I have been absent in the blog space for about 2 months. My lower left back had been aching again. The pain movement from the lower back into the butt cheek, wrapping around the hip and then settling into the front left hip flexor had me observing with a keen eye, and feeling myself deeply. There is a point in a woman's life where she knows her body very well. We have experiences in life that allow us to instinctively know when something is not normal, and that comes only with the wisdom of time and life lived.
Over the course of 2 weeks, the left foot began to slap the earth, and I began to lose control over the movement. It was a surprise at first, and then I began testing the movement and sounds daily. I learned that it is called drop foot. The nerves were being affected by something in the spine (I felt). I contacted my spinal team, my chronic pain team, and my general practitioner. My GP miraculously set a phone checkup for me just when I needed her most. She said the drop foot was worrisome and ordered an MRI. As the control over the left side of my body waned, I tried not to worry. I was not answered by my spinal surgery team. I had to figure out the language on my dynamic x-rays and MRI myself. Finally, after 2 excruciating weeks of rapid weakness, and numbness in the left lower body, I took myself to the ER.
Just like a year and 3 months ago, the ER team at South San Francisco Kaiser Hospital did not know what to do to help me. In fact, I had come directly from teaching yoga in the evening. I had brought my little suitcase on wheels because at this point carrying my heavy yoga bag was not safe or doable, because of the pain level. The ER doctor, Dr. Chin, looked at me and looked at the suitcase. I asked for pain relief medicine and an MRI immediately. Why wait, especially if I had one scheduled for the next day? The ER doctor put Tylenol in my arm in an IV. I asked for something stronger and they could not accommodate unless I had a ride home. I had driven myself there. I asked to stay over in the hospital because I was not feeling safe walking or driving as the left side of my body was getting weaker and more painful with each step at this point. Dr. Chin glanced at my suitcase, rolled his eyes, and said to me, "This is not a hotel, I have been here 25 years as an ER physician, and we don't let patients stay overnight for something like this. You have to contact the spinal surgery team and ask about next steps." He actually thought I planned an overnight visit to the hospital, like a hotel. I replied that I was using the suitcase as my yoga bag because carrying my regular bag was too difficult. I also mentioned that there were signs everywhere in the garage saying to take all valuables with oneself, and that I was following instructions.
They sent me home after a couple of hours. I had to walk myself slowly and painfully, crying with each step, all the way back to the main garage, dragging my leg behind me at this point. The entire left leg and foot had become numb and tingling as well. The ER team perhaps thought I was trying to get some strong drugs into my veins because I looked too vibrant to have a real problem. Dr. Chin's notes emphasized that I had been able to work teaching yoga the same day as going into the ER, implicating that I did not have a real emergency. They weren't concerned that I may fall or lose control on the walk back to the main garage. They were not even searching my chart for information into my past emergencies in the neurology and spinal areas of the year past. They did not take me seriously at all. Once again, I was crying more from the professionals not believing me more than the discomfort itself. Last year I had been in the ER 3 times with the back and leg issues on the right side. THe 4th time I had to be taken by ambulance, as I had not been able to move at all, screaming and crying for hours, and loss of being able to eliminate for 4 days.
This most recent visit to the ER was on a Monday evening the 6th of November. On Tuesday through Thursday. I dragged myself to the yoga studio, working, but with a determination to talk all of the moves out, without doing the asanas (poses). I came home each day, took Tylenol, and sank into a deep hot Epsom Salts bath, hoping that would help. Unfortunately, the symptoms worsened. I was blessed enough to receive an MRI appointment on Wednesday, and as mentioned earlier, I had to read and decipher the results myself when they were released. The same thing happened with the dynamic x-rays ordered a couple of weeks before, which I had to implore the physician's assistant with ordering. I knew something was not normal, yet nobody called or emailed me to explain the results, even after I called and emailed several times. The x-rays and MRI showed a herniated disc in between the L4-L5, and pieces of the disc and bones pressing on the root nerve in the L5, which controls the entire left side of the body from the hip downwards. The entire control of movement, feeling, muscles, nerves, and bones were being compromised once again, this time little higher up than the surgical fusion and lumbar laminectomy with discectomy surgeries performed last year.
After my hot bath on Thursday the 9th of November, I crawled out of the tub, the loss of feeling in the left side increasing by the moment. I called my husband and asked what his thoughts were about what I should do. He said. "Call 911. I am not a professional, but it seems the only time they believe you are in real trouble is when you called 911, like last year." So, I called 911. The city EMTs, private ambulance, and fire engine came within minutes, helped me from the floor into the special chair, and whisked me away to the big Kaiser in San Francisco instead of South San Francisco. One of the EMT staff had a brother who worked for the fire department and said that he (the brother) had just had a herniated disc and the hospitals didn't believe him either until he had to call 911. He had been in pain and went to the ER 5 times before they believed him. This is the story I hear over and over again from my yoga and Pilates students who have had back surgeries.
The city Kaiser was better able to communicate with my spinal surgery team from last year, and after hours of waiting in a hallway near the emergency rooms, they took me to a hospital ward at about 2 am. I was set up with heavy doses of painkillers, Tylenol, saline for dehydration, and steroids to reduce inflammation. Within days, I was set up with another emergency spinal surgery in San Jose, where the spinal specialty center was located for Northern California Kaisers. I stayed in the city Kaiser 5 days. My husband picked me up on the Following Monday evening the 13th of November, ironically, my son's 23rd birthday. The city Kaiser does not have a rule where one has to be escorted out by staff after an in-patient stay. I had never experienced that before. All of my times at hospitals had been that they were responsible for me until I entered my vehicle, being driven home by someone else. I had always been forced to have a wheelchair, for safety. That they told me I was free to go was a new and unsettling experience. What if I fell on my way to the elevator or car? Were they not responsible for my safety?
I had 2 days to prepare for surgery. The surgery was set for the 16th of November. I organized all of my classes at the yoga studio to be covered and took myself off of the December schedule. I knew I would need time to heal. I had another lumbar laminectomy with a discectomy. The surgeon did a great job, using the same incision site because the scar tissue was not that thick. He was able to remove all of the pieces of debris, bone, and disc gel which was poisonous and electrocuting the nerve root. I was able to have more strength in the foot immediately after surgery.
There are no promises that this will not reoccur again. There was nothing I could have done or not have done to prevent this from happening. Some of my students think I exercised too hard or pushed myself working too much at the studio. I am not to blame, my doctor said. I could sneeze and the herniation could occur. As I age, there is more degeneration of the spinal discs. I have a pre-existing condition. I was diagnosed with one bone out of place as a child, called spondylolisthesis. As a child, I had back aches and dragged my left leg in 9th grade. At that age,I had to stay in bed for 2 months to see if the bone would ease up off of the nerve. My devoted mama brought my homework to me daily. The pain and numbness on the main nerve eventually eased up, and I was instructed to strengthen my core for my whole life to protect the back. I became the sit-up queen. I taught aerobics and more in the Jane Fonda days. My path to health was linked with helping others find their better selves and joyful health with movement, music, and a positive tribe supporting them.
We do the best we can for our bodies, minds, and spiritual connections to something greater than us. Surprises like mine are challenges meant to teach us something. Then as a teacher, I am inclined to share.
I adore my tribe. Thank you for your support.
-Author and Creator of the Superior Self Series
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