Solid advice on back pain

I recently finished reading a book called “Ending back pain: 5 powerful steps to diagnose, understand and treat your ailing back“, written by Dr. Jack Stern, a back surgeon. Here’s the English cover:

ending-back-pain-cover

And for those of you who are in Romania, here’s the Romanian cover:

elimina-durerea-de-spate-coperta

Some of you may remember that I dealt with a bout of debilitating back pain in 2015-2016. As a matter of fact, as I write this short book review, I get to celebrate a year of living a fairly normal life again — as opposed to crawling on all fours and unable to walk, hopped up on pain killers and yet still in excruciating pain.

So it is with the authority given to me by first-hand experience that I recommend this book to you. Back pain has become an epidemic nowadays, because of the way most of us live and think, and there’s a very good chance that if you’re reading this and are over the age of 30, you’ve had some back pain. I know 25-year olds who are struggling with back pain. This was unheard of just a few decades ago. Back pain used to be a thing old people complained about. Not anymore.

This book truly does what it promises to do in its title. It walks you through its five steps that help you self-diagnose your back pain, guides you in the process of selecting a specialist to assist with your recovery and gives you solid advice about how to stop the pain from reoccurring.

What I liked about it (and there are many things to like) was its holistic approach. The author doesn’t stress surgery, even though he’s a successful and experienced surgeon. Like me, he thinks surgery is the absolute last resort. Even more so, he talks a great deal about natural ways to treat the back pain. He’s not entrenched in the allopathic approach which, let’s be honest, has failed quite miserably in the treatment of back in recent decades.

What you’ll take away from the book depends on your particular situation, but what I want you to understand going in, is that back pain is a complicated beast that can have many causes: physical, psychological, genetic, postural, mechanical, food, lack of exercise and so on. Your particular back pain, even though it may have the same symptoms as that of someone else, may have entirely different causes. That’s where this book shines: it talks about those causes and helps you to identify what’s really ailing you, what’s at the root of your back pain.

I’ve gained valuable insights through the reading of this book. It confirmed things I intuited when I was sinking deeper and deeper into a spiral of pain and despair and revealed new things to me about the nature of my particular back pain. It’ll do the same for you if you read it in earnest, studiously and with the intent of getting to the bottom of things.

Good luck and good health!

How I dealt with my back pain

Last year, I experienced a bout of debilitating back pain, whose cause is still unclear to me. I talked about it in this video and some of you asked me to make a follow-up video where I detail the treatments I underwent to get over it. This is that video.

I’ll let you watch the video to get the full details, but here are the concrete things that helped:

  • Regular deep tissue massages from a knowledgeable masseur.
  • Stretching routines, particularly yoga routines for the hips and lower back (here’s a particularly good routine for me).
  • Various pain relief medications, but they only mask the symptoms and cause other problems after long-term use.
  • A posturology exam which can pinpoint various anatomical imbalances in gait, posture and muscular development that can cause back pain; custom-made shoe inserts are usually recommended as a result of the exam, and they need to be worn daily for over three months in order to correct the problems.
  • Ozone injections to the lower back (subcutaneous and deep tissue) in order to help the vertebrae and discs heal. Look for a good sports doctor in your area, they’re the ones who are usually equipped to do these treatments.
  • Regular use of a special massage bed made with jade stones, that uses infrared heat and mechanical movement of the jade stones along the paraspinal muscles in order to relax and elongate the back, helping relieve the strain on the discs.
  • Regular use of an inversion table that also elongates the back and helps ease or get rid of pain flare-ups, but you have to hang on it for 5-10 minutes at a time in order to make a difference.
  • Supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid to help heal the discs, plus multivitamins and superfoods to feed the body and make sure it has all of the nutrients it needs to function properly. I made a video recipe of a superfood smoothie that I use after workouts.
  • The most important thing I did, the thing that got me back on my feet, was a visit to a traditional Romanian healer, who used a combination of muscle and joint stretches, plus some other courses of treatment, to make my life livable again and to help me become fully functional once more. His name is Costică Bonta, and he has an office in Baia Mare, Romania. His phone number is posted in the video. Not sure if you can visit him, but I also encourage you to look for traditional healers in your country or local area, perhaps they’ll be able to help just as well.

