My MRI: The Awful Truth


SONY DSC [Image from Wikipedia]

I have lower back pain.  I’ve had it for years.  Many of my readers will be saying:

“What’s he complaining about now?  I’ve had it for years.”

Point taken.  But, I moved to the North Country for a reason…I wanted to hike and climb more mountains.  Now, this back pain makes those dreams a bit unattainable.  And, besides, I already had back surgery for spinal stenosis back in December of 2013.  So, why the pain now?

I can think of several reasons:

-I lean too far forward when I change the spark plugs in my Ford Escape. (Joke)

-I spend too much time on my knees, with a hand lens, bending over in my small Adirondack lawn, and examining the next insect that will bite the crap out of my forearm and make me bleed like a leaky garden hose. (Joke, but our hose does leak)

-I spend too much time sanding the back deck in order to paint it, yet again, with a paint that is guaranteed to last at least five years. (True)

-I spend too much time bending over, when I visit New York City, to read the headlines of the New York Times without having to pay $2.50 for a copy. (Pretty much true)

-I spent too much time sitting behind the wheel of our Ford Escape on the recent 13,589 mile road trip and not enough time hiking in the Mojave Desert or Joshua Tree National Park. (True, but if you haven’t read all those blogs, then shame on you)

-I spent too much time bending over my laptop writing about forty blogs about the trip. (True)

So, I make an appointment with my neurosurgeon in Manhattan to get an MRI to see if my left side needs surgery to repair the damage from whatever.

On May 18th, I went to my appointment at Mount Sinai to get the truth, the truth that only an MRI can tell you.

I was laid out and tucked in on the moveable bed.  I looked up and saw how much smaller and narrower this “tube” was than the last time I had the procedure done.  I knew I was going to become like a Coney Island Kielbasa or a Nathan’s Hot Dog.  That is, if this thing had a mind of its own and somehow squeezed in on me.

The technician asked if I’d like to hear anything on the earphones.

“Anything but JZ or Big Daddy”, I said.  “How about some Mozart?”

“Fine”, he said.

“I’d like to hear Mozart.  Can you find Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Adagio and Fugue, KV 546?”, is that possible?”, I asked.

“Not a problem,” he said.

And I began to feel the bed slide me inside the stainless steel tube.

I heard the opening notes…and then all I heard for the next ninety minutes was either a soundtrack from Star Wars or a Phillip Glass piece…repeating chords and noise.

When it was all over, the guy helped me stand up straight, which was nearly impossible, and informed me where the nearest bathroom was located.

I knew that my Neurosurgeon was going to see me in several days to discuss the results.  Well, I demanded to speak with the Radiologist on duty that day…I wanted a quick read of the images so I could make future plans, if I had any to make.

Once he heard my name, and that I was a famous blogger from Owego, NY, he readily agreed to give me a quick summary of what he had on his computer monitor.

“Well”, he said, “see these little pinches in between your L-4 and L-5?”

Spine MRI image

[This is not my spine.  Image from Wikipedia]

“Of course I see them”, I said looking at a screen that resembled a NASA image of the far side of Charon, a moon orbiting Pluto.

“But, something worrisome is showing up here,” he said. “See the area just to right of my pencil point?”

“I see,” I said.

“Well, right down here near the end of your endothelial membrane, I see a disturbing sequence beginning to take form.”

“Give it to me straight, Doc, I can handle it.”

“Well, I see a growing sense of self-doubt and insecurity,” he said. “See here?”

I looked and said “yes”.

“Over here, near your Lumbo-sacral spine, is a large mass of guilt and misgivings.  Alongside that is a well of worry and loneliness.”

“I think I see,” I said.

“But there is also a distinct lack of morality, pleasure and sincerity,” he said, “and over here, see, there is growing sense of self-doubt, a mass of existentialism and nihilistic thought, as well as an approaching feeling of fear and trembling.”

