One of the first things one learns when writing a column is that the title is important; words must be chosen that catch readers’ attention and insure further reading. I’m betting it worked well this week; but I hope only for this week because in this case the “pain in the neck” is used not figuratively but actually. I do indeed have a pain in the neck, and for that reason sitting for any period of time at this machine churning out words ranges from uncomfortable to downright unbearable, so let’s get to it.
Let’s start with this: “I haven’t fallen, but I still can’t get up” is a cute little paraphrase of that television commercial for a medical alert system. but it described my recent experience to a “T.” Without trying to sound like the atypical senior citizen who can’t help but describing all the aches and pains and ailments that plague the human frame in the years past six decades worth, I will say that other afflictions that needed attention took my mind off my neck. Pain, that is.
I have had little bouts of neck pain over the past decade, but they were few and far between and I usually fell back on the old reason of “I must have slept wrong, I’ve got a crick in my neck” (I assume the word “crick” comes from a regional dialectic pronunciation of the word “creek,” which describes a small, winding ancillary of a stream or river, but I digress); but in this case that reason just did not apply.
The little nagging pain started on a Saturday and by late Monday evening was severe and got a bit worse until I finally decided to make my way to the local hospital’s emergency room at 4 a.m. early Tuesday morning. I checked in and sat in the waiting room, but after about five minutes’ wait I got the idea that there was little that could be done there that I could not do where I lived, so I left. The bike ride to and from, though only three blocks away, was a bit of a trial, but I made it.
Over the next few hours I set about with home therapy: I laid out a pallet in the narrow space between my bed and the chest of drawers, made a makeshift soft neck collar out of a rolled up towel held in place with a belt, set a glass of water and some over-the-counter pain meds nearby, got my current reading material (“Presidential Courage; Brave Leaders and How They Change America,” 1789-1989, Michael Beschloss, 2007, Simon and Schuster), put the cell phone close-by in case I got any friendly calls and then lay prone on my back and waited for the comfort I knew would eventually come.
Now, after reading this far, some of you out there have already figured out that this form of self-diagnosis and treatment is pure male ego, which tells us men that if we can’t tough it out until it goes away then we’ll fix it ourselves, and so you know my home remedy was doomed to failure from the beginning and that the first steps of my downfall was when I had walked out of the emergency room some 13 hours earlier; to you I salute your astuteness in accessing my decision but wonder where you were when I needed you.
Five hours of my prone position brought the opposite I hoped for, but instead the discomfort increased to the point of abject embarrassment for any guy who finds himself flat on his back and can’t get to his feet on his own power. Never happened to me before, but there it was and knowing few people who could help, I bit the bullet and dialed 911.
Let me interject here that I have over the years ridden in ambulances headed to an emergency room some five or six times, but in none of those cases did I make the call myself, so I can tell you it took about 20 minutes of mental argument to make that decision and I hope it is the last time I have to make it. But it made all the difference because sure enough the two medical personnel who responded had a bit of a time getting me to my feet given the small space I had confined myself to. It was a bit of an ordeal. I think I screamed.
To add to this embarrassment was that fact that it was apparently a busy time for EMTs in South County, so the ambulance crew located in King City were unavailable and my responding unit was coming from Salinas and was to return to Salinas; a 100-mile drive to deliver a patient three blocks away.
After that it was all great. The emergency room staff at Mee Memorial Hospital were busy that evening, but a few hours later I left in far less pain, X-rays taken and referrals that resulted in pain medication and an appointment for an MRI to assess the problem. One could not ask for better treatment than I received, and I thank them all.
But we all have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we live in an area served by a small, rural hospital. So as I write this, the four days of pain meds lasted six days but are now gone, and the pain itself, while not to the point of disablement, is certainly limiting and still persists, so I wear a soft neck collar and live on a fairly regular regimen of over-the-counter pain meds, coffee, beer, cannabis and a pain relief lotion applied to the pain area; and the occasional meal. This will have to be the way of things until Dec. 3, the first available appointment for the local pain management specialist. But I know others in far worse shape than I, so all is well.
Take care. Peace.