In my case, I don’t believe the cause of my back pain was physical. There was no one particular injury I can point to and say, yes, that’s when I screwed up my back and started to feel the pain. Rather, in my case, the progression of the pain was incremental, from annoying to debilitating within the course of a few months. So I believe the trigger was something else, perhaps stress, perhaps overwork, perhaps anger or resentment, something that accumulated inside me and then manifested psychosomatically. It’s true, I have several herniated discs in my lumbar and sacral region that were confirmed by an MRI, but so do many, many other people who are experiencing no pain at all and are fully functional. So a herniated disc does not necessarily lead to torturous pain and an inability to function on a daily basis. There is more to this than meets the eye, and I’m still looking into it.

A tale about dealing with pain

As I write this, I’m lying in a bed, where I will have to spend the next 10 days. It’s part of a process where I am dealing with what has become constant, debilitating pain. I’m sharing this with you in the hope that it will spur you to deal with your pain as soon as you experience it, before it gets serious and it starts to dominate your life.

There are few things one can do when they’re stuck in a bed. Sharing their thoughts, whether it’s in written form or as recorded media, is one of those things. So here is a video I recorded last night about my experience with pain and the process I went through in order to deal with it.

Before you watch it though, I want to share the most important point from the video, the clincher if you will, and it’s this: pain begets misery; misery begets more pain, and so the downward spiral goes, bringing you into darkness, into a personal hell out of which only you can escape, and the more you stay down there in that hell hole, the harder it becomes to see the light, to live your life, to enjoy what the world has to offer, to appreciate the love of those around you, and to accomplish your goals. Your life gets put on hold and you’re stuck dealing with the pain, thinking about it constantly, gritting your teeth, trying to ignore what cannot be ignored. Do not get to this point. Do whatever you can, as soon as you can, short of illegal stuff, to feel better and to be able to do what you need to do in order to feel alive and happy.

A cure for simple burns

This is something that my wife told me about, and has worked for me numerous times in the last several years. Want to know what will cure your burns quickly, lessen the pain significantly and immediately, eliminate the bubble of interstitial fluid that forms at the burn site, and minimize tissue scarring?

It’s simple. Dab honey on the burn.

As soon as you’ve burned yourself, take honey (in as natural a state as possible — we like Really Raw Honey, but any quality honey should work) and spread it on the burn site. Keep it there for half an hour to an hour if possible. You’ll notice that the pain will go away within minutes, and that the burn site won’t swell up and form that painful bubble that can burst and leave your flesh raw underneath.

What about if you’ve burned your finger (for example) at work and have no honey available? (This happened to me a few months ago.) That’s okay. Put the burned finger in sugared water and hold it in there for 15 minutes or so.

I took some sugar from the coffee station and put about 4-5 teaspoons’ worth in a half a cup of lukewarm water. I mixed it as well as I could so it would dissolve, then I stuck my finger in there. It didn’t work quite as well as the honey, because I the burn pain continued for a couple of hours, though not at the same levels, but in the end, my finger didn’t swell up, and instead, the healing process began from inside, naturally. Look at the middle finger in this photograph. That’s how it looked a few hours after I’d just burned it severely by accidentally grasping a burned piece of Pop-Tart where the sugar was in the process of carbonizing (past the melting point).

You see nothing wrong with the finger, right? Well, that’s the idea! Other than a small numbness at the site, and pain when pressing on it, my finger was fine. After several days, the dead skin peeled off, again with no pain, revealing the fresh new skin underneath.

I know it’s hard to believe this sort of thing, but trust me, honey is a miracle cure for burns. Try it out when you next burn yourself and see what happens.

Happy Birthday Tataie

It’s my grandfather’s birthday today. He died just a couple of weeks ago after a painful struggle with mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

He’d been coughing for a few years. It was a persistent cough, but it wasn’t a severe cough. He coughed here and there, and especially after he came into a cooler room after working outside, in his beloved garden. Then things got worse. He kept getting cold-like symptoms and coughing more. When doctors in Romania examined him, they discovered water in one of his lungs. They started drawing it out with syringes regularly, liters at a time. A lesion of sorts developed at the site where they kept inserting the needle. A biopsy of the lesion revealed nothing. Things didn’t improve.

