X-rays and Vertebrae
note: hello and welcome to the introduction. this blog will be photo-based, but for those of you who dig origin stories, here follows the how and the why…
On Wednesday the 20th, I was taking a shower before heading out on some errands in the morning. I had a minor chest cold, so the steam was helping my lungs clear themselves out. Which was great, until a particularly intense coughing fit nearly folded me in half at the waist… I heard an awful grinding noise and felt what seemed like the bones in my lower back disintegrating, and when I straightened up was alarmed at how much pain I was suddenly in. I sit with a laptop doing design work and editing photos for my living, so I was used to being a bit stiff through the neck and back, and having impressive rock gardens in my muscles that make massage therapists who enjoy their job excited. This was just something else though…
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I got dressed, went to my neighborhood chiropractor (who has always done a great job of keeping me tuned up), and asked what he thought it might be… we tried an adjustment… I went home and worked on a deadline (against doctor’s orders! couldn’t be helped!), finished it, popped over to the store for a back brace and some cough syrup, and passed out.
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I awoke the next day in just as much pain, scared out of my head and stressed out about my limited options for helping myself. For this year, I’d chosen to pay the fine instead of springing for health insurance, by the way, so needing surgery would have essentially demolished the entire life I’ve built for myself in this city. (Who can pay for an apartment here, even if it is rent-controlled, if they can’t work and are putting every cent they have towards medical bills? Not me!)
I pulled myself together and went back to my neighborhood doctor. When he asked how I was feeling that day, I burst into weeping; it was this flood of stress and worry and fear that had been brewing, and it wouldn’t be held in… There is a special kind of pain that comes with back injuries that I was completely unaware of—it’s like your body’s way of sounding an alarm: “YOU ONLY GET ONE SPINE! BE CAREFUL!!!” I had no idea what was going on, how I could help myself without proper insurance, if I had an injury that would require surgery (it sure as f@#k felt like it) or if I was just going to be in a lot of pain until I healed…
Local doc decided to refer me to a chiropractor colleague who works in more of a physical-therapy, sports-injury vein… and has an X-ray machine! It’s not an MRI, but with vertebrae being as close together as they are, seeing them and their relationship to each other can provide a lot of answers…
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I teared up again, this time with RELIEF, when Doctor G called me back, and said he could fit me in that day. I hobbled in my old-lady shuffle up the hill of Van Ness Avenue and over to his office (on foot, because any amount of jarring, bending, twisting, etc., only made me cry out from the lightning bolts). I spoke to my Mummy on the phone (she’s on the east coast), but was otherwise feeling slightly terrified and very alone, so I broke down and, super out of the ordinary for me, posted to my friends on FB this note:
“If you have a spare good thought, please send my way- headed for X-rays to find out if a stupid injury from yesterday is either an incredibly painful annoyance (yay!) or something that might require major surgery (no no no). Very scared. Trying to remain positive. Ugh.”
Comments with words of support and encouragement flooded in, and I will readily admit, preserved my sanity and bolstered my will enough to just put one foot in front of the other and walk the almost-three-miles up and down the hills to the new doctor’s office. Ever find yourself having a crap day, and then when someone surprises you with a kindness, it’s so unexpected and ameliorating by contrast that it almost makes you cry? Yeah. Like that. Except not almost. I love you guys. Exhale.
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Doctor G took some pictures of my insides, and when I came into to the room to view the developed films with him, I couldn’t help but crack up laughing; a much-needed smoothing out of rough edges…. I’ve shown this image to a bunch of people and only two people instantly saw what I thought was so funny 😀
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Verdict: I had at least one swollen disk, ridiculously high blood sugar, a curvy spine, thinning bones, and need to take care of this vessel that I cart my brain around in. Doctor G’s plan for my being able to put my socks on again by myself was cutting out carbs and booze (sugar is an inflammatory, so that will help my disks chill out; also, I’d rather not give myself diabetes at 36!!), adjustments as often as I could make it in, veggies, many many vitamins, walking, not sitting, etc., just to start.
My poor shark fins. They are not supposed to be so thin and so twisted. I always thought I was doing pretty well with being a good vegetarian and taking decent care of myself. I wouldn’t have denied it if you called me a workaholic, but… nothing like seeing pictures of your misshapen vertebrae to inspire you to make some significant changes, and fast.
This one of my neck was such a big surprise. It didn’t (still doesn’t) even hurt, but vertebrae are supposed to be relatively square, and necks are supposed to curve the other way. Clearly, these are very far from that… Quoth a friend: “Saw the x-ray photos… you’ve got some Lucky Charms going on in there!” Yep. Yikes!
I spent the first few days walking VERY slowly, picking things up from the floor with my toes, doing ballerina plies in order to lower myself, sleeping on my floor, LOVING the hell out of ICE, and trying not to let my eyes leak too much while walking to and from the chiropractor’s office. (Large sunglasses are a good crying shield. And, it helps to focus on an object at the end of the block and just shoot for that… and then repeat for the next block… p.s., don’t twist too suddenly to check for on-coming traffic, you will regret it, ouch!!)
I came home this first day of seeing Doctor G and wrote a list of all of the things that were positives in my situation, and decided to keep focused firmly on those things, no matter how much I hurt or how frustrated I got. Over the next week, my friends were super supportive, I followed all of my Doctor’s Orders, and…. I got better. So, so, much faster than I could have imagined, given how incredibly excruciating the initial injury was.
And I started walking, every day. And I haven’t stopped, and now I’m not a workaholic, but I may have been turned into a walkaholic! (Har har, I know…. just go with it…) However cheesy that sounds, it’s true. I started taking more and more photos as I walked, and varied my routes each day to go exploring—not concerned with veering off my route, or zigzagging through blocks…
I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 20 years, and SF proper about 10, and always told myself I would go do all of the things there are to go and do and see, and…. just kept sitting at my desk instead. I still have to sit at a desk, but now I walk what seems to float at a steady average of seven miles every day, and I’m gradually seeing and doing all of the things there are to do here. I’ve turned a corner and been quietly stunned by a view of San Francisco’s rolling hills I didn’t expect, found gorgeous parks I never knew existed, and just taken time to look around and see what’s been right there all along. I thought other people might like to come walking with me, and see, too…
I’m not a writer, so this post will have the most words by far; I’ve just been taking photos as I walk, and mapping where I go… I’ve made a goal to walk down each street in San Francisco at least once! Let’s see if I can… Where should I go tomorrow?