Guitar or Slipped Discs, Nerve Damage and a Musical Kind of Physical Therapy


There it is again. That numbness and tingling in my forefingers and thumbs. For years now, I have had to deal with the randomness of these episodes. I have no idea what brings them on, but when the numbness hits, my hands become weak and uncoordinated. But Dr. Z suggested a novel form of therapy. A little something called rock n roll!

Let me start at the beginning. About 5 years ago, I slipped 2 discs in my neck. The story behind this is a little *ahem* adult, but I feel I need to share this detail in order to explain the injury and my recovery. My girlfriend at the time had come up to spend the weekend with me at my house and we had a romantic time planned involving me cooking dinner and a movie. Nothing too fancy, but it was just the two of us. During the time we dated, she lived almost 2 hours away, so weekends were pretty much all we had unless one of us was on vacation. I was a little sore from helping my friend move the week before, but that didn’t stop me from running into the bedroom when the time was right.

*WARNING* Ye of weak stomachs turn back now!

One of the few things I know I’m good at is oral sex and that is what I have to talk about here, for you to fully appreciate how this injury took place. I was kneeling on the floor with my girlfriend on the edge of the bed with her legs around my neck. I was leaning forward with my head posted almost straight upwards, an awkward position at best. I ignored the twinges of pain I felt in my neck muscles as my girlfriend ran her fingers through my hair, tugging my head closer and upwards, straining the already awkward positioning. And just as she reached her orgasm, she tugged on my head a little harder and that is when I felt it.

At the time, I thought nothing of it. A little neck cramp wasn’t going to stop me from finishing what we started. It truly felt like someone had stuck a white hot needle into the base of my neck. And that was the first time I felt the tingling in my hands. Despite my discomfort, I, like the trooper than I am, went in for the rest of the sexual activities, ignoring my pain. After we had both exhausted ourselves, we fell asleep. My discomfort wasn’t enough to keep me awake….

3AM. I woke up with a start. For some reason, I was gasping for breath. I went to stand up and realized I couldn’t move without searing excruciating pain. I called out to my girlfriend for help. She had opted for sleeping in the living room since my snoring sometimes was so loud, it kept her from sleeping. She came running in and helped me up to a sitting position and as I turned my head to look at her thats when I felt the full brunt of the injury. Pain like I had never known. Searing, blazing pain radiated down from my neck, into my shoulders and down my arms. My right hand was completely numb and barely usable. She helped me to the living room where I crashed into the recliner and after a few minutes of adjusting, realized if I sat straight forward with my arms at my side and didn’t move my head, the pain was manageable. After a few hours of getting used to the pain, I fell asleep again.

Little did I realize that I would be sleeping in that chair alot over the next few months.

In the morning, I convinced myself I felt better and went to work. But by the end of the day, it was pretty clear I needed to go to the hospital. The pain was keeping me from concentrating and a large lump had formed at the base of the back of my neck. Reluctantly, we went to the emergency room.

After finally getting in to see a doctor, I explained how the neck injury occurred: moving furniture last week, oral sex, she grabbed my head, felt the twinge, woke up barely able to move. He nodded, made some notes and said he would be right back.

Five minutes later, another doctor walked in, a “specialist” asking me to describe how the injury occurred. Again, I told the story: moved furniture, cunnilingus, head pull, twinge, agony. He made notes and left.

Another ten minutes go by and in walked two nurses who brought me a gown to wear for the x rays I was going to get. While they were there, they also asked to hear the story: damn heavy book cases, girlfriend a little overexuberant during orgasm, searing pain. They also made notes and left.

Not five minutes later, in walked not one, not two but FIVE residents, all with clipboards, asking to hear to the story. I laughed.

“Are you people just fucking with me or what?” I thought I was in an amergency room and in reality I had stumbled onto the set of “Scrubs”. They admitted that my injury story was quickly becoming the talk of the hospital and they wanted to hear it for themselves. So again, I gave out the sordid details: damn friend who needed help moving, oral sex extravaganza topped off with my girfriend yanking and wrenching my head (now I was embellishing, I know), waking up totally paralyzed and in agony. I think I even faked a tear during that last part. Satisfied, they left me alone.

After the xrays, the news wasn’t good. They could tell something was out of alignment but because of the swelling and fluid in my neck, the xrays didn’t show too much. Their solution? Stick me in a giant magnet and get a better image. I don’t know if anyone has had the pleasure of an MRI but let me tell you, it was a joy. Like being locked in a coffin that makes loud banging noises for 45 minutes. The longest 45 minutes of my life. I could barely breath and the claustrophobia was building towards a full scale panic attack when they finally pulled me out of there.

