Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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The MRI

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my chronic issues with sciatic pain. Late last week I had my annual physical and mentioned my concerns to my doctor.

After a series of questions, which left me feeling like I should’ve said “Look, I have cramping/muscle tightness in my right and left glute, cramping in the back of my right calf, muscle tightness in the back of my left thigh, numbness and/or tingling in the bottom of my right and left foot and it might happen every day, a few times a week, or some combination thereof. Spin the wheel and let’s see what combination happens today!” my doctor recommended I have an MRI of the lumbar region.

Oh, oh. I was hoping for a simple x-ray first. He explained that the best way to view the spine was with an MRI.

So I left his office with referrals in hand for an MRI for bilateral sciatic pain and for physical therapy.

The MRI took place this past Saturday.

At first I wasn’t very nervous about the procedure. Then I started to feel a little anxious after talking to people about their experiences. I wondered if I could go through with it.

I tried to picture myself in the MRI. I started calling it the “hot dog bun.”

I woke up on Saturday morning at 5am in a slight panic. My head was telling me I couldn’t do this. That I was “gonna freak out” in the tube. Great! I rolled over onto my back and laid flat for 20 minutes repeating the mantra “I am calm. I am relaxed.” Sometimes, on the inhale I’d silently say “calm” and then say “relax” on the exhale.  Eventually I fell back to sleep.  I also proved to myself that I could lay flat for 20 minutes. (I knew I’d be in the MRI for 20-30 minutes.)

The alarm went off at 8am. I had to be at the hospital at 10:30am. I kept repeating my mantra silently in my head throughout the morning and while driving to the hospital.

When I walked into the MRI, I was promptly greeted with “Hi Amy, they’re ready for you.”

Oh yippee, skippy. No time to sit and wait. No time to get nervous.

Actually, this is a good thing.

I’m shown to the changing room (johnnies, pants and you can keep your socks on) HospitalJohnny

and then told to wait in chair just outside the MRI chamber. I can hear the dull thud of magnets in the distance. Thud, thud, thud.

The MRI tech comes out, escorts me into the suite and asks me a few more questions. I lay down on the table and stare at the huge skylight. I’m given a set of earplugs and headphones. I opt to listen to classical music. I tilt my head backwards and see the MRI tube behind me. Small gulp. The tech puts a pillow under my knees, gives me a little rubber ball to squeeze if I need help, asks me if I’m okay, and rolls me into the hot dog bun.

I keep my eyes open briefly as I pass under the beginning of the tube. Then I shut my eyes tight and start my mantra. I’m supposed to be in the MRI for 30 minutes. Oh yes, you have to stay very, very still.

During the course of testing I think about our trip to Nova Scotia…there is a cool breeze blowing over my head. Where is that coming from? I repeat my mantra. I start thinking odd things and actually start relaxing. I am tempted to open my eyes to see what the inside of this tube really looks and feels like. I decide that probably isn’t the best thing to do.

Periodically the tech checks in via a speaker to ask how I’m doing and to tell me how much longer I’ll be in the tube. At one point there is complete silence as he prepares to take pictures from some other angle. I start to doze and then the bang, bang, bang starts again. I feel my body jolt. And then I have to keep myself from laughing! I can’t believe I started to fall asleep during the MRI.

This is oddly meditative!

Eventually the test is complete and I open my eyes as the tech rolls me out of the tube. I imagine this is what it must be like in a space capsule. The MRI tech tells me that he got “lots of good shots.” I tell him thank you and I look forward to seeing a different side of me.

I leave the hospital relieved that the MRI is finished. It wasn’t a bad experience at all thanks to my mantra.

I’ll get the results on Tuesday and see what road I go down next.


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What A Drag It Is Getting Old

Ah yes, that lovely Rolling Stones song. Next up, the Beatles “When I’m 64.”

The past couple of weeks have left me feeling like a creaky middle-aged woman. (Okay, so I am middle-aged according to some statistics but I don’t like the “creaky” qualifier.) Normally I’m an upbeat positive person. A recently published study even showed that positive, happy women have better health that our cranky counterparts. (I wonder if you can be both?)

