If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I am sorry that I haven’t written in nearly a month. You know how things get as the school year moves along … more work, less time … less sunshine, less energy. Of course we’re all still taking care of family and social obligations as well, thus some times it gets difficult to find something meaningful to write about for this blog.
Those of you who know me a little better than just as the library guy, also know that I am dealing with a painful medical problem right now; a pinched nerve due to natural degenerative changes in my spine. I share this here and now, for two reasons. First, I’d like to thank EVERYONE … students, staff, faculty … everyone for their patience and understanding during my physical difficulty. It is humbling and wonderful to listen to people recount their personal stories of overcoming pain as I am going through, and to feel in their sharing and advice that they are truly rooting for me. So, thank you again for commiserating with me during these trying times and for offering me all kinds of help, advice and, of course, your understanding.
Secondly, I mention my medical “adventure” here because it has been quite a learning experience for me, and it has been an experience that epitomizes the importance of living up to the HHS mission statement which reads, “The Mission of Haverhill High School is to produce self-directed learners who read, write, and speak effectively in Standard English and who apply analytical and technological skills to interpret information and problem solve.”
What started for me in July of this past summer as a mild discomfort in my right upper thigh and lower back, has turned into an all consuming personal project to understand what is wrong with me and how to fix it. Unlike a cold or a sprain or a cut (familiar physical pests of the past) this new injury demanded that I be not just a good self-directed learner, but an excellent one, as I would discover.
Throughout the summer and into September, I convinced myself by talking to others who had experienced back pain, that there was nothing unusual about what I was going through. I further solidified my own (incorrect) conclusion by reading articles that only described what I wanted to read – articles about sprained muscles or intermittent flare ups in the sciatic nerve. I learned what the sciatic nerves are and also learned more about how common back injuries are. (An incredible 80% of us will feel back pain at one point or another!)
Finally, around the middle of October, I admitted that I wasn’t getting any better and reluctantly went to see my doctor. I say reluctantly, because despite my respect for doctors and medicine, I am very much a typical American male … hard-headed to a fault and convinced that I can DIY just about anything.
This visit (and the others that followed) began a whole other level of learning, as I was examined in a matter of minutes, questioned as to the pain’s origin and intensity, and sent off with my first round of prescription medication. I learned that I was given a muscle relaxer, which I was to take 3 times a day. But I still didn’t know what was wrong with me or how these pills would help. And after such a cursory medical examination with a doctor who barely knew me, I suspected that he wasn’t sure yet either. This is where the second part of our mission statement came into play. I was going to have to “apply analytical and technological skills to interpret information and problem solve”. This was very important to me, since we were talking about my physical health, after all.
With my prescription in hand, and the internet fired up, I was able to find reliable and accurate information about what I was about to put into my body. I turned to sites such as the Mayo Clinic, the National Institute of Health and WebMD to find out what the side effects and long term dangers of using the medications was. It’s not that I didn’t trust my doctor (ok maybe a little), it’s that I knew that my doctor did not know me, and hadn’t spent enough time with me to learn about my injury.
So I learned in succession about cyclobenzaprine, tramadol, nabumetone and methylprednisolone as each was prescribed to me after little more than an office visit and a talk. None of the medications appealed to me as I read about how they worked, what they were supposed to do and what side effects I might expect. Plus … no one had told me yet, exactly what was wrong with me.
Thus, I struggled along, using OTC medications very sparingly, since analgesics such as aspirin can act as a blood thinner, and ibuprofen and acetometaphine tend to upset my stomach. Long story, short, is that I went back to my doctor, then had an X-Ray which showed I had some natural changes. Then came an MRI which showed some curious things around my L5 and S1. Finally came a visit to a neurologist, which ended in a epidural steroid injection, which hurt like crazy and didn’t help my pain. All during this time, I turned to the internet and to friends and family members who are medical professionals, to learn more about each procedure and to better understand all the terminology that was being used around me.
What could you see on an X-ray? How are MRIs useful to spot diseases or other dangers? What was an S1 and why was it making my life so miserable? How would the spinal injection alleviate the pain I was feeling shooting down my leg? Certainly my doctor did answer the questions I posed to him, but I had so many that he wouldn’t have time to answer them all. In the end, what has left me feeling most optimistic and empowered is that I can use my communication skills effectively to ask the right questions. I also feel confident that with all the data & information available to me, that I can apply my strong reasoning and technology skills to solve the problems that I am facing.
Life-long learners do not have to be told to use what they can to help themselves. If we can deliver the Mission of HHS to produce self-directed learners, our students will not feel powerless in the face of the difficult obstacles they will certainly face in their lives. During this, the holiday season, isn’t that the greatest gift we give?
Thank you for stopping by and have a great weekend.
Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.