If you’ve read my ‘About‘ page or this post, you know I’ve practiced martial arts for the past five years. It’s been a tough road and not only because of the occasional injuries that sidelined me. Each week, I had to find babysitters for class days and I was never sure at the beginning of the week if I would be able to make it to the dojo or not. Home sessions were easier: folding mats and a heavy bag let me practice all solo exercises and drills on my own time. When I really needed a partner, my husband was a good sport about being a sacrificial victim.
I was getting very close to testing for my black belt in Shotokan karate. I had received the study guide, scheduled extra practice sessions, and was mentally prepping for the 4 hour ordeal which I had been
dreading looking forward to for so many months.
Four days before my test, I started having pain in my shoulder. My husband massaged the area, I popped a couple of Advil, studied for a bit, and then tried to get some sleep.
The next morning I woke up to a numb left arm, along with a neck and shoulder on fire. I wasn’t too concerned; I figured I had strained a muscle. The numbness was puzzling, though. I’ve had sciatic nerve issues and Morton’s neuroma, so I thought there might be a nerve problem somewhere. To be on the safe side, I left a message with my doctor asking how long I could let it go on before I needed to worry.
I received a call 30 minutes later. “The doctor would like to see you as soon as possible. Can you get here in 45 minutes?”
I hadn’t had a doctor tell me anything like that before (I didn’t know at the time, but they were worried about a stroke). At her office, she pulled and prodded my arm, shoulder, and neck gently and asked quite a few questions. “I think it’s your spine,” she told me. “You seem to have at least one, possibly more herniated discs.”
For those who don’t know, a herniated disc is when the jelly like spots between the bones in your spinal column leak.
“How quickly does that heal?” I asked
“Usually six to eight weeks.”
“I have a black belt test in three days.”
She shook her head sadly. “You won’t be there.”
How can I explain what went through my head? I wondered if she was right. I wondered how serious it was. I wondered when the pain would go away. I wondered how it happened. I wondered when (or if) I would get back in the dojo.
The doctor couldn’t answer me on any of this. She ordered an MRI, but said the earliest available time would be in a day or two. She gave me a prescription for pain meds and muscle relaxants and told me to go home and rest.
But the day wasn’t over yet. An hour after getting home and taking my first doses, the left side of my face began to go numb. I called back, thinking maybe this was a side effect of the drugs. No such luck. I was told to get to the nearest emergency room and get checked out.
After waiting a couple of hours and answering more questions, I was taken to do a CAT scan. Since I had forgotten to bring my pain meds, moving around was getting rather difficult. But by midnight we had the results back: CAT scan showed nothing. The ER doctor said I had acute torticollis. Basically, my muscles spasmed and now they didn’t want to let go. I asked if that would cause the numbness I was experiencing. He said it was possible and told me to follow-up with my regular doctor. I asked what would have caused that, but he didn’t know. A nurse gave me a shot of morphine (REALLY didn’t like that stuff), prescription for stronger muscle relaxers and pain meds and sent me home to rest.
Drugged, tired, and frustrated, I collapsed on the sofa (sleeping in a bed was out of the question. I was locked into one position: upright.) Was the ER doctor right? After all, he had access to test results my primary doctor didn’t. Had I really spent the entire day running around for basically a bad crick in the neck?
That was a tad embarrassing, but I was so hopeful he was right. I thought if it was no more than that, all I had to do was relax the muscles and I’d be alright in no time.
But my primary doctor has yet to be wrong on anything she has diagnosed me with. I count myself lucky to have a sweet, knowledgable person I can trust going to. My gut feeling said to trust her; there was more to this than the test results showed.