Jul 14, 2013

The BACKground of my Butt--Part I...

**Updated to include the following basic anatomy lesson: The sacrum is one of the pelvic bones, and is also the bottom part of the spine, slightly above and descending toward the butt. It attaches on each side to the ilia, which are what we feel as our "hip bones," and which attach at the hip to our femurs. The joint between the sacrum and the ilium is called the SI joint. Since we have an ilium on each side--making a total of two ilia--we have two SI joints. My left one is the hinky one.  And now for the story...**

On Friday I had a procedure I've been avoiding for a long time. Years, in fact. It involved my back and needles. These are two things which bring me great annoyance, anxiety, and/or pain, but I'm hoping that by combining them I can alleviate some or all of said annoyance, anxiety, and pain.

I've been looking back through my blog history, and I'm a little surprised that I haven't blogged in more detail about my back/butt issues, as it has been a fairly major part of my life for over 19 years now. Frankly I didn't think I was even old enough to have something to have kept track of for 19 years. Furthermore, it amazes me to think about who has known me since before my back issues, and who has only known me since back issues, because you know how many people have known me since before I had back issues? Not very many. And of course there are those who are thinking "Huh? Back issues? What are you even talking about Skerrib?" This should clear things up a bit, and make the needles make a lot more sense.

It all started in high school. In the spring of 1994 I was playing softball and finishing up my junior year, and had just adopted Murphy, the greatest dog in the universe (a story for another post).  I was dividing my time between the JV and varsity teams, meaning that on JV days I played, and when the varsity coach needed an extra base runner or some depth on the bench, I was called up to fill the slot. On the one hand it was an honor to be included when the varsity team needed me. On the other hand, there are lots of situations in life that are billed as honorable, and I don't want to discount doing honorable and/or difficult things, but these honorable things often amount to bench-sitting for the Greater Good, and maybe it's OK to recognize that aspect of it as well. Trust me on this, I've done a lot of Honorable Bench Sitting in my day. (Reason #247 that Skerrib settled on running: No bench to warm...)

Anyway, one day in practice we were shagging fly balls, and I jumped a little too far back for one and I fell, landing on my butt and back. I remember feeling like I was walking a little funny as I got up, but since I could move and didn't have any sharp pain I didn't think too much of it. I continued with practice and continued with life, and pretty much ignored and covered up the fact that things weren't right.

Until a month or two later, where I was helping out in summer softball practice and was sent to pick up second base, and realized that I couldn't lift it. It wasn't stuck or anything; I was simply in enough pain that I couldn't give the yank needed to jar it loose from its post in the ground. I mumbled something charming and self-deprecating enough that another teammate helped me out, and moved on, but that was enough for me to wonder if I needed to see a doctor.

Luckily, I came out of my teenage angst enough to ask my dad about it, and he suggested I see his doctor, who was a DO and could do spinal adjustments. Thus began the part of my journey I have entitled "Things That Didn't Work." I saw doctors, physical therapists, and maybe a chiropractor or two. I had physical therapy, electrical stimulation, and other conventional and alternative treatments (stopping just shy of acupuncture, because, needles). For the most part I loved my docs and PT's--they really wanted to help me, and they tried everything they knew. Things that should've worked, didn't work, which was frustrating for all of us. I had X-rays, bone scans, MRI's and so on. And every time the answer came back that while I had some not-uncommon-quirks about my anatomy, they couldn't find signs of injury, or anything else that would cause the level of pain I had. Or the more annoying version from the docs I didn't appreciate so much: "There's nothing wrong with you."

Through all of this my pain sort of evolved over time--the lower back stuff eased some, but I began having headaches and tension in my upper back, and eventually my body just decided that my left side from head to butt was wonky. I settled into a pattern of seeing someone every so often for an adjustment, and hoping it would hold, and being really discouraged when it didn't, and still knowing deep inside that something wasn't quite right.

Through all of this I also decided that as much as I could, I would keep living my life. Resting a back injury gets old really quick, and in my case resting didn't help it. On the other hand, doing my regular activities didn't make it worse, so I went with regular activities. I kept doing sports. I finished high school, did college, met & married the Cat Daddy, taught for two years, and did that whole thing where he went into the Air Force and I went through an entire life overhaul, resulting in grad school. There's a lot of living that goes on in a nine year period, after all, and even with annoying, ridiculous, stupid back pain, I did it.

Which brought me to a military PT in Ohio because that's where the Cat Daddy was stationed. I started seeing him, and he gave me the regular laundry list of suggestions to help my pain before gently suggesting that I could be one of the rare ones who just might need adjustments forever. That was so discouraging. I'd like to take credit for thinking in my heart "No, I really think there's something wrong still." I'm not sure if it was that, or just that I wasn't to the point of accepting that it could be the case that there really was nothing wrong with me. Either way, he said, "You know, there's another doc I'd like to take a look at you. He doesn't see a lot of patients, but I'd be interested to get his take."

