I had been working on a great project with the State of Minnesota (more on that in a future post), when on July 3rd my right leg stopped working. Well it worked, I just couldn’t move it without screaming at the top of my lungs.
I was in St. Paul, MN for most of that week and had some minor lower back pain, which started to creep down to my right leg during the week. I flew home Wednesday afternoon, and hung out with neighbors in the evening as the kids rode bikes, etc. I couldn’t walk much or stand without wincing in pain. I figured a good night of sleep in my own bed with some Tylenol is what I needed.
I woke up the next morning and couldn’t put any pressure on my right leg. My wife rushed me to the Emergency Room where they had to wheelchair me in. Despite the fact that I couldn’t walk, the ER doctor looked me straight in the face and said there was nothing wrong with me other than some pain.
The only reason I didn’t rip Mr. ER DOC a new one, was that amidst the pain in the car, I called a neighbor of mine who happens to be a radiologist, Dr. Chris McClaughlin. Chris prepared me for the fact that the ER would help me manage the pain, but would not run an MRI which would be required to diagnose what was happening. While I was getting my fix from my dealer, Chris arranged through my doctor to have an MRI that afternoon.
Turns out that after running 3 half marathons and many smaller races, working on a deck, and the rigors of travel, I had a herniated disk. To be specific a herniated L5 disk with Radiculopathy. For those not attending med school this semester, this means that a disk in my spine bulged out and is laying on one of my nerves that go to my right leg. In the figure to the right I circled where the hernia is extended out of the disk (big oval shaped thing above it).
Chris consulted with the on-call Radiologist and my primary doctor on the diagnosis from his home. After a few days of heavy duty pain medication and a dose of steroids to reduce the size and affect of the disk, Chris showed me some of the technology that allows him to do view these from home as well as the extent of my injury. He typically doesn’t diagnose things from home, and is usually in an office with very expensive, high end monitors and speedy networks. They are all digital, so they can read images from multiple hospitals at once.
To allow him to see it from home, he uses a SSL based portal that he helped create since he is one of the IT guys in his practice. He selects the patient records, and then can view the MRI from different angles. It takes longer from home because the MRI’s are broken down into a series of high resolution images that need to be cached. Once they are cached he flips through them with a trained eye to look for abnormalities. As he does it, I can’t make heads or tails of it, and it reminds me of many of us (geeks) as we scan code or scripts. Once he saw the troubled area, he slowed down and explained to me all about my spine, the disks, how the nerves in your leg work, etc. I am really appreciative that he could explain what was going on at this level of detail. I learned long ago that I have a lot more anxiety about health issues if I don’t understand what is going on, and what the goals might be to resolve them.
I have a choice; Physical Therapy or Surgery. After discussing these options with my doctor and Chris, and the outcomes are generally the same, physical therapy was the only choice. Physical Therapy takes longer, but is affective in shrinking the disk back into shape. Surgery is quicker, but much more risky.
I am doing physical therapy, and have made a lot of progress. I don’t have pain anymore, and tried to get off the heavy duty medication as quickly as I could. We are working on getting all the tingling and numbness in my pinky toe to go away. This involves exercise pretty much every hour, and hanging from an inversion table several times a week. Once I have 10 full days where I don’t have symptoms from the nerve, I can start traveling and lifting small objects.
So, I am here locally in Denver, trying to work on what I can. Unfortunately, I was let go from a great project in Minnesota because my role required customer face-to-face interaction. I wish them the best of luck.