He glanced at a copy of Kafka in my shoulder bag.

“But, I care about people,” I protested.

“You’d never know it from this,” he said, leaning back on his IKEA office chair.  “But, there’s more. Can you take it?”

“Hit me, Doc,” I said.  “Give me your best shot.”

“There is a large mass of growing dread and fear over here near your nerve-fibrillae.  You fear that your real active life and vigor of youth are gone,” he said.  “Am I right?”

“But, I’m going to be celebrating my 69th birthday in a few days…people will send me cards and letters.”

“Cards and letters? Where have you been, guy, off in a desert somewhere?”

“Actually, yes,” I said.

“You’ll be lucky if anyone notices your Facebook page at all.  And, your blog site? Well, I’ve seen it.  Nothing but pictures of cacti and sand and you posing in a cheap cowboy hat with the Queen of the Sonoran Desert at some rodeo in Yuma.”

“Hey, that hat cost me $14.95 (+ tax)”, I retorted.

“Well, happy birthday, dude, want the real medical story now?”


“You have age appropriate degeneration of the lower spine.  Live with it.”

“Gee, thanks Dr. Oz.”  I got up to go.

“Oh, one good thing, Patrick, you’re covered by your AARP.”




How I Forgot My Pain While Walking Down Broadway

I took a baby step over the curb and onto the sidewalk.  I poked along like an aged dog.  Several days after my back surgery…they said: “Get up. Get out. Walk a little. You’ll get stronger.”

My back hurt.  It was a #7.5 on the Great Medical Scale of 1 to 10.  My only thoughts were about whether I bit off more than my spine could chew.  How many blocks have I come?  How many to the movie theater?  I recalled the hospital stay.

I stayed two nights.  The surgery took about five hours…longer than I was told.  The Anesthesiologist fiddled with my tubes.  They said something about a catheter…I looked at them with big eyes.  Please, not till I’m under…for God’s sake, please!  I rolled over.  It was 8:20 am.

“Do I count back from 100, like the movies?” I asked.

“If you want…won’t matter anyway.”

The earth opened up and swallowed me.  There were no lights.  There were no thoughts.  No dreams.  No visions…and thankfully, no light at the end of any tunnel.  I don’t even recall a tunnel.

I heard someone say it was 3:15 pm.

Who were the nurses? What exactly did they do to me?  They took a disc and relieved the stenosis on my nerve.  Where was the disc? Wasn’t I supposed to get it in a little plastic bottle?  My back began to hurt.  What was my BP?  My temperature?  Who were these people?  I was fixated on my pain.  I owned this pain.  It was mine and no one else’s.

So, I’m on Broadway.  I’m off to see the new Coen Brothers movie.  My pain was on my mind.  How could I sit that long?

I paused next to a window of beautiful clothes for women.  I stared down at the sidewalk.  Pain was going to be my brother and sister, my mother and father, my old girlfriends, my wife, my lover, my old drinking buddies…and the pet dog I was going to walk for years to come.

No one was going to take my pain away from me.  Like a Wounded Warrior, I would wear it like a medal from the battles of the war.

Then I looked across the street…across Broadway.  It was nearing Christmas.  I saw an old man.  He carried a black plastic garbage bag.  I assume it contained all that he owned.  I used my powers to look inside his bag.  There was no pain in there.  He wasn’t carrying his pain on his shoulder.  Where was his pain?

Then, even from that distance, I saw his pain.  It was in his eyes.  He was probably ten years older than me, but he was more fit than a linebacker from the old Baltimore Colts.

His pain was his loneliness.  His pain was his solitude.  His pain was ten times what my pain was.  My back would heal…in time.

But a life without love and without friends is a bitter pain indeed.

I forgot my pain.

I wept for the lonely, the unloved and the forgotten.

Through my wet eyes, I watched the old man continue up Broadway…to celebrate his own Christmas.

I hope the angel on the church steeple smiles down on him tonight…and every night.