My parents hoped that the Florida weather would do him good, so they brought him to the States. He loved the weather, but didn’t get better. They thought US medical care would be better than Romanian medical care, so they put him in a hospital here. Doctors literally paraded by his bedside by the tens, specialist after specialist, all of them clueless. Oh, let’s try this, let’s try that, blah, blah, blah — that’s how the story usually goes. X-rays and CT scans and urine and lab tests every day, and still they couldn’t figure things out.

Finally they decided to open him up and see what was going on. That’s when they discovered he had mesothelioma, with a few “localized” tumors in his right lung. But they still couldn’t figure out what to do about the water accumulation, so they proposed to insert talcum powder between the lung walls, in the hope of sealing that chamber and stopping the leaks (that’s apparently a standard procedure for this sort of thing).

So they opened him up again and inserted the powder. Water still accumulated, this time more slowly, but it still happened. Then he developed difficulty swallowing. They stuck tubes with cameras down his throat. More CT scans, more X-rays, and still no idea why. Well, let’s enlarge his esophagus and cardiac sphincter (the opening from the esophagus to the stomach.) That might help… Well, it didn’t. He still had trouble swallowing.

They didn’t know what else to do for him, so they released him from the hospital. The bill came to well over $100,000, and my grandfather was no better than before. He was worse, and now he had to contend with pain from the surgery and the other procedures done on him while in the hospital.

My mother had to blend everything into a soupy puree before feeding him, and still he had trouble swallowing. He withered and dried out and lost tens of pounds. He was hardly recognizable, but his spirit was still well, and he hoped he’d get better. That was the hardest part, to see him trying to eat and unable to swallow, then leave the table with a horribly sad look on his face.

We knew he wouldn’t last long like that, so we convinced him to return to Romania, where at least he could die in his own home, if it were to come to that. Once he got there, my aunt, who took care of him, put him on IV fluids. He got a little better. We decided to try seeing some specialists there in Romania, so she took him to the hospitals in Sibiu and Timisoara.

If you don’t know how the healthcare system works in Romania, I’ll tell you. It’s based on heavy bribes. If you don’t bribe the doctors and nurses, no one cares about you. No one even looks at you, and you’re treated like scum. If you have the money to give them, you actually get somewhat decent service, depending on how much you give. You can’t lay the blame entirely on the medical personnel for this practice though. Doctors’ salaries are horribly tiny, smaller than the salaries of some janitors at well-to-do companies. So they need cash infusions from the patients in order to be able to live properly. But the way they go about it is disgusting to me. And there’s no telling when they’ll make up stuff about your condition just so they can get more money out of you. They’ll even do extra procedures (if they’re unethical people) so you’ll pay them more.

Once in the hospital, they slipped a feeding tube through his nose and into his stomach. In Sibiu, they opened him up again and discovered some lesions on his esophagus, and some on his stomach. They said he needed his esophagus replaced, but that they couldn’t do the procedure, and that he needed to be sent to Timisoara. We believe the doctor who operated on him at Sibiu twisted his stomach or intestines around and caused a severe blockage in his GI tract, because his digestion and regularity were never the same after that.

In Timisoara, the specialist who was to replace his esophagus with a silicone stent bragged to high heaven that he was the only one doing the procedure in Romania and in the entire Western Europe. If that sounds phony to you, don’t worry, you’re right. He just wanted to make sure he got enough money for the job. He ended up operating on my grandfather, but replaced less of the esophagus that he’d originally said. We’re not sure why. Things went completely downhill from there.

My grandfather never recovered from that operation. His situation got worse and worse every day. Now he couldn’t digest his food at all, even the soups he was fed through his tube. He coughed up blood and fluids of various colors. He got thinner and more dehydrated every day. My aunt put him back on IV fluids, but they didn’t help. He was in horrible pain, throughout the day and night. He moaned in agony. He couldn’t sleep. When he did manage to sleep, he would writhe and cry out in anguish. He was dying.

