Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I Hurt

For the love of God, I. Hurt. So. Bad.

Evidently, this is good news to the neurologist, as they can only determine the success of today's procedure if I'm having significant pain beforehand. That is, this will allow them to say either "Yes, see, now the pain is gone, and RF treatment is the next step" or "Huh? You still hurt? Well, back to the drawing board."

This pain is not good news for me. In order to save on gas money, I came to campus with hubby and have been working on my diss throughout the morning (rather than wait at home and have him drive across town to pick me up and take me back across town to the doctor's office). Because I'll be under anasthesia, I can't drink anything and I couldn't eat anything this morning. Without food, I can't take the steroids. Because they want me to be in pain, I couldn't take either the pain meds or the muscle relaxers. And, as if this weren't enough, I had an orthodontist appointment yesterday, where they added a second wire to my top braces (yes, two wires working in tandem) and tightened my bottom wire. So really, I wouldn't be able to eat anything without pain even if I was allowed. Today just sucks all the way around.

Sorry to bitch, but there's more. A long post will soon come regarding H's friendship with her best friend being pretty much terminated by best friend's mother (it's a long story). Last night found me trying to comfort a devastated H, who didn't understand what an "unhealthy friendship" means or why her best friend was being taken away.

My blog is ususally not a whine-fest, but there just wasn't a way out of this one.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Does it hurt here?

Saturday night the neck pain returned. With a vengeance. I was up from 2:00 to 5:00 a.m. just crying from the pain as Hubby lay there next to me in bed. I had nothing but a heating pad and a Tylenol 3 for the pain, and neither were doing any good. It was only about 6 weeks ago that I had my last episode, so I really started worrying about the increased frequency, along with the issue of an upcoming pregnancy that would pretty much bar me from getting all hopped up on steroids, pain pills, and muscle relaxers.

Sunday morning I called the answering service for my general physician, and the on-call doctor called in scrips for each of the usual medicines, then I spent the rest of the day - Hubby's birthday - laying on the couch with the heating pad, drifting in and out of sleep. I felt like shit for not being able to wrap my husband's birthday gifts, hold E, or play with H in the front yard, but I was in severe pain.

Both my general physician and my neurologist are stumped as to why my disk pain episodes are occurring with increased frequency. It's not only an issue of not understanding why they're happening so frequently, but also an issue of the side effects associated with long-term use of steroids. At the neurologist's office yesterday, he explained that the type of workout I did on Friday (which is my typical workout: cardio and light weights) should actually help the disk pain and slow the progression of disk degeneration; so, the workout definitely wasn't the trigger, according to him. Tomorrow, they'll be trying a new approach by performing a Cervical Medial Branch Block. The idea is to see if they can block the transmission of pain signals coming from the facet joints to the brain. If it works, then it means I'm a good candidate for Cervical Facet Radio Frequency Neurotomy (RF treatment), which basically uses radio frequency energy to damage the facet joint nerves, thereby cutting off pain signals to the brain. Tomorrow's process is more of a test, during which they're main goals are 1)to determine if the facet joints are the source of the pain and 2)if the branch block will be effective in blocking the pain signals. If both of these goals are reached, then we'll move forward to RF treatment, which is a more permanent option. Though they both sound a bit scary (to me, at least), they're options that would hopefully prevent me from needing surgery anytime soon.

At this point, I don't care what they do. I just want the pain to stop, and I don't want to have to worry every 4-6 weeks when the next episode is going to strike. What am I supposed to do if this shit hits me while I'm in England? Luckily, my doctor included refills on both the pain pills and the muscle relaxers: God bless that man.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Who Knew?!

Non-plastic, reusable diapers. I'd never heard of such a thing until today, courtesy of Canape at Don't Take the Repeats. They're called gDiapers, and they're evidently a perfect balance between the convenience of disposable diapers and the environmental friendliness of cloth diapers. I knew we couldn't afford to use a diaper service when E came along, and I certainly don't have the time for laundering cloth diapers myself, so I didn't investigate any other options. Since the making of Baby #3 is in the near future, it looks like I'll have to do some research on these things.. Anyone else heard of them or have experiences with them?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Life in Six Words

M at Separation of Spheres tagged me for the Memoir meme, so this is my best shot:

"I think it's on my list."

This covers every aspect of Me: academic, wife, mother, daughter, housecleaner, shopper, chef, domestic engineer, medical billing clerk, and teacher (off the top of my head). Once I became a parent...over 9 years ago now, I became dependent on lists. Indeed, one might say I live by my lists, as they tell me what the menu is for the next two weeks; what groceries to get; who to e-mail, what papers to grade, copy, or handout; what phone calls need to be made; what items E needs at Montessori; and when I need to submit an application for funding.

