I worked in retail for a long time, about four years, so I’m used to standing for extended periods. So I never imagined that standing with a group of people for three measly, fast-flying hours, would have altered my life dramatically.
A film festival takes place in the heart of our downtown every year. I’ve never attended this spectacle in person, always choosing to watch the festivities on television. This particular year, I decided to participate in the fun and not just be a spectator. I chose a Saturday to make the trip downtown to see some of the day’s action. When I arrived at the hotel where the celebs were staying, a large crowd of celebrity-watchers had already gathered on the sidewalk. I joined the group and within minutes we were all fast friends.
Every time the hotel lobby doors opened we looked on eagerly to see who would appear. Most of the time it was usually a stylist, hairdresser, or assistant who came out, and walked right by us as we groaned with disappointment. The only celebrity that made an appearance was Penelope Cruz. I wanted to see more, like maybe Brad Pitt, so I kept standing there waiting and waiting.
My new pals and I were bunched in so tightly behind steel railings that we could barely move. The time went by quickly and before I knew it, I was standing in one spot for over three hours. My legs felt suddenly felt weird. I knew something was seriously wrong and I left the hotel and headed home immediately. I’d never experienced anything like this working at the department store for seven-hour shifts five to six days a week.
The hour and a half commute home seemed like the longest ride. I worked myself into a lather, silently pleading with people to board the train faster. When we waited five minutes for a driver change-over, I thought I was about to lose it. I sat there bouncing my leg up and down, looking irritated and feeling totally panicked. My stop was the last one on the route and I had a long way to go.
With the train ride finally over, I got on the bus for the forty minute ride home. Funny how there’s always a delay when you’re desperate to get somewhere urgently.
“C’mon people,” I fumed to myself, “this is no time to be asking the driver for directions.”
If passengers didn’t need directions, they spent considerable time exchanging pleasantries with the driver when they entered the bus, and then stopping to wish the same driver a nice weekend when they got off the bus. Why are they wasting time? I didn’t know what was going on with my leg; all I wanted to do was to get home now. What nerve these passengers had trying to be friendly and sociable while I’m suffering!
Finally, nearly two hours after leaving the city, I was relieved to be home. I relayed my trials to my sympathetic friends, although by now my legs had calmed down at bit and so had I. Later that evening heaviness swallowed up my legs but nothing nearly as dramatic as what I experienced earlier.
The next morning I didn’t feel like lying around in bed so I got up. As soon as I put my lead leg on the floor and stood up, an excruciating electric shock pain rode through my left leg, radiating from my butt right down my leg to just below my calf. It felt like somebody was murdering my leg. I stood there screaming. I couldn’t move because of the intense pain. And I was in shock not knowing what was happening. Was there a tumor in my leg? Did I break my leg? I tried to sit down on the bed but I couldn’t. The pain wouldn’t allow me to move. I stood there motionless and numb and completely freaked out.
Then a strange buzzing sound filtered my head. But there were no noise in the room—no television, no radio, nobody, nothing. Am I going mad too?
I was in no condition to sit at a computer and research what this all meant. I managed to drag myself to the phone to call a friend, who has some medical knowledge, and asked her to search online for ‘a sharp, electric shock pain running down the leg’. She reported back that it was likely sciatica. Sciatica?
This electric shock sensation lasted a miserable four days. I felt it at every movement I made. I couldn’t sit down, lie down, stand up, or go up and down the stairs without screaming. It was horrendous. The best thing I could do was lie down and without moving a muscle, as if I was in a body cast.
The only way I could get out of bed was to roll over onto my stomach, slowly shift myself to the edge of the bed, and then put my right leg (my good leg) on the floor. Eventually, I could get my left leg down. Once I made it to the bathroom, I couldn’t sit on the toilet without doing some odd-looking manoeuvres first. When I brushed my teeth I couldn’t bend over the sink to rinse my mouth.
