Sorry for the longer than usual blog hiatus. Get your violins ready, but I am currently suffering through one of my periodical bouts of lower back pain, which makes it very painful to sit up for more than a few minutes at a time. The last two weeks or so have been spent remaining vertical just long enough to teach my classes and hold office hours, before dragging myself home and chewing on pain killers. Blogging was one of the first things to go.
I was diagnosed with degenerate disc disease a little more than a year ago, but I’ve had back problems going back to 2000. The first such attack was especially memorable, since it occurred roughly three days prior to my PhD thesis defense. If you have ever suffered through a serious bout of sciatica, you know there is no pain like it. You’re all but immobile. There is exactly one physical position that provides any relief, and that is lying flat on your back on a hard surface. I remember giving my defense standing ramrod straight, since the slightest bend at the waist was very painful. In those days we were still using transparencies, and at one moment in the talk I forgot and bent over to pick up the next slide. Damn near fainted. On the other hand, it probably worked to my advantage. My thesis committee took pity on me and only asked me a few perfunctory questions before passing me. Yay!
Still, as bad as it was, it eventually healed on its own. It was the kind of thing that got a little better each day, so after the first four or five days the worst was over. Since then, roughly every eighteen months or so I would have a flare-up. Then I’d be miserable for six to eight weeks or so before life would get back to normal. During all this time, however, I never got around to seeing a doctor about it.
That changed last summer. You see, the memorable attack of July 2011 came with a couple of delightful new symptoms. I had two numb spots in my left leg, and some serious muscle weakness in my left calf. That scared me enough to see a doctor. Having watched too many episodes of House I was thinking blood clot, but my doctor basically laughed at that idea. An X-Ray revealed the degenerate disc disease. Basically, the cartilage that pads the discs in your spine gradually erodes as you get older. In my case, that degeneration has reached the point that two of the discs in my lower back are practically in contact with each other. Most of the time this doesn’t present any problem at all. But if I move the wrong way, or exercise a bit too hard, things can get inflamed, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing quite a bit of pain in my leg and lower back. Very annoying, but, again, with some patience it eventually heals on its own. Last year I actually did some physical therapy to address the muscle weakness, and while it took some time, eventually I recovered completely.
Relative to past attacks, this one has actually been less severe. My experience has been that it takes six to eight weeks for something like this to heal. It has only been two weeks since the initial onset of problems, and there has already been clear improvement. No muscle weakness this time, and actually considerably less pain. It’s just sitting specifically that is uncomfortable. Standing is much better. But things are getting better. For example, I have now been upright for close to ten minutes. I am squirming a bit, but if I had tried this a few days ago I would be close to tears by now. So things are getting better, but any sort of extensive writing is off the table right now. Sorry about that.
As annoying as all this is, it really could be a lot worse. So I’d say I have a lot to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and see you soon.