Four days before he died, he asked my aunt to make the preparations for his burial. He knew it and he was ready. He asked her to let him go, to stop trying to keep him alive. She couldn’t stop caring for him, but she knew it was going to end anyway. He looked forward to joining my grandmother in the grave next to hers.

And then he died in the evening. I got the call from my mother. She was crying. I couldn’t cry. I knew what he’d been through, and wanted him to get the rest and peace he so badly needed. I was angry with everything that had happened to him, and still am. Why did he have to die in such pain? Why did he have to encounter the utmost morons in his quest for decent medical care? Why did he have to suffer so much?

We don’t know when he got exposed to asbestos. It wasn’t uncommon in communist Romania to get exposed to dangerous conditions or materials. He worked at the same factory all his life, and got promoted to chief technical engineer from a humble line worker. He came up with various inventions and improvements during his career, and was even decorated by Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, for his contributions. I’m not saying this because I care about Ceausescu, who was a horrible man, but I care about my grandfather and about his life’s work, and was glad to see him get recognized.

For me, my grandfather’s suffering serves to underline how little medical science really knows about the human body, and how horribly few things they can do to cure people. In spite of all our technology and advances and drugs, when it comes to treating disease, our options are very limited, and very primitive. We can:

  • Mask the symptoms by treating them with drugs
  • Cut into people and butcher them with plain knives or sear them with electric knives, then sew them up with string
  • Poison them with radiation therapy and chemotherapy

I remember my frustration with this while in medical school, and perhaps it had something to do, subconsciously, with my leaving it to return to IT work. At least in IT you can find out what’s really wrong and can fix it either through code or hardware replacements.

What my grandfather’s death also showed (amply) is how many idiots there are in the healthcare system. My God, we have so many doctors out there that can’t diagnose their way out of a paper bag, and they run test after test and try this and that and still can’t figure out what’s wrong. I’m fortunate enough to know there are good doctors (although they’re few and far between) who know how to diagnose with much less information at their fingertips, because I’ve met some of them.

If all these retards can graduate medical school and can pass the boards, then clearly medical education isn’t doing its part in weeding them out. I had plenty of them in my class in med school, too. They were the ones who got by very nicely by rote memorization. Worked great, until you asked them to analyze something — then they looked at you like a hen looks at a newspaper.

Another one of my beliefs was reinforced: that the overwhelming majority of nurses are lazy asses that don’t care at all about their patients. I’m sorry if that offends you, but that’s the truth. I know this because I saw they way they treated my grandfather, and I saw the way they treated other patients over the years.

All nurses seem to want is more money and more benefits for as little work as humanly possible. Oh sure, they put in a lot of “hours”, but most of those hours are spent socializing at the nursing station, not by the patient’s bedside. What’s unfortunate is that the market is tilted so much in their favor right now (and will continue to be for the next several years) that nothing significant can be done about it. There’s a nursing shortage, and that means we’re going to have mediocre, good-for-nothing nurses in all of our hospitals until supply meets demand, and hospitals can start to weed out the non-performers.

I tell you, the nursing profession will not emerge unscathed from this. The stink caused by these bad nurses will taint the good ones, too. The good ones are out there, I’ve met some of them, and when I say they’re good, I honestly mean it. They’re great, and they care, and they know a lot, but they’re few and far between, and they’re mostly in academia.

Coming back to my grandfather, I think of my grandmother’s death two years ago, also in June. A week or so after her burial, it was my grandfather’s birthday, and I remember him celebrating it with us, his family, but without his beloved wife. The sorrow was evident on his face, even through his smiles, and there was nothing any of us could do for him but to try and cheer him up.

Now, he’s resting in the grave, and it’s his own birthday. There’s no birthday celebration now. Just pain and a feeling of irreplaceable loss.

Rest in peace, tataie. You taught me how to build and fix things and work in the garden, and how to use tools and paint and be the man I am today. You were the first man I looked up to, the first one that made me want to learn how to shave. I saw you do your best, every day, to care for and protect your family. You never spoke much, but you did much. You were loved, and are loved. Rest in peace.