Although my leg was in pain, I was relieved that sciatica was the cause rather than some awful cancer. I needed to see my doctor and scheduled an appointment, which I later regretted. First, I had to make that same long journey back downtown on congested public transportation, fighting to get a seat and then later struggling to get out of the seat quickly and out the train before the doors closed on me. It was a rough trip. Second, the doctor had no practical solutions other than to tell me not to drive for a week and not to do any running around.
“Just lie in bed” she said, “with a pillow under your knees”.
I was miffed. I put myself through so much to get dressed and travel for over an hour just to hear “just stay in bed.” Neither did she order an MRI or any other tests. When I asked her about it, she responded by telling me “those things are expensive.”
That was five years ago. Since then, I’ve felt the electric shock sensation four times. Each incidence was more like a quick flash, and then it was over. None of it lasted five days like my first episode did. However, I do get flare ups just about every day. It shows up as pain or tingling shooting down my leg.
Unfortunately for me, sciatica has no cure. Unlike cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, there are no sciatica surgeries to make my life better. There is no drug to eliminate the tingling and burning sensation in my leg. Neither is there a sciatica organization similar to the Heart and Stroke Foundation where patients with those afflictions can turn to for help. Sciatica is not only a pain in the butt, it is also isolating. I don’t know anyone else suffering from this condition to even share stories with.
Last year, I could honestly say that my life is at a standstill. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t really have a life because I miss out on so much of it. Albeit, there were times when I used sciatica to get out of things I don’t want to do, like taking my cousin to the airport at 7:30 am.
But for the most part, I missed out on more of what I wish I could participate than those that I wanted to avoid. Family functions, events, and vacation had taken a back seat. Plus I was unable to work. My quality of life had sunk and I regrettably admit that I gave in sciatica. It took over my entire existence and I just let it. Until...
About 5 months ago, I decide to bury my sciatica, figuratively speaking, and say goodbye. I had no clue how to go about it, but I knew I couldn’t continue suffering as I had been. I remember hearing Dr. Phil say “what you focus on the longest becomes the strongest.” I focused on sciatica for so long. Eventually, I was tired of mourning this condition and was so ready to begin healing.
The first thing that happened quite naturally was I started seeing the life I wanted to have. I saw family, friends, and random people on television going places and doing things. And for the first time in a long time, I wanted to join in. And I was excited to do so.
I started my new journey by rereading the literature, visual guides and treatment options I got from my osteopath, acupuncturist and other therapists. Luckily, I had kept these materials that I previously thought were useless. I decided to give these treatments another try and allowed myself to be open to them.
On my own, I use warm compresses on my butt and legs, two to three times a day. I also avoid sitting or standing for extended periods. Lying down with a tennis ball under my butt really helps relieve muscle tension in my legs and lower back. Very few exercise protocols are this simple yet I neglected doing them, until recently.
I’ve found several yoga classes available for free online; I set my own goals and do the routines at my own pace. I’ve never been able to meditate effectively because my mind is so cluttered, so I just listen to classic R & B for hours—this totally calms me down and works as well as any meditation session. I’ve also welcomed the love of painting back into my life. It used to be a favorite hobby of mine. Not having done art in so long is pretty obvious. I mean, I can’t paint a simple flower anymore because I’m rusty, but it doesn’t really matter.
Yet, despite these positives, there are times when I stay in bed all day with pillows under my knees. My butt and legs hurt quite often but I stopped fighting it because I am better at managing the sciatica symptoms. I continue to do what I enjoy like listening to my favorite music and doing art. Music and art don’t necessarily alter pain but I notice it changes my mood for the better. Once I take the focus off the pain and put my attention elsewhere, the difference is amazing.
Let me end by saying that I am starting to feel somewhat triumphant over sciatica. Last month my friend and got tickets to sit in the audience of my favorite daytime talk show. The taping was for two hours, during which time we couldn’t get out of our seats. We only had a three-second warning when the cameras would start rolling again, so there was no time to get up and move around. It wasn’t easy to sit for that long, but I survived. The next day was a little hellish. My back was sore and my legs felt rubbery. But I still keep battling.