I'm ever so Uncreative, so I'm interested to see what these other very funny and creative people can create. I tag Mad Grad Mom, Notorious Ph.D., LD at 7 Miles to Nowhere, Stewgad, and Harrogate at The Rhetorical Situation. The instructions follow, but I care more about the memoir each of these people create than I do about whether they continue the meme or not.

1. Write your own six-word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4. Tag five more blogs with links
5. Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play along

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Monster Vine?...Really?

WARNING: If you haven't read The Ruins, this will be a spoiler in the worst possible way.

I've just completed the first and only bit of novel-reading-for-pleasure since Summer of 2005, when I started studying for my prelims. Hearing nothing but rave reviews for Scott Smith's The Ruins, and knowing that I would want to have read the book before seeing the new movie, I picked up a copy and settled in with high hopes of being scared to death.

Yeah...not so much.

A vine? Really? That's all you can come up with Mr. Smith? I'm sorry, but the entire premise threw me off for two reasons:
1) there were never any damn ruins!
2) a talking, blood-sucking, really smart monster vine = Little Shop of Horrors without the music

I mean really...there were times I wanted to just giggle at the images being drawn. And for Stephen King to say it's the scariest thing since Silence of the Lambs? King is clearly smoking crack; step away from the pipe Stevie Boy!

I think my reaction is based on my belief that the scariest, most evil things usually come at the hands of Man (in the universal humankind sense). That is, while I really love, love a good scary ghost/monster story, the things I fear most are things other human beings could do (i.e. Hannibal Lector, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, etc.) I make the frequent exception for religious-based fears, such as demon possession (a really good exorcism story is fantastic), because I genuinely believe in forces of good and evil. But the whole vine thing is just too sci-fi for me. Objects of horror, for me anyway, need to be rooted in the realm of reality, some sliver of possibility.

I guess it wasn't all for nothing though; at least I know better than to waste my money on the movie!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

It Just Keeps Getting Better

This just in: There will be no physical therapy for me. Insurance doesn't cover it unless it follows a surgery.

The irony, of course, is without physical therapy, there may be a good chance I'll end up needing surgery later down the road.

Is this a great country or what?

Planning Ahead

In other news, I've started the tracking process that goes along with trying to conceive when you have a borderline case of PCOS. I'm not overweight, have no insulin problems, and I'm not diabetic. I do, however, have horribly irregular menstrual cycles (thanks Mom!), which usually last between 30-38 days. What we discovered while trying to get pregnant with E is that my FSH levels are not in proportion with the Lh levels, causing me to have cycles that are sometimes anovulatory. For example, with every three cycles, I may only ovulate once. Since time is of the essence and I'm a Pregnancy Planner (gasp!), we really need to conceive within the late-July to October window, as I'm hoping to stay home with the baby over the summer. I can't get pregnant before July because a) I don't want to be visibly pregnant while on the market in December and b) I don't want to be delivering a baby during the Spring 09 semester, when I'm team-teaching an upper-level class with my advisor.

Thus, the peeing in a cup has begun. Unlike many women, my peak fertility days are *never* days 12-15. When I got pregnant with E - the only month I got a positive ovulation test - it was Day 21 when the stick turned purple. I start the Lh tests around day 16 and test until I see a positive result or the next cycle begins (the latter is always a frustrating and disappointing scenario). My hope is that by late-July, I'll have a decent recorded history of the past 3-4 cycles and a better idea of which days will be the most fertilicious!

Monday, April 07, 2008

More on a Diagnosis

It's official. I have Degenerative Disk Disease. I was holding out hope for the ability to think of myself as just having a couple random degenerative disks, but after speaking with the doctor this morning, that wouldn't be an accurate account. The first MRI only covered my neck, so they'll be doing another one to look specifically at my lower back, where I also have frequent pain. The lower back pain occurs 2-3 days a week and ranges from mild to severe, and if there are degenerative disks in the lower back, it will explain why simply sitting down in a different chair too hard a few weeks ago caused the compression of three disks in my lower back (a truly embarrassing story to have to repeat).

I also found out this weekend that my father was diagnosed with the same disease in December. Thought it's not truly genetic, family history plays a role. The doctor said that being an athlete -something I thought would be helpful in terms of a history of being physically active - is also partly to blame. Other answers he gave were neither good nor helpful. Here's how it went with me asking questions and the doctor giving answers.

