Medial Branch Blocks and a Reason to Make Friends

Facet joints are funny things. Not funny ha-ha, as in 'let me tell you a joke about a clown', but funny, as in 'let me tell you a story about a clown who lost everyone he loved in a terrible balloon animal accident.' Facet joints are funny, because so often they seem to be the starting point for post-surgical problems. Funny, because despite the research and experimental trials that have gone on, they can more often than not stubbornly refuse to be helped.

That was my experience this last February. I went through the injections hoping that I might gain some relief from my fun arthritis; instead all I got was a bunch of needles and another reason to roll my eyes skyward. With the lack of success on the part of the facet joint injections (oh cortisone, how you have failed me) I was placed on the list for the medial branch blocks, and having just completed the second half of them, I have only one thing to say...


As it turns out, when you have considerable damage to the area of your spine they are fiddling with, the process of stabbing a giant needle directly into the nerves can cause some discomfort. And by some discomfort I do, of course, mean, Dear Sweet Jesus Make This Stop.

I have an admittedly high pain tolerance. The last time I cried from pain was probably when I had my thorocoplasty, and that was five years ago. Everything between now and then has hurt, sure, but I'm not going to get all weepy about it. Or so I thought until last thursday when I had five massive needles rammed through eleven years worth of immobilized muscle tissue, and had a mild anesthetic injected into my nerves.

I'll save the details, because quite frankly I don't want to repeat them. Needless to say, thank go the pain/pressure of the injection only lasts seconds. Unfortunately the need for a mild anesthetic means that you start feeling the injection sights pretty quickly, almost as if your entire back is bruised (ice pack to the rescue, thank you very much.) My injection yesterday went much better, but I'll get to that in a moment. First, a brief intro to the medial branch blocks (hereby known as MBBs):

The medial branches are the tinsey-tiny nerves coming from the facet joints that transfer the pain signal to the brain from the spinal cord. The idea is that by injecting these nerves with a mild anesthetic, they are able to immobilize the nerves and prevent the transmission of this signal. If a patient is receptive to this process then they are placed on the massive list of other patients waiting to get those nerves singed right out of your body (apparently the technical term is 'abalation' but personally I just like making exploding noises whenever anyone asks me about it. "Oh, you see, they go in with a needle to cauterize the nerve and FWOOOMPH! Pain free!")

In Alberta, said waiting list is approximately 18 months (once again, let's observe the irony of people with chronic pain having to wait a year and a half for a treatment that will only last a YEAR before the nerve regenerates.) By my calculations, that means I only have to kill approximately 3744 people before I get bumped to the top of the list, so it's time to band together everyone! Get out those hobblin' posts and get whacking!

The reality of the situation is, apart from that waitlist being completely unacceptable, as all healthcare related things are in Alberta, I am so, so lucky. I don't know why, but in the eleven years this has been going on, I have not once had a bad doctor deal with me. I don't know why I was ever so lucky, but the doctor who preformed the blocks on me is going to bat for me in an effort to get me bumped up on the list. (Just a guess, but I think it had something to do with the helpless sobbing on my part.)

The fact that I won't be waiting another 18 months (I'm still waiting to get into the pain clinic, by the way. We're going on two years now) is a huge relief, because not only do I have a full school schedule, but I'll also be trying to work, and that is a recipe for both disaster and pain (and possibly more helpless sobbing.)

Now, generally once you have your MBB done, or even your facet joints, you're required to stay for about a half hour after so the techs can both monitor your pain relief, and ensure you do not use your medical experience as an excuse to go out and commit various felonies under the guise of 'temporary insanity'. Having gone in first thing yesterday morning, I came out at the same time as three other women, and having nothing else to do, we started to chat about what had happened to us. It as everything from herniated disks, to car accidents, to (no joke) a hot air balloon accident. We talked about what drugs we took, and if we found them to work. We discussed frustrations with health care, how much we like the new building the Spinal Clinic was in, and how positively creepy the old building had been. It was comforting to be face to face with people who shared the same pain for a change. One woman, Lorraine, has had the nerve ablations done on her neck, and told me exactly what I could expect (and as my boyfriend and I were leaving, she asked if she could give us a ride anywhere. It was wonderful!)

The point, dear friends, is that that cheerful smile we force everyday is an open invitation to friendship. People don't talk anymore, that's a fact. We don't talk because we're caught up in these bubbles that we've filled with ourselves and Blink-182 music (because they understand how we feel), but put on a smile, just a little one, and next thing you know you've connected with three other people who you've discovered all suffer the same way you do. It's refreshing, and an amazing way to ground yourself back in reality at the same time. We don't suffer alone. We've never suffered alone.

The rest of the day was amazing as my boyfriend took me all over Calgary and we had a jolly good time because I had to return to Red Deer. It ended, however, on a terrible note, when I realized that I've lost my surgical bits necklace. I've had it since my second surgery, and somewhere over the course of the day it fell off, which means it's scattered somewhere around Calgary. It's been heartbreaking, because for me that was proof that I survived, and that I was made of more than the average person. I don't know if I'll ever find them, Calgary is a huge city and we covered so much area. I've made a Kijiji ad ($4.00 for every piece returned), but the truth of the matter is that I'm not holding out hope. They're not exactly going to stand out, and to anyone else they're probably just pieces of scrap metal. Still, one can always dream... Good luck Badass Surgical Bits Necklace. I hope whoever finds you doesn't just toss you out.

Mostly because that's probably violating some sort of environmental law.

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