Back on Track

I’ve been on hiatus lately. Some call it a “setback”, others: me, call it “one of life’s learning lessons”. I herniated my disc at L5S1 and had a bulging disc at L3L4. In other words, my back shit the bed. How’d I do it? Hula-hooping. Not flipping my car last March. Not skydiving in July. Not falling off a dj speaker in August. Maybe it had more to do with falling last winter learning to snowboard? Maybe I should have stuck to skis. It came out of nowhere – 1 morning after hula-hooping at a spa friend’s house, she was eager to show me how she keeps her abs so trim with a five pound hula-hoop. I hurt my back with a hula-hoop? Was this a joke?

I woke up and couldn’t actually get up. I crawled through my apartment, called out of work and cried my way to the emergency room. They gave me an x ray and said “good news, no broken bones” and sent me away with painkillers. I could barely walk and I couldn’t stand up straight.  This didn’t feel like good news.  My body is my livelihood, if it doesn’t work, I don’t work.  I also have to look the part.  I stared at the floor not because of my dismal predicament but because my back was so hunched over, looking up was physically impossible. The face of health and wellbeing turned to a grimace between ‘what the?’ and ‘ouch’. I drove home for the holidays and expected to drive back to Vermont on Christmas night.

I was now in the care of my divorced-now-back together-newly retired parents-turned-fulltime nurses-to me: their baby. There was nowhere to run and if there was a place, running was certainly out of the question. All of the risk factors for low back pain did not apply to me. Not stretching? I do yoga. On a more confident day I might admit that I’m a yoga teacher. Weak core strength? I taught a really long utkatasana in every class working the core. Overweight? I lost weight but was never really over weight before. How could this be happening? Christmas and New Years soon passed and I was still camping in the family room.

3 trips to the emergency room, an x-ray, a cat scan, an MRI, 3 weeks playing hooky from life, and 1 cortisone shot later, I still wasn’t feeling any relief. Painkillers weren’t doing anything for the pain, just screwing up my stomach. The pain management doctor referred me to a neurosurgeon. After 5 minutes with said surgeon he recommended surgery.  SURGERY!? Teenage angst had taken over my 32 year old being. My life as I thought it to be was “totally over”, my back was busted and my career as a body worker was finished. It was approaching a month in very real time.

I lie in the backseat in the car ride from hell with mom driving and dad in the front. We arrived safely from the surgeon’s office after my mom avoided 17 car accidents on the way home.  We got home and I looked around at my surroundings; I was waiting for doctors to fix me while staying at my parents’ house totally powerless.  I had had enough. I didn’t take any calls coming from the surgeon or no-name-scary surgeon’s nurse trying to schedule back surgery. I wanted my life back in Vermont.

The surgeon made back surgery seem like a walk in the park; only day surgery and I’d be on my feet in a week and just need a few weeks of physical therapy. According to the doctor, I’d be back to normal in 3 weeks. I knew better than that. I knew because my sister had back surgery twice. It was no walk in the park. I also knew from clients and my big sis that once you open the hood, there are always more problems, residual pain and nerve damage. I looked up this surgeon’s reviews online. It was shocking what I had found. This surgeon had a 2 out of 5 rating and the comments weren’t good. I felt like just a number; just a check from my insurance company is all my body was to him. I wasn’t letting him open my hood.

I gave myself one more week to get better this time trying a more familiar approach. I broke out the “Hare Krishna music” as my dad called it. I taught myself restorative yoga in 3rd person. My certification came in handy teaching the most difficult student of all: me. My voice was the insightful and demanding teacher totally disconnected from the student: my broken body. I YouTube’d guided meditations and listened while I envisioned myself pain free. I sent blessings to all of those suffering far more than me in the world and felt profound empathy in those painful and sleepless nights. I meditated to the color red for the muladhara chakra, the energy center located at the base of my spine where the problems were all located.

My low back issues caused a cluster f***; my sacrum was out of alignment, my glutes weren’t working, my toes were numb, and one hip was higher than the other. I saw my favorite massage therapist (which I should have done back in week one, but she is so good its impossible to get an appointment). I followed massage immediately with visits to the chiropractor. My mind became so determined to get better that my body eventually followed it’s lead. And no word of a lie, because hips don’t lie, I was able to drive back to Vermont after 1 week.

I write this now, 3 months after the night I hula-hoop’ed, and 2 months after being back to work. I’m back to massaging but not teaching YET. The punch to my ego for not being able to practice as I could a short while ago hurt just as much as the physical pain. This was a great lesson in the niyama, ishwara pradidahna, accepting this obstacle as part of my path and squashing the ego. I see a massage therapist, chiropractor and an acupuncturist regularly. I can’t do a downward dog yet but I can lay painless in savasana and for me this is progress.

My back is not yet at 100% yet but shifting the focus to facilitate healing through bodywork and a wellness practice was my best medicine. Healing began the moment I began to empower myself; taking matters into my own hands instead of relying on doctors and time (and maybe even mom & dad) to help me. Pain is an epidemic. They say it’s always best to get a second opinion.  In my case, the second opinion was my own gut – that took a back seat at first in the healing process. Lesson in life Chapter: Practice What You Preach: check.