your waist is straight on the floor, your thighs are straight up in the air so your legs from your knees are bent over a chair, almost like the letter Z, exempt straight lines. This allows the lower part of your back to be firmly on the floor. If you stand up with your back against a wall, you will feel all of your body flat against it except for the area in your lower back which won’t be. When your back is out, it needs support. It will only get this support when you lie down on the floor with your legs bent over a chair. That pulls that part of your back straight down on the floor giving it the first bit of support it has had in ages.

    What might sound rather silly in simplicity, will work in most case of painful back problems. Yours might be complicated with other issues, I can’t say but if you haven’t ever tried the above, please do. Many have spent fortunes with therapists, doctors, and almost had surgery when the above is all they needed to start doing. There are exercises one can involve themselves in once the back is back to normal again to strengthen the very deep inside stomach muscles, such as stomach crouches which will flatten out that lower back as it is when lying on the floor giving it support but first one needs to get rid of the pain and the inflammation of sciatic nerve problems and the sore back which is the root of it.

    When it first happened to me, someone told me to do the above and i ignored them. I felt that if I walked, and pushed myself, I would get rid of the problem, being that is how i have ever dealt with small amounts of pain before. OUCH…….I made it 10x worse. When I finally listened and got down on the floor, for about 2 weeks the damage was so severe, the 50mg of morphine I was taking for the pain daily wasn’t helping at all and nor was my back getting better. I could not sleep for more than 1 minute at a time at night for about 2 weeks. It was that painful. I became so exhausted that I would move into a new position on my bed that felt good and I would immediately fall asleep, but about 1-2 minutes later, that position too would start to hurt and I would wake up again.. I would then find a new position and go through it again.

    Finally, exhausted, burned out from the pain, I finally hobbled to my doctors 2 weeks later and was given Naproxen, this anti inflammatory. Within 24 hours I felt a small change and then it slowly got better but as I was taking them, I was down on the floor with my legs over the chair for about a full 7-10 days until I was completely better. I have had enough experience with this to now know that I had damaged it so severely it needed that amount of time to even start to heal.
    Today if it were to happen, Id be taking Naproxen immediately and would be on that floor with my legs up and over the chair and it would likely take 24 hours or a bit longer.

    Next time you lie down in your bed on your back, while everything is flat on your bed, put your hand between the bed and that area of your lower back where is likely not laying flat on the bed. If it isn’t, it isn’t getting any support. Thats why one needs to lie on a harder surface like the floor with your legs up and at the knees, laying your lower leg on the seat of a chair. That will pull the lower back spot directly down flat on the floor and give you he support you need to heal, along with the anti-inflammatory.

    I have helped many people with lower back/sciatica problems and the above always works. It likely takes longer than usual the first time for until one does the above, we just make i worse ad worse but once done and solved, then understanding how well it works, the next time, that person will get down on the floor right away ad pop Naproxens as they know the sooner they get down, the less damage they will do to their back and will soon be healed.

    If you find this works, the next step is to look at your bed. It might not be supporting your lower back enough. Some people put pillows under their knees but they are need enough, never high enough so I find it to be a half assed solution at least for myself.

    Good Luck. As I said, I have helped many by explaining this to them and what hey must do. Yours could be affected by something else, I can’t say as i am not a doctor but generally speaking, the above will work. But just be prepared the first time for it to take a few days, due to the amount of damage done ;-(

    I apologize for this very long post and I do hope it doesn’t sound like quackery to some but for those of us with bad backs that have discovered the simple solution above, it does work!

    Love your blog and wishing you all the best!!! I truly hope you get rid of your back problem. I by the way was told I had a disc problem, as have many before me and I am now convinced i is a stock answer they give to almost anyone with a sore back 😉

  6. Okay I have nothing at all useful to say here except it’s always great to hear how you’re doing so thanks for the update, and I hope all these books and sleeping poses work absolute miracles for you. cheers:)

  7. hey ez.

    last year i was diagnosed with a probable pinched nerve from a slightly bulging-out disc. it caused pain down back of my right leg and made my right knee feel really swollen and made squatting very difficult (i wasn’t sure if i’d get up, because anytime i bent that knee, it was like ZAP! OW!). not fun at all.

    originally, my dr (a orthopedic) wanted to give me cortisone shots, but we weren’t crazy about a needle into my spine, so we went with physical therapy. The thing about physical therapy is that it is slow-going (about 3 months) and the exercises feel ridiculously simple, but it worked. You have to let whatever is inflamed heal first, and then the PT can offer suggestions for your future exercises and how to manage the pain if it flares up again. Most of the exercises involved engaging my lower abodminals to help support the back. One other thing I learned is that I can no longer ignore the pain when it happens- it’s there for a reason, and that I have to pay attention (i.e. if it starts hurting, go do some of the PT exercises).

    my dr also said that there isn’t a real cause for these things- it’s all due to gravity. gee thanks doc.

    Here’s a book recommended by my PT and a chiropractor who’s also an OD: Robin MacKenzie’s 7 steps to a pain-free life (works for both upper and lower back). I use the method in there at least twice a day.

    Hope you feel better soon.


  8. Hi Ezra,

    Stumbled upon your blog through lusting after beautiful bikes. I read a few entries and have been absolutely fascinated and touched by your writing; I read back in your archives My dad has cancer and I’m so awful at talking to him about it. He’s quite the stoic European type and there are really no mushy moments between us and it’s hard to talk to him about how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking. Anyway, I feel like maybe I understand a little something more about what it might be like for him by reading your blog. Beautiful photos as well. Thank you for sharing your funny, sad, bike loving blog.

  9. Ezra,

    looks like i’ll join the list of fellow posters with chronic back issues. in addition to back pain and the love of cycling you and share is a career in dance. reading your earlier posts i too sometimes wonder about the years of dancing has contributed to the damage. i still dance in teach in the philadelphia area (i know many of your u arts teachers very well) and do all i can to manage the pain when it show itself. what i can say is bike riding has always helped me as much as anything i’ve tried. i’ve been following your blog for sometime, you are inspiring and a true artist in every sense of the word. best to you.

  10. Hey Ezra,

    For what’s its worth I suffered severe sciatica due to a herniated disc for a couple of years right after undergrad. I was uninsured but finally so frustrated and down about the constant pain I saw a doctor who confirmed with an MRI that I had a herniated disc and recommended surgery. When I went to see the surgeon I confessed that I’d be paying out of pocket and he was this crazy, fast talking Indian man who just started laughing and said , “You don’t need surgery, you’ll be fine if you read this book.”. The book is 7 Steps To A Pain Free Life by Robin McKenzie. I ordered it from Amazon, did his recommended exercises and eventually the pain went away. I have recommended it to other people with similar issues and we all call it our back bible. Now when I have flare ups I bust out the exercises and things get better.

    I know the chemo may be taking things into a whole other realm in your case but it might be worth a shot. What strikes me is that he often blames inactivity and bed rest for increased pain which was clearly your situation when you were laid up during chemo.

    That book no kidding changed my life! It’d be awesome if it could work for you.


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