A sharp pain developed between my shoulder blade and spine, like I was being stabbed in the back with a pencil.
I thought I pulled a muscle while weight lifting, although it might be a stretch to call it weight lifting. I’ve reached the age when it’s more like glorified stretching with some weights.
So I stopped “lifting” and devoted all my time to the elliptical. I was getting addicted to working out before the pandemic closed down my Planet Fitness, losing weight and feeling better than I had felt in years.
But when I went to spring training in February, I started experiencing a tingling sensation in my right hand and a sharp pain in my elbow. I thought I had an elbow injury. Maybe from throwing javelin for four years on the track team in college. Or maybe, it came from years of throwing batting practice to my son’s travel baseball teams. Or maybe, it was from using the elliptical too many days in a row.
I listed my symptoms to one of the Tigers trainers near a dugout on the back fields at Tiger Town.
“It doesn’t sound like an elbow problem,” he said. “It sounds like a nerve issue.”
He nailed it.
Seven months later, I’m still dealing with the pain, which has grown far worse and more frequent. At times, it feels like somebody is hitting my hand with a hammer. At other times, I’m so weak I can’t open a bottle of pickles.
The pain has left me lying on the floor in the press box at Comerica Park and forced me to try marijuana-infused gummies for relief – something I never thought I’d do.
Surgery is just a few days away.
After the pandemic shut down everything, it took months to navigate the health care system to try to figure out what was wrong. Everything was moving in slow motion and backed up, from setting up appointments and going to different doctors to getting a batch of X-rays, nerve tests and an ultrasound.
Finally, an MRI revealed that I have a bulging disc in my neck along with three messed up vertebrae, which has caused all kinds of pain and strange symptoms. Two fingers on my right hand have been numb for about six months. That’s been the only consistent symptom because the pain moves around, depending on the day.
At times, the pain is dull and aching, almost impossible to pinpoint or describe. It’s deep and constant, as if it is coming from my bones.
At other times, it hurts to breathe. Then, the pain skips from my back to my forearm to my hand to my shoulder blade and then to my triceps.
On some days, my right hand feels like it is burning, like I’m touching a hot stove. And then, without warning, it feels like somebody is smashing it with a hammer.
Nerves can be funny that way. Incredibly unpredictable.
This has created some awkward moments. My wife has had to cut my dinner into small bites, like I’m a toddler who can’t hold a knife. In the shower, my right hand can be so useless that I’ve had to lean my head under the shampoo bottle and push the lever with my left hand, so it would squirt into my hair.
Other times, the pain will arrive out of nowhere and I’ve had to get of the shower and lay on the tile floor, still dripping wet.
Brushing my teeth with an electric toothbrush is beyond comical, just trying to turn it on with fingers that don’t work. And typing with a couple of fingers that are numb and tingly has been a challenge. All summer long, I would write a little, take a bath or ice my arm, and then write some more.
While covering the Tigers during their summer camp, I would watch until the pain woke up and then I had to lay down on the carpet in the press box.
Finally, I figured out it was easier to type while sitting on my couch, propped up by pillows.
Thankfully, the Free Press has worked with me, trying to make accommodations or change my assignments. I’ve been lucky and I’m thankful for that. How many people are stuck in jobs where bosses aren’t accommodating for all kinds of ailments?
The pain kept getting worse. In July, it was nearly impossible to sleep. I tried sleeping on a bed but the pain fired through my arm like I was hooked up to electrodes.
I tried different pillows, different positions. But nothing helped.
I slept o…