Condensed knowledge for 2007-09-19

A bit of a health theme to this edition of condensed knowledge:

  • A new CPR technique was discovered. It’s called OAC-CPR (Only rhythmic Abdominal Compression). As its name implies, you only press on the abdomen, eliminating the risk of broken ribs, mouth-to-mouth, and fatigue from pushing so hard. Definitely worth looking into this!
  • Prozac found in the drinking water in the UK. Apparently so many people are on the anti-depressant in England, that it can now be found, diluted, in the water supply, after having passed through their bodies, into the sewers, through the water treatment plants, etc. Although the “experts” are saying there’s no risk, I doubt it. I mean, this is a drug, found active, in the water supply!
  • WD40 turns out to be a great help for bad joints. Despite the precautions written on the cans, rubbing it into the skin was of tremendous help to a man suffering from joint pain. Not sure that I’d recommend this.
  • Aspartame is the behind the spike in suicides for teen and pre-teen girls. Apparently, it’s a powerful mood-changer — it causes depression. Something to think about the next time you buy your children something with Nutrasweet or Aspartame as the sweetener.
  • Exercising in traffic is bad for your heart. Now that’s something I’ve known was wrong for some time. It just didn’t make sense to me when I saw people running on the sidewalk, next to heavy traffic, breathing in all those noxious fumes. When I run, I want to breathe fresh, healthy air, not someone’s nasty car exhaust. I just couldn’t get why they’d put themselves through something that unhealthy. It turns out the particulates from vehicle emissions decrease our blood’s ability to clot, and restrict the amount of blood that reaches the heart immediately upon exposure.
  • Mobile phones are as dangerous as smoking. So reads a recent headline… People have gone back and forth on the safety of mobile phones for years. Now the EU has finally decided to pick a side and take action. The article’s in Romanian, but what it says is that governments are starting to take mitigating action, first by warning people of the risks, and then by looking at ways to minimize exposure to WiFi radiation. They’re recommending that people go back to using wired Internet connections instead of wireless ones.

Now for some funny stuff:

And some economic discussion:

  • Greenspan on Iraq war, oil link. He confirms what I’ve thought and said for some time. In his talk with Matt Lauer, he touches on the housing bubble and the fiscal irresponsibility of the current administration, but he has no compliments for the Democrats, either. Last, but no least, he says the dollar may be replaced by the euro as the reserve currency of choice.
  • Transparent Investing: what your broker doesn’t want you to know. Here’s a site that offers a purportedly frank discussion of index investing. Definitely worth a look.

Four habits that prevent headaches

If you suffer from frequent tension headaches, like I do, the following list of habits might help you prevent them. These are things that work for me:

  • We tend to frown when we’re frustrated or stressed. Become aware of it, and stop it. Relax your forehead, and keep it that way, on purpose, even when under stress.
  • Stop clenching your jaws, and stop chewing gum. These are two actions that will cause tension headaches and jaw pain, not to mention jaw clenching permanently damages your teeth.
  • Drink water frequently. We should get about 8-10 glasses of water per day. 6-8 glasses is also okay, but it’s better to get more if possible.
  • Breathe deeply and get lots of fresh air. Our breathing is usually shallow, and we’re not really circulating the air in our lungs. Breathing deeply helps keep our brain fed with lots of oxygen and keeps the headaches away. If you can open the windows at home or at work, open them. If you can’t, because you work in an office building where that’s not possible, make sure you keep your office door open, and keep your A/C on to circulate the air. Or bring a desk fan and keep it on, to help move the air a little bit. Go outside and take short walks during the day. Make sure to breathe deeply. In your car, don’t keep the A/C on recirculate, let it pull the fresh air from outside. Or open the window or sunroof slightly, to let in the fresh air.

I’ve found that if I do these things, I have tension headaches much less frequently, and I don’t need to load up on Ibuprofen or other headache medication, which is always a good thing.

Caveat Emptor: TurboTax is a pain

Before I start, I should say I’ve been a user of TurboTax for several years – can’t remember exactly how many, but for more than 5 years for sure. I couldn’t imagine doing my taxes without it in the past, but after this year’s experience, I’m seriously thinking about switching to something else, just so I don’t end up banging my head on the wall out of utter frustration!

