Anyone who owns a radio or TV in the Kansas City area knows the news: The Kansas City Chiefs have lost their star running back, Priest Holmes, to a neck injury. He took a hard hit in a game two weeks ago and has been examined by several doctors, who came back with the same advice...No hits for 30 days, at least. Since there are only four regular-season games left, this means his season is over.
This is a tough loss, as Holmes is widely considered to be carrying a large portion of the team's weight when it comes to offense. I was listening to a sports radio station the same day this news broke and lots of fans were calling in commisserating about losing our star player. Would the Chiefs still be able to win without Holmes? Would Holmes' backup be able to perform? Would he retire or be back next year? The calls went along these same lines for an excrutiatingly long time.
Then finally some guy called in and said, "Hold up...let's think this from Holmes' viewpoint for a moment. His career could be over!" There is speculation that Holmes has a bruise on his spinal case (not column). These types of bruises do not heal - they are there for life. This guy had actually played semi-pro football, gotten hit in a similiar way as Holmes and had been partially paralyzed. He still did not have 100% use of his upper body. This gave a whole new perspective to the topic. And reminded me of a similiar situation that I went through...
No, I didn't get hit by a 300+ pound lineman, but I did have a serious neck injury. About five years ago, around mid-summer, I started getting some pain near my shoulder blade. A strange little pain that felt like a muscular "knot". Since I was playing volleyball about 3 times per week, I figured I had just over-used a muscle and was sore. Then the tingling started. A weird tingling sensation down my right arm. I started going to my massage therapist bi-weekly to fix the "knot"...to no avail - it kept coming back. Over the next couple of months the tingling got so bad that it actually hurt. I quit playing volleyball, as it was hard to control my arm with all the tingling. I quit sleeping through the night, as I could not find a position that was not painful or that did not put my arm to sleep. Keep in mind that I work on a computer all day...needless to say, this was quite painful too.
I'm not a big fan of doctors, but at this point I figured a doctor's visit was in order.
My doctor ordered an MRI of my neck and shoulders. If you've never had an MRI of your upper body, it's scary as hell. They warned me in advance that if I was claustrophobic, I might not like this. I am. And I did not. I was able to get past being shoved headfirst up to my waist into a tiny, enclosed chamber. I was able to get past the ear-splitting, jackhammer-like thumping that the super-duper magnet makes as it images your body. I was NOT able to get past the pain of lying there on my back for 15 minutes. It hurt that bad just to lay still. I ended up wiggling and they had to repeat the process a second time. Torture.
When I went back to the doctor to hear about the results of my MRI, he scared the living shit out of me. He said I had a herniated cervical disc. He went on to say that I needed surgery to either remove or fuse the disc. He went on to say that I should be extremely careful driving, since any sort of impact could potentially paralyze me. He also mentioned that if I lost control of my bladder that I was to report to an emergency room ASAP, as that might be an indication that the disc had intruded into my spinal column.
...and I thought he would tell me it was a pinched nerve. The fucker really threw me for a loop.
I cried the whole way home. I figured my life as I knew it was over. No more volleyball, no more bike riding, no more sleeping through the night. I was 35 at the time, with a lifetime of plans and goals ahead of me - lots of them physical. It's an understatement to say that this was a gigantic bummer.
As instructed, I reported to the neurosurgeon's office for a consult. This dude, who looked just like Chris Elliott (the mad professor) from "Back to the Future", began by telling me all the bad things that could happen during the surgery. Partial facial paralysis (on side only). Okay, there goes my modeling career - ha! I could need more surgeries. I could lose movement of my neck. I would be in recover for six weeks. Six! As the icing on the cake, he mentioned that, due to how close all the nerves and spinal stuff was, that they make the incision in the FRONT of your neck. He actually made an imaginary "cut" with his finger across his throat. As in "off with her head". Okay, Alice, I'm down the rabbit hole and outta here. I nearly sprained an ankle running out of this crazy dude's office and to my car. I was NOT having my throat cut. No way. I don't like turtlenecks enough to be stuck with them for the rest of my life to cover a scar like that.
More crying in the car. Then worrying that the tears would blur my vision and I would get into a car wreck and be paralyzed. Then hopelessness as I realized that without this surgery, I would have to live with the now ever-present pain and numbness in my arm. This sucked. Then I mentally whacked myself in the head and told myself to start brainstorming. What else could I do? I couldn't live with this. I couldn't get the surgery. What else? What else? An idea came to me...
We had a friend studying to be a chiropractor. We had been camping with him the past spring and he had evangelized how chiropractic care could solve lots of problems that would normally require surgery. I had nothing to lose, so I picked up the phone and called him. I explained the whole deal and he said he would talk to one of his instructors about whether my problem could be solved. He called me back and I got an appointment with his instructor, Dr. T., later that week. At least I knew he wouldn't want to cut me open, so that was a start.
Dr. T. was awesome! After looking at my MRI, he agreed that I indeed had a badly herniated disc. Then he went on to say that it would take about 4 months to get me back to 95% capacity. I had to come see him twice a week for the next few months, then we would take x-rays and see what had changed. This sounded much better than the big, scary knife solution.
Dr. T. gave me homework - buy a beach ball, sit down on the floor with my back to the wall and push the beach ball to the wall with my head. This was horribly painful...but it got easier over time. Dr. T was positive, but tough. He gave me more painful exercises to do. We were moving things around and it was going to be painful. He took me off my pain meds that Dr. #1 had given me, so that they wouldn't "mask" when I was really in pain and when I wasn't.
The first week was very tough. The second week was a bit better. After the first month I actually slept through the night for the first time in about six months. Bliss! As promised, after about 4-1/2 months, I started playing volleyball again. Over the next year, I saw him about once a month, to keep things where they should be.
I am currently pain-free, tingle-free and numbness-free. I know that my disc is not healed. It is a weak spot on me that I am always aware of. I know that there may come a day when I might need that dreaded surgery. I secretly hope that they will have fake disc "gel" that you can inject to puff discs back up to their normal size by then. Don't laugh...they are close on this!
No, I'm not carrying the weight of entire football team on my shoulders, but I do carry the weight of all the dreams and goals that I want to accomplish over my lifetime. And it takes a strong neck to carry those.