Just as I was getting into my fall groove, I started to notice some strange physical symptoms. At first, I chalked up the pins-and-needles in my left pinky toe to an unnoticed running injury. I’ll take a few days off, I figured, and see if it improves. Then, while my toe continued to tingle, I woke up one Sunday morning to feel numbness running up and down my right hand and forearm. It’ll go away as soon as I get up and start moving around, I figured.
No such luck.
A couple of weeks, two doctor visits, a blood test, and an MRI later, I found out that I have neither MS nor a brain tumor; my thyroid is healthy; my B vitamin levels are normal; and the gestational diabetes that I experienced during my pregnancy with Baby Sister was not re-asserting itself as full-blown diabetes. All of this was good news. No, it was great news. But I still didn’t have an explanation for the symptoms that I was experiencing.
Until yesterday, that is.
My family doctor sent me to another physician for an EMG and a nerve conduction test to try to figure out the source of the tingling. I had never met this doctor before and was, I’ll admit, a bit skeptical when I entered his out-of-date office in an out-of-the-way building. But I got over my skepticism as soon as Dr. B. opened his mouth.
Before he led me into the exam room to strap electrodes to my hands and stick needles into my muscles, he asked me to sit down in an easy chair so he could hear about my symptoms in my own words.
“I block out 45 minutes for every appointment,” he explained. “My approach is a holistic one. I don’t like to feel rushed.”
We talked for a long time. I told him about the odd sensations that had been dancing around my feet and hands and even my face. I told him about the tightness in my middle back that seized me so hard sometimes that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. And then I told him about my eye surgeries this summer. I told him about having three kids in three-and-a-half years. I told him about being in the hospital for the month before Baby Sister was born. I told him about living 600 miles away from my family. I told him about clenching my jaw so hard that I cracked two fillings.
“It’s hard sometimes,” I said, shrugging my shoulders in apology.
“Don’t do that,” he said. “Don’t dismiss how hard it is. It’s okay to say it’s hard. It is hard.”
“I guess,” I conceded.
“What do you to take care of yourself?” he asked.
“I run,” I said. “I do yoga. I write. I read a lot.”
“Good, good, that’s all good,” he nodded. “Do you feel like it’s enough?”
“I think so. When I actually make time to do them.”
He started his physical exam, then, checking my reflexes and my legs and arms. I heard him sigh softly when he got to my neck and shoulders.
“Do you think it’s a running injury?” I prodded. “Do you think it’s carpal tunnel?”
“No. No, I don’t,” he shook his head. “I haven’t done the nerve tests yet, but even without them, I’m 90% sure I know what the problem is.”
He walked around the exam table to look me in the eye. “I’ve been practicing medicine for 32 years. And you have the tightest back I have ever seen,” he said. “With muscles that tight, it’s no wonder you’re experiencing tingling in your hands and feet. I’m actually surprised it’s not worse than it is.”
The rest of his exam and the nerve study confirmed his suspicions. The EMG was normal. The problems in my hands and feet were coming from my back.
“So what do I do?” I asked after he shared his conclusions.
“Stretching. Massage. Exercise. Lifestyle modification. Acupuncture, if you’re interested,” he rattled off, then stopped and slid his glasses down his nose. “I know your oldest is five, but those shoulders have more than five years of tension in them. What you need to think about, Kristen, is how you can carve out more time to take care of yourself. And you need to do it now.”
“Right now?” I asked.
When was the last time you felt like a doctor was really listening to you? Are you a proponent of Western medicine, an advocate of alternative medicine, or a dabbler in both? Have you ever tried acupuncture? Should I?