As I write this, I’m six weeks into my annual holiday bout with sciatica. I’m not sure why my Christmases have become so emphatically un-jolly. All I know is my new favorite stocking stuffer is Vicodin.
I mention my less-than-robust state because I know many of you suffer from similar or worse work-related maladies. I’m trying to find the humor in mine.
Here’s what I’ve learned about having a bad back:
- The Borg scale goes to 11.
- Dogs understand the noises you make.
- Children lift things you can’t.
- Easy chairs are anything but.
- You bend over to pick something up and wonder what else you should do while you’re down there (thanks to country legend Little Jimmy Dickens for that one).
I have an L5/S1 herniation that irritates my left sciatic nerve. Usually there’s just mild, intermittent discomfort, but when it flares up I seriously consider felonious acts against the partners who taught me to use stair chairs instead of stretchers to load patients onto ambulances. Then I embark on a routine of pills in the morning, pills at night and a cane by my side, all of which can become crutches.
Being away from EMS is almost as frustrating as not being able to do chores around the house. The last time I was recovering from sciatica, The Lovely Helen asked me to drag an old gas grill to the curb. I said that sounded like a good way to pay down the year’s health insurance deductible. She thought that was pretty funny. Then she got a neighbor to move it—a middle-aged, petite female neighbor. My ego took a direct hit; I told Helen I’d probably need little blue pills for life. She offered to buy them.
(Memo to significant others: It’s risky to make fun of gimpy paramedics. We’re sensitive, and we carry needles.)
This year was different because I ended up horizontal in an ambulance just before Thanksgiving. It was an act of desperation; my usual right-lateral-recumbent contortions to curb pain had no effect, and I couldn’t sit or stand long enough for Helen to drive me to my doctor.
I was extremely reluctant to call 9-1-1. I suppose that had something to do with all the abuses we see. Also, the thought of entering the system—the same system I’d been a part of for so long—made me feel self-conscious and vulnerable. I didn’t want to be someone else’s patient.
After promising Helen not to micromanage my own care, I asked her to use the nonemergency number of the dispatch office where she’d worked. Then I considered slipping into something less comfortable but more fashionable for transport before yielding to the notion of underwear as outerwear.
Here’s how I’d grade the performance of my community’s medical services:
EMS: A-. Courteous, gentle, no mindless backboarding, and they took me to the hospital of my choice. The only problem was they didn’t have any good drugs. Or maybe they did, but I didn’t qualify. I knew I shouldn’t have offered to slide from my bed to the stretcher.
Admission: B. No waiting for a bay, triaged on the way, and my nurse agreed a rectal exam wouldn’t be good for either of us. I was starting to hate hospitals less when someone from billing badgered me about a down payment (my wife had already presented our insurance).
Treatment: A. The attending ordered morphine and steroids right away—even before the x-ray—and two nurses made sure I got my meds promptly. The shots didn’t help much, but I appreciated the sense of urgency.
Discharge: Something at the end of the alphabet. While Helen went to fetch clothing more substantial than underwear for my trip home, I was banished to the waiting room to…uh…wait. If you’d been there, you would have seen this scary-looking barefoot guy in a t-shirt and paper pants—the best the hospital could offer to preserve my modesty. I looked like an extra from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Today is special: It’s my first day back at work in more than a month. I was supposed to wait another week, but some of our people are in worse shape than I am. No problem, I’m ready. I’m eager to engage. I want to show everyone I can do all the things I did before.