The images from the MRI clearly showed the two discs at the base of my neck being shoved forward by the swelling and fluid in my neck. And….there was nothing they could do. Because the swelling was so severe, I would have to see a spinal specialist for a consult on the next course of action, but only after the swelling went down some. I was teased with the knowledge that it could be as easy as the swelling goes away and my neck returns to normal to full blown corrective surgery to fuse the vertebrae, but right now they couldn’t be sure. I had to wait.

Luckily, waiting meant a couple things: time off from work and lots of drugs! Muscle relaxants and vicodin make for a wonderful cocktail when mixed with rum and coke. I hid the fact that the doctors wanted me to stay home and went to work anyway. This lasted for a week until I accidentally took the muscle relaxants and the painkillers together at work. The combination of narcotics and lack of sleep (that recliner was the only way I was able to catch any sleep at all since I couldn’t lay down) came together to cause me to pass out. At work. With customers at my desk. In midsentence. I was showing them where to sign on the contract when, according to the customers, my eyes rolled back and I fell out of the chair. After that episode, my boss had called my doctor and recieved a note, the same note I was supposed to show him to begin with. After a brief discussion about labor laws and doctors reccomendations and how I couldn’t afford to be out of work, we came to an agreement and I went home. For two weeks.

For two weeks, I spent every waking hour in the recliner. My mom would stop by with soup for me and I would entertain myself with hours upon hours of the Discovery Channel. I remember watching marathons of American Chopper, Monster Garage and other educational reality tv shows. In the meantime, the drugs did their job of managing my pain and the swelling finally went down.

I met Dr Sanchez for my first consult and immediately he knew what was wrong with me and even before he looked at the MRI, he pointed to exactly where I was hurting. From his reccomendation, all I needed was a cortizone shot…IN MY NECK! This scared the hell out of me. I don’t like needles to begin with and the thought of a 16 inch needle being inserted anywhere in my body scared the hell out of me.

The day of the shot, I was nervous as hell. They had me lay face down on a sort of reverse recliner with my face in a head rest meant to secure my head so it wouldn’t move. Dr Sanchez, ever cheerfull came into my view and talked me down out of my impending panic attack.

“Don’t worry,” he said, smiling, “you can watch the whole procedure on this monitor”. He pointed to a black and white screen just in my field of vision. “And don’t move because this will be in your neck”, he thrust the giant needle in front of me, “and the slightest error could leave you paralyzed.” He smiled again and went to consult with the nurse. Oh joy, I’m a cough or twitch of my nose away from living in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.

He numbed the area and then began to insert. I watched the needle moving through my body and into the spinal column. Panic! My mind started racing, my heart was pounding and sweat started pouring off of me.

“Get it out please!” I said.

“Be quiet, I’m almost done,” he said in that soothing voice.

“Get it out! I can taste metal!” The panic worsened.

“Only another minute”.

I closed my eyes, tried to control my breathing. The pulse was pounding in my ears. Finally, he released the clamps that held my head. I went to stand up and my legs went out from under me. Dr Sanchez and the nurse helped me steady myself.

“By the way, you may be a little dizzy,” laughed Dr Sanchez.

I went home that afternoon, still in pain. I hoped that the procedure would work.

I woke up early the next day. It had been almost 5 weeks since the initial injury. Five weeks of around the clock pain and numbness in my extremities. I woke up pain free. I couldn’t believe it! I was still stiff, my neck didn’t like the idea of doing a full turn, but there was no screaming pain! And as that week went on, the stiffness subsided, feeling returned completely to my right hand and for the first time in ages, I started sleeping in my bed. Which was a good thing since my spending almost every waking hour in that recliner had broken the poor chair. It had enough of my ass and with a cracking thud, the recliner popped back in full recliner mode and stayed there, never returning to it’s upright position.

In the end, the cortisone shot was all I needed. No fusing, no surgeries, no neck braces. Just a simple shot and I have been pain free ever since. *knock on wood*

But, the one thing that I have had re-occur is the numbness. The doctor told me that once discs slip, they are never the same again and I would have intermittent periods where something will aggravate that nerve cluster and symptoms of my injury may reappear.

That brings me back to the numbness, tingling and weakness. Every once in awhile, my hands go numb. I can’t give you an exact cause or under what circumstances this happens, but it happens. Weak, numb and uncoordinated, my hands feel like tingly dead weights. These occurrences don’t last long but they are enough to worrry me.

Five years later, I expressed my concern to my doctor about the numbness. I didn’t want to bring it up but the day of one of my annual physicals, I had numbness. Reluctantly, I opened my mouth and explained the occurrences and how they were worrisome but not life threatening. He smiled. My first thought was “Oh god, he just saw dollar signs didn’t he?” I cringed, awaiting his reply.

“Have you ever played an instrument?”

What an odd question. Not what I was expecting from my doctor.

“Well, I have played bongos and congas in the past, the trombone til I realized asthma and wind instruments are not a good mix and,…” I hesitated. I had played the bass as a goof a few times but nothing too serious. “And the bass…” I mumbled.

