Thursday, November 29, 2012

On The East Coast

My journey continues.  During my trip to Mexico I was the recipient of lots of recommendations for ways to improve my back pain.  My sister, Rachel sent me a link that resonated.  This link takes you to an article, a review of the book, The Anatomy of Hope by Jerome Groopman.  Dr. Groopman takes you on his journey to learn and teach how to use hope in the treatment of pain and illness.  His own quest led him to Dr. James Rainville , a physician in Boston who runs a spine treatment program.  

After my trip to visit the shaman ended abruptly with his untimely demise, I read up on Dr. Rainville.  He seems to be doing some interesting work that is somewhat counter intuitive.  From what I understood, rather than doing anything to reduce or eliminate the pain surgically or with meds, Dr. Rainville recommends going right at the pain using aggressive physically therapy.  If you read the articles you will see that his approach is based on research and data, not faith or magic.  His approach is to strengthen the spine, while realizing that the pain is a reality but not an obstacle.  We all have various levels of pain thresholds, where we perceive pain, and pain tolerance, our ability to cope with the pain.  I happen to have a very low pain threshold.  I experience the pain at levels were others may not feel it.  And I have a high tolerance for pain.  I've been able to function despite chronic and sometimes severe pain.  

Many of you may not know that three years ago after my sixth spinal surgery, I went on a medical leave from work and then onto long term disability.  The surgeries were the result of a life time of wear and tear from my sports, football and ice hockey, as a younger man.  My first spinal surgery happened when I was just out of college at the age of 23.  The last five have occurred since 2001.  

This trip to Boston has been quite a bit of work.  Big difference between this one and my trip to see the shaman a few months back.  If I think about it, that trip was fun and interesting, but really had me putting all my faith in another.  This trip is hard and grueling but has me taking all of the responsibility for my own healing.

The schedule has been as follows:  My daughter and I flew into Buffalo to watch my son play hockey over the weekend before Thanksgiving.  The following Monday I had my appointment with Dr. Rainville.  He was pretty amazing.  The appointment took the better part of an hour.  He asked me for my history, then he reviewed my recent MRIs.  He showed me what he was looking at on the films.  He constantly referred to research while debunking numerous myths about back pain.  He tested my strength and movement and shared his approach.  He, and the visiting doctor who was observing, were pretty amazed and amused at my surgical history.  He's not a big believer in surgery.

The bottom line to the appointment was this:  I have back pain.  I should get myself in the best possible condition with exercise and I need to make my life about something bigger than pain. Pretty simple.  The time spent with him was very much like a mini Landmark Forum, if you know what that is.

With that he prescribed me to go to his physical therapy facility 2x a week for the next 3 weeks where I will be taught to stretch and strengthen my spine.  His back boot camp is normally a six week program.  I'm traveling and can only stay for 3 weeks.  Lisa Childs is the senior physical therapist.  She and Dr. Rainville founded the Spine Center at the New England Baptist Hospital in 1997.  I met with Lisa the day after my appointment with Dr. Rainville.  She spent an hour and a half with me.  As she walked me through my stretching exercises and some of the exercise equipment I am working out on, she also debunked many back pain myths citing research.  For instance, one of the exercises they have me doing is to lift milk cartons off of a shelf, but using my back rather than bending my knees.  The research shows no difference in pain by lifting while bending your knees or not...and using your back contributes to strengthening it.

After my first session with Lisa, I headed to NYC for Thanksgiving with my family then up to Vermont to watch my son's hockey tournament.  I was stiff and sore from the exercise, but where I would normally just hole up and stay in bed, I didn't let the pain stop me.  I was not very good at doing my stretches during the holiday.  A lot of eating and traveling got in the way, but Lisa said something that stuck and made me do more than I would have otherwise.  She said to consider my home stretching like brushing my teeth.  I always make time to brush my teeth.  Just make it a priority and stay focused on it.  So I did.  I give myself a C+ for the weekend, but that was better than I would have done.

I've had two more session this week and I'll go twice more next week before heading home.  Lisa is training me so that I can go to the gym when I get home and continue on with the program.  She's pretty amazing.  She called me on Saturday during Thanksgiving weekend to see how I was doing.  I'm to be in contact with her when I'm on my own in San Diego.  She is encouraging me to come back to Boston to check my progress when I get a chance.

My experience of my pain is shifting.  It's still there, but I don't give it the power I did a week and a half ago.  I have visions of this approach actually working for me.  I can envision sticking with the program, and getting back to a more normal existence.  I can picture going back to work, exercising, reffing ice hockey, maybe even playing.  How cool would it be if I could swing a golf club and play a round of golf with my buddy David.  This guy has nothing to do with Dr. Rainville, but everything to do with inspiration and imagining what is possible if I don't stop.

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