And this is one of the events in life where the Cat Daddy likes to say "See? If I didn't go into the Air Force you'd have never..." which is TRUE, but sorry Cat Daddy, God gets the credit for finagling this one.

You see, Dr. Laub didn't work out of the regular clinics at our medical center there. He was a Colonel, on his way out of the Air Force, with his own 'office' in an obscure corner of the building. In a giant storage room, half of which was still used for storage. His work area contained a treatment table, hanging skeleton, and a computer on a little stand, where he made his own appointments. In the other half of the room were folding tables, assorted doors and equipment, and I'm almost certain it all sat atop an unused parquet dance floor. I'll call it Air Force Chic.

There was a reception desk where Dr. Laub's patients signed in, but he would come out to get us in person. None of the vital signs or other perfuctory little bits that, in my opinion, eat up time before the 'real' appointment. I think there was an actual human receptionist, but I'm not entirely sure. 

So pretty much the end of the line for my back lay in the hands of a man and his skeleton in a storage closet.

I liked Dr. Laub nearly immediately. The first thing he did was have me tell my then-nine-year saga. He let me drone on through all the details, asking a few questions along the way, but mostly just listening and taking notes. He had me walk with and without shoes. He did muscle testing, where he would push and pull my arms & legs, and I had to resist as best I could.

Finally he said, "I think you have something called a sacral shear. It's an injury so it wouldn't likely go back into place on its own, and it wouldn't be fixed by regular manipulation techniques. It's tiny, so a doctor wouldn't find it on any X-ray or scans unless they were looking for it, and even then it might not even show up. But I'm going to try this move on you and see if it works, and then we'll know more." So he did the new move on me--basically he used my leg as a lever to make my sacrum settle where it should. He said to rest for a week (I even had to drop out of a softball tournament) and he would see me again after that.

I didn't feel anything at first, but within a couple hours I realized I was walking normally. The feeling of something being "off" had been with me for so long that I had become accustomed to it as my new normal, until I felt my old normal again. I caught my breath and sort of looked up a bit and dared to feel hope about my back.

The thing about spines is that everything is connected. While my injury was in my butt, all of my muscles and whatnot had to compensate for it. Mere millimeters--in my butt--caused all sorts of spasms and tension headaches along my left side as a result of all the walking, standing, sitting, and living I did; it was unavoidable. While it made sense for all the other docs to be looking at my neck & upper back, Dr. Laub had the big-picture understanding to look elsewhere for the source. 

I continued to see him every week or two for a few months. He used a process called Kinesiology, which got into something called innervation to help my various parts & pieces communicate with each other and heal better after so many years of being out of whack. From what I understand about it, the science is sound, but it still seemed a little freaky-deaky at times. We would start with him telling me not to let him push my left leg toward the ground, but my leg being unable to stop him. Then he'd poke me in the ribs for a few seconds or give my leg a good yank, and we'd try again, and suddenly my leg would be more than strong enough to keep his arm at bay.  He also got me on a regimen at the gym to build muscle strength and overall stability.

Lucky Dr. Laub also got to hear some of my musings and processing about this whole thing. With long-term pain, one ends up digging into other aspects of life as well, especially if one is a nervous-type who has been around people that tend to over-spiritualize things. We talked about how there's a world of difference between "There's nothing wrong with you," and "I can't find anything wrong with you," and the damage we can do to each other when we take condescending postures. We talked about how God likes to use everyday circumstances to teach us things all the time, but sometimes a sore back is just a sore back. When I got bogged down in all the parts of me that still hurt, he would remind me of the huge improvements I'd seen already.

He told me about starting out in a completely different career, and then seeing a few doctors, deciding he could do a better job, and going to medical school to become a DO (most of my favorite doctors have been DO's and to this day I am biased toward them)--all while in the Air Force. He told me about steak and lobster night at his house, and I was impressed that regular people bought and prepared lobster in their own homes. I'd have liked to meet his wife, because I have a feeling she has quite a story of her own to tell.

Finally whatever he was waiting for came through, and it was time for him to retire from the Air Force and start up his own practice in town. I was holding back tears in his storage-room-office at my last appointment, wondering what would happen, and he said, "You're going to be alright. Remember, the body wants to heal itself." And he gave me his email address and said I could keep in touch. 

Anytime I venture out into a new and independent thing I get scared, and this was no exception. Even if Dr. Laub hadn't been retiring, we moved from the area not too terribly long after that, so the parting was inevitable. I remember emerging from the medical center that day both nervous and hopeful for the future of my back and butt.

Dr. Laub retains hero-status in my book to this day, and I send him a grateful email every few years to remind him of that. He was both compassionate and competent (which I am finding can be an elusive combination, especially in military medicine), and I don't think he'd have been as effective without both of those traits.

Next up: the rest of the story. Maybe...

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