“Ah,” he said, smiling that smile again. “Pick up the guitar. It will help you build up strength in your hands, help with your coordination and be a great exercise for you to work through any numbness or stiffness you may encounter. If nothing else, learning a new skill will take your mind off of what you can’t do. Know what I mean?”

I felt myself grinning. “The Guitar? Seriously? I can’t even read music….”

For the past few months, been talking it over with my musical friends. Should I do this? Will it really help the way the doctor thinks it will? And the answers I got from all of them was a resounding “YES!!!” Some are offering me lessons, others have advice on what to buy for a starter guitar and one has spare equipment he isn’t using he wants to give me (a stand and a bag) to encourage me to do it.

I was barely through describing how I was shopping for guitars before my friend Scot was setting up times for us to jam together. And I haven’t so much as plucked a string yet! So far, I have been in and out of all sorts of different music stores, getting advice from all fronts and I think I have it narrowed down. I’m looking at three different guitars. I need a good beginner guitar and something I won’t out grow too quickly.

The first is an Epiphone AJ-100. Cheap, comes in a variety of colors. Basic.

The second is an an Epiphone AJ-200S. Nicer details but only available in one color. Step up from basic.

Third we have the Epiphone AJ-200SCE, a beautiful guitar with a few accessories above and beyond both of the my other choices.

All are steel string acoustics. I was going to go the classical route but I was talked out of that by my musician friends since steel strings will bring you a step closer to an electric guitar, which is a whole other level I don’t even want to think about yet. But my friends are blindly encouraging…not realistic, but encouraging.

So for my physical therapy, I am going to be tossing down around $200 to $500 dollars and learning this new skill. I never knew that my love of music would come back to show me a little love too and help me through my discomfort. I always knew rock was good for the soul, but never dreamed it would be good for the body as well. So get ready people. George is getting his axe this weekend and, maybe in a year or so, if I can learn how to fret properly and figure out how to do cords, maybe learn to sing, buy some leather pants and get alot of tattoos…maybe, just maybe, you may see me rock out at some point….maybe. 🙂


7 responses to “Guitar or Slipped Discs, Nerve Damage and a Musical Kind of Physical Therapy

  1. Rock on man. I’ve always wanted to play guitar, and it would take something like your experience to make it happen. I just be content listening to you jammin’ some day, maybe. 😛 Quite a story. *jots down notes on clip board* 😉

    We shall see….I have to make a decision on a guitar this weekend, but it’s a tough call to make and all my friends are pushing me to splurge and get the more expensive guitar instead of something basic….decisions, decisions…..
    glad you liked the story…. 🙂

  2. Wow. I have had a LOT of MRIs…three back surgeries. But I don’t have the awesome story behind my injury. Wow. I can’t say I blame the entire hospital for coming in to hear. Are you sure you aren’t on YouTube somewhere?

    Lets hope for all our sakes that there is no video of THAT! Yikes!

  3. Awesome about the guitar! I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the bass but sadly I don’t think I have a prayer. I think there’s a part of everyone that wants to be a rockstar.

    The funny thing is, a few of my friends ARE rockstars and their enthusiasm is infectious… 🙂 I’m not sure what kind of player I’m going to be, but to be honest, I’m more concerned with picking up the basics and being able to play a little. That would satisfy me. But my friends, they want me to rock out with them…like I said, enthusiastic, not realistic, but very enthusiastic. 🙂

  4. I think you should put this song in your jam sessions “Love Hurts” LOL
    But Music does heal!
    I want free tickets when you play your first concert hall.

    Oh lordy…now I have that song stuck in my little brain. It’s going to haunt me all day…
    Concert Hall? I need to get past not being booed out of my friends living room…heehee

  5. i’m so glad you have a way to work thorugh your pain, can’t wait for you to learn some songs and play them for us via video 😉 And I have to be honest, the way you described part I of your story, I started to get some “tinglies” as well…ahem 😉

    woohoo! I gave Romi naughty thoughts! heehee
    and via video?? oh come on..I’m not woth a measley 10 hour drive for my first concert? thats ok, that first concert is a long long way off…you will have plenty of time to save up for the trip

  6. Yeah, I would say that the medical personnel were totally fucking with you in the interest of a good story.

    And with this post, you’ll be beating the single women off you now :-).

    Heehee…yeah, if you run into any of those single women, send them my way because I can’t seem to find any of them…

  7. Wowwow, i’d of been so mad if they brought in like 5 doctors…you know especially to tell ‘that’ story…so your feet and hands have been going numb for a long time? My toes go numb, but it is always and very precisely when i’m stressed out/or about to pass out. But wowow, what a story!!

    Yeah, I think if anything, that story shows how much of a trooper I am and that when I commit to something, gosh darnit, I’m gonna follow through! 🙂
    and you my friend, you should see a doctor about that

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