Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Game 6 Saved My Neck

Most people recall Game 6 of the 2011 World Series where St. Louis Cardinals' third baseman David Freese hit his 11th inning home run that forced a Game 7 with the Texas Rangers. It was historic; St. Louis was one swing away from losing the series when Freese smacked the ball over the wall. The Cardinals went on to win Game 7 the following night and there was much rejoicing.

But I remember the rained out game the day before more so because it literally saved my neck and restored my distrust for conveyor belt physicians.

I was scheduled on Oct. 26, 2011, to undergo an injection treatment for a deteriorated disc in my neck by a local pain doctor. I was having issues with the disc for some time and it often felt like someone was shoving a steel rod through my eye and out the back of my head. Stress exacerbated the pain, which was groovy since I work at a newspaper where meeting constant deadlines are the life.

The doctor did a perfunctory examination of my neck a week prior and rubber stamped my treatment. I was to get a shot of nerve-deadening lidocaine into the C3 disc at 1 p.m. — only six hours before Game 6 was to begin — and since the procedure and recovery time took about three hours, I figured I'd be home in time to catch the first pitch. All would be well, he said.

So I went.

When I arrived, I should have taken early notice and bolted then. I am not making this up; the other patients there resembled the group in the waiting room for hell in that movie Beetlejuice. One person was showing photographs on her phone camera of ghosts that she captured. There were ghosts in the room with us, she said, and she wanted to snap more pictures.

Another man kept talking about his old friends, then sadly ending each thought with a dejected shake of his head and: “He's dead now.”

Yet another woman regaled the doctor, proclaiming his treatments were a “miracle.”

“Treatments?” I asked. “How many times have you been here?”

She thought for a moment, counting in her head. “About 10 now,” she said.

The doctor was running behind. I was called back to the pre-op room at about 2:30 p.m and went through a barrage of questions. A nurse asked me what level my pain was at. I guessed a '6.' She told me that I had to be 80 percent better in order for my insurance to cover the procedure, otherwise it would be more than $400 a shot. “Eighty percent of six?” I asked. “So I have to figure out that I'm at a 1.2 pain level for my insurance to kick in? How do I do decimals?”

She shrugged. I asked if we could amend the pain to something easier to compute, like a 100.

I was ushered into a smaller room where a series of beds were cloaked by curtains. The nurse asked me to shuck my clothing and get into a gown. I asked why I had to take my pants off for a neck treatment. It was yet another warning sign that this was not supposed to happen.

Finally, at about 4 p.m. I, pantless, caught a nurse and asked what the delay was. I told her Game 6 was scheduled in three hours (I didn't know about the rain out yet), and said I was told the recovery time was three hours. The nurse said that since I had a driver, I could leave when I “woke up” and did not have to wait the allotted time.

“Driver?” I asked. “I don't have a driver.”

She became irritated and said the doctor didn't schedule any afternoon treatments for those who had no one to drive them home. Apparently, a side effect of the treatment is the deadening of the right arm. Driving would be somewhat restrictive if you couldn't use your arm, she said.

By then I realized I was in the remake of some medical horror movie. No pants, dead arm, ghosts. It was time to bail out.

The nurse said we would possibly have to reschedule the injection. I jumped at the opportunity, as well as back into my pants, and I fled, promising to set up a new treatment time.

I never did.

Instead I went to a different doctor in another town a month later who ordered an MRI and a full work-up of my situation. He found that the C3 disc was not in bad shape. It was the C5, and the treatment prescribed for me earlier would have been pointless.

He treated it with medication, light therapy and adjustments to my work. I am supposed to get away from my computer occasionally, walk around a bit and try to minimize the stress level. It works at times.

I look back on the day of that procedure. Had I not been a sports addict, I may have gone through with the injection. I was on the brink of being rolled in to the doc's shop of horrors when I questioned the nurse about the game time.

There is still pain. A lot of pain sometimes. But I don't have to figure out mathematical problems to determine my pain's abatement. I have full use of my arms and I am wearing pants.

And I didn't miss the game the following night.

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