I should also mention that I waited since 4/17 to post this entry in order to cool off. I would have been much more critical if I wrote this last week…

I’ve been using the online version of TurboTax since it came out about two years ago. When I started using it this year, I noticed that it had changed a lot – the graphics were slicker, the site looked nicer, etc. That’s where the good points stopped! The rest of the changes were horrible:

  • Gone was the wonderful screen-by-screen contextual help, with audio and video walk-throughs. Instead, now I had some horrible pop-up help that didn’t help much at all and at times referred me to dig through the IRS site for some form or other such thing.
  • Gone was the easy navigation to specific pages. Now, if I wanted to access a specific screen, I had to start from the beginning of the section and go through e-v-e-r-y little page I didn’t care about, making sure I didn’t mess up my previously answered fields… Horrible, just horrible! This was the single biggest time-waster of this year’s tax season!
  • Gone was the simple, easy to use interface. Now I had a slick but clunky interface, where I had to guess how things were organized. I had this weird dichotomy of thought – on the one hand, I wanted to take a sharp pencil and run it across the screen in anguish, doodling in despair, and on the other hand, the buttons looked so nice… Ugh!
  • Did any of you notice the ridiculous wait times to get to chat live with a rep? For me, it was 50 minutes! Do I have 50 minutes to sit in front of my computer, only to wait for some tired and frazzled rep to answer my question perfunctorily? I think not.

I can’t describe the agony of doing my taxes this year. It was a nightmare. I must have wasted over 10 hours because of TurboTax ‘s horrible navigation and clunkiness! Still, I would have been willing to pull the cover over all these glaring shortcomings if only TurboTax would have been able to do its most basic function, which is… to file my taxes correctly! But no, it had to go and mess that up, too!

I chose to file my taxes electronically this year, and to send in a hand-signed form. I was supposed to get notified by TurboTax when my taxes were electronically accepted by the IRS, so I could come back online and print out the form, sign it, and mail it. Sounds simple, right? Well, they never notified me! My wife and I sat there wondering when it would happen, and come tax day (4/17), we still weren’t notified!

That afternoon, I decided to log back into my account to check the status, and I couldn’t! I kept getting this error, telling me TurboTax couldn’t retrieve my submission status. Well, gosh darn it, why did I pay for this piece of software? No matter how many times I tried, even after logging out, emptying my cache, jumping on one foot, throwing salt over my shoulder, whatever, TurboTax couldn’t retrieve my submission status, and it was getting really, really late – I mean, like 10 minutes before 5 pm late!

Finally, I started looking through the TurboTax help files to see how this error could be addressed – because, of course, TurboTax didn’t provide a link to the specific help page addressing this error next to the error message (duh!). After 10 minutes of digging around and mumbling all sorts of unwell thoughts about TurboTax , I stumbled across some number (not toll-free) I could call to check my status over the phone. When I called, I had to listen to a pre-recorded message telling me how I could check my status online… Would I be calling if I could do that?! So anyway, after navigating through a needless phone menu, I was able to get my information, and to find out that my return had been accepted by the IRS several days earlier. Peachy, or so I thought!

I logged back into my TurboTax acount to print out the special one-page form, but of course, I couldn’t print it because the stinking program couldn’t retrieve my status. Aargh! So I went to the IRS site and printed the form, then filled it in by hand – again, I couldn’t help asking myself why I paid for TurboTax if I had to fill out forms by hand (?!) – only to find out… and it gets better, folks… that it was too late. I was supposed to sign and send the form within 24 hours of the electronic acceptance by the IRS!

At this point, I think steam must have been coming out of my ears! I tell you, I was NOT thinking nice, friendly thoughts about TurboTax , and for good reason! They didn’t notify me the IRS had received my taxes! They were able to do it last year, but not this year!

In the end, I ended up having to print my entire tax forms set from TurboTax and send it into the IRS once more, hoping that they’ll accept it in paper format even though I’d sent it in electronically already… I included the special signature form, for good measure. I hope I won’t get in trouble with the IRS. If I do, I have TurboTax to thank for it!

So, there you have it, my entire, horrible, not to be repeated, experience with TurboTax , which this year, was a dreadful, “pull your hair out” piece of software. You be the judge of whether you want to use it to do your taxes. My take: tax time is stressful enough already without having to deal with buggy, hard to use software.