What I’m getting at is a literal pain in the a**; the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in our body that courses from your lower back, through your butt, and down your leg. My sciatic nerve introduced itself to me back in the 90’s when I worked as a Speech-language pathologist at a rehabilitation center. I remember feeling a twinge on my right side. The physical therapist gave me some stretches for my right glute and IT band. I figured the twinge was due to all the years of lugging around therapy materials in a bag slung over my left shoulder which in turn caused my right hip to stick out further to the right. (You’ve seen this posture on any woman lugging a large purse or satchel over her left shoulder. It looks kind of like a distorted S.)

Flash forward several years to late 2003 and early 2004. I’m now having a vise grip like pain in my right glute, the back of my thigh, around my calf, and, for good measure, tingling in my foot. These pains don’t happen all at once all the time. They can be selective and zap you in two out of the four locations. Sometimes they happen while I’m walking. Sometimes when I’m standing. But by late 2003 it is getting really uncomfortable to stand for any length of time; sitting helps but even then the pain sometimes persists.

Our yoga teacher at the time recommended a local chiropractor. Now chiropractic services was not something I was crazy about. I remember the negative attitude expressed by some physical therapists at the mere mention of a chiropractor. I was a little skeptical but also realized I needed to do something. So I scheduled an appointment.

At this appointment I learned that my sacroiliac (SI) joint was twisted. It was literally twisting back and down and impinging on the sciatic nerve. Just writing that makes me feel sore!  But that first adjustment was like a miracle. I walked out of the doctor’s office pain free. I was amazed. I came home and slept for at least a half hour. The stress I was carrying in my body had been released and I finally allowed my body to relax.

I was put on a program of weekly visits that turned to every other week and eventually progressed to treatments as needed.  Cool; this seemed to be working.

But now that pain is back. The reality is it never truly went away. An adjustment here and there was beneficial to relieve the pain temporarily. But after some time the SI joint would twist again and the pain would return.  In the last couple of months I’ve had pain not only on my right side (the original spot) but also on my left side. It might be there when I walk, run, sit for too long or sleep on my side. I’ve stopped going to yoga out of a real or imagined fear that deep twists might throw the joint out of whack. I use a “knee pillow” at night to keep my hips level. Can traction be far behind?

You know how sometimes your body pokes and yells at you until you really, truly listen? I believe that time has come.

For several months I’ve been trying to figure out what is really going on here. I believe the SI joint is twisting. I can feel a difference in the level or height of my hips when I lay flat. One side is definitely lower or back further than the other side. But what is causing the joint to twist? This must be more than simple “weakness.”

I decided to refer to a book I bought a while back, “Muscular Retraining for Pain Free Living” by Craig Williamson. Mr. Williamson is an Occupational Therapist and developed a form of therapy called Somatic Integration. Mr. Williamson believes, and I agree, that we often develop ingrained, dysfunctional patterns of muscle use. We might hold one side of our body tight when walking due to past trauma. A musician might contract a muscle when playing which in turn causes pain over a period of time. How many of us sit at the computer and develop neck pain because of the way we hold our heads and tighten our neck muscles?

The problem is we’re usually not even aware we’re doing this with our bodies. The key is to become aware of our bodies, of the kinesthetic movement, and to teach our muscles the proper way to move. In essence, we need to learn new movements (the correct ones) which will help the muscles relax and decrease or eliminate the pain.

A potential disadvantage to this approach? If you’ve been moving incorrectly for a long time, it is going to take some time to retrain the muscle.

I had a chiropractor appointment on Tuesday. Today I started reading Mr. Williamson’s book and tried out a few exploratory exercises. Just practicing how to walk in a relaxed manner, feet and ankles soft, heel to toe, and really feeling the ground relieved some of the minor muscle tension I was feeling.

So perhaps I am getting old and creaky (or is that cranky?), but if I can retrain my muscles out of a few bad habits, getting older won’t feel so bad.

If you’ve had similar experiences with a twisting SI joint or sciatica I’d love to hear how you’ve dealt with it.

Please note that I’m not negating the services of a chiropractor. I believe alternative forms of treatment are indeed beneficial and should be used in conjunction with traditional medical practice. What I do think is essential in any practice is that we treat not only symptoms but causes as well.