Q: Will this progress over the future?
A: Yes. It's part of the natural aging process, but even more so for people with DDD.

Q: Will this be a slow progression?
A: Usually.

Me: Oh good, so I won't find myself having 2 more degenerative disks in 2 years.
Doctor: It's possible. The progression is usually slow, but we don't know for sure how an individual case of DDD will progress. Each person is different, each person responds to physical therapy different, and the progression will also depend on the wear and tear placed on your back and neck.

Q: Will this affect my next pregnancy? My husband and I are planning to try to conceive at the end of the summer. (Note: I had a good deal of lower back pain with H, some 9 years ago, but it was mainly because she was laying on my sciatic nerve. With E, I had "OH MY GOD!!" lower back pain, to the point that my doctor gave me Vicodin to use "judiciously", sent me to the chiropractor, and threatened to put me on bed rest.)
A: Anytime you add extra weight, your lower back will be further strained. The increased pain with your second pregnancy is largely a result of you being 8 years older, but if the MRI shows that you also have degenerative disks in your lower back, that will explain it as well.

Q: Is there any form of a "cure"?
A: No. Physical therapy is the best primary treatment, except in severe cases, which might require surgical treatment (i.e. fusion, "padding" the disk).

So, there you have it. It kinda sucks. As it turns out, the doctor is not a fortune teller and can't look into a crystal ball to see how this will affect my future. I'm sad, but not upset. I was just starting to get really excited about trying to get pregnant again, but now I'm anxious about how mobile I'll be during the last three months of a pregnancy. I'm scared. Not terrified, just a little scared of the unknown. I'm still a little confused regarding what kind of strength training and/or exercises I can and should do in order to stay generally fit. I don't know if jogging makes things better or worse? Lifting weights? Not sure....these are questions for the physical therapist. Speaking of...I better call to find out when my first appointment is. Just what I need, another "thing" that interrupts my dissertation work schedule--argh. This makes it even more sucky!

But, it could always be worse...there are worse things that affect people every day. I'm blessed with a fantastic husband, two healthy, smart, happy children, parents who love and support me, and a career that I genuinely enjoy. Really, I have nothing to bitch about.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Partial Diagnosis is In

Well, I'm not crazy. Nor am I a freak of nature. There is, apparently, a real, physiological reason behind the weird, crazy neck pain episodes that have occurred since August: I have two degenerative disks in the top of my spine.

I have more questions than answers, but I was able to get some basic information concerning cause(s) and treatment. The diagnosis basically means that two disks in my neck have degenerated to a point that isn't in accordance with my age. That is, I don't have the neck of a 31-yr old. They have started to harden, making them less efficient at absorbing the shock of motion, injury, etc.

There is no "cure," so to speak. The degeneration of these disks may (or may not) lead to Degenerative Disk Disease, which has a variety of treatments, ranging from aspirin to surgery. I don't have the worst case scenario (the one that requires surgery), nor do I have the best case scenario (in which the pain is alleviated with aspirin). Right now, oral steroids usually do the trick, but they take a few days to kick in. The doctor suggested that it would be more effective to switch to steroid injections when I have future "episodes of pain." He's also referring me to a physical therapist in the hopes that physical therapy will either reduce the severity of pain or reduce the frequency. The problem, however, is that he can't guarantee physical therapy will do either of these things.

The doctor isn't yet sure if these are the only two disks affected, and my blood work hasn't been done yet either. It appears that, since I didn't suffer a recent injury and I'm not "old," genetics are the most likely culprit. My paternal grandmother has had arthritis in her spine for years, and my dad has had many back problems over the years. Knowing this, I started taking calcium supplements almost 10 years ago. Evidently, that doesn't matter...I guess...I don't know. There are also links between degenerative disks and cervical arthritis, the latter of which manifests itself with all of the symptoms I have when my neck pain kicks in, but this isn't necessarily a cause and effect relationship.

Ultimately, it could be much worse. I'm glad to know there's a reason this has been happening, and it's not some medical mystery. It sucks to think of what it may mean for the future in terms of my health, my ability to interact with my children, etc. if physical therapy doesn't help or if the degeneration is more progressive than expected...but it could certainly be worse. I wonder if I can get a refund on the $80 book stand I bought last year, thinking this was an issue of ergonomics, though?? Ooh, and maybe this gives me justification for asking for lots of neck massages from my hubby? I wonder if I'd qualify for a handicapped parking pass (I can barely walk when my neck flares up)? See, look at all the silver lining I've found :)