That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!

Is that supposed to be some sort of insult? I don’t actually have a spine, you know.

Posted by kozemp on November 20, 2009

Okay, so, we have presumably all heard about my adventures in electromechanical breakage earlier this week. Today, though, I managed to successfully get my MRI. The technician even complimented me on how good I was with not moving in the machine and screwing everything up.

When she said that I thought, but did not say, “it’s easy to lay perfectly still when every single byte of RAM is dedicated to keeping myself from having a claustrophobic freakout.” This is in the quote-unquote open MRI machine, mind you. The notion of the “open MRI” carefully straddles the line between pronounced exaggeration and outright falsehood. It’s only open on the sides, you see. When getting the innards of your lower back examined they still put you into the machine far enough that there is a metal plate about two inches from your face.

This is only marginally better than the giant cigar tube of a regular MRI, but in the end it comes down to coping mechanisms. To cope with the open MRI I just shut my eyes very tightly and feverishly replay Doctor Who episodes in my head. To survive a regular MRI I have to disrupt the higher functions of my brain with enough narcotic painkillers to put an Indian elephant into low Earth orbit. Open MRI it is, then.

One of my favorite new-ish medical advancements is that when you’re done with your MRI they give you printouts and a CD-R with your scans on them. For someone like me whose curiosity transcends obsessive, the chance to actually look at one’s own inner workings in the comfort of one’s own home is up there with breakfast for dinner and free cable for life.

In my particular situation, though, this becomes one of those times when obsessive curiosity becomes problematic.

Let’s first take a look at the side view.

Physiology is fun!

The technical name for this scan is "T2 DEQ SAG."

You notice the top five intervertebral discs? Don’t they look nice? All glowy and healthy and full of goo. They’re paragons of flexibility-granting, shock-absorbing spinal fortitude. Now notice the sixth one down from the top? That’s L5S1, also known as the lumbrosacral joint. It’s where your back turns into your legs, more or less. By now you’ve probably noticed that L5S1 is NOT glowy and healthy and full of goo. It is, in the words of my orthopedic surgeon, “basically broken.” It’s not white because the disc has prolapsed (fancy doctor-talk for “sprung a leak”) and the glowy goo, aka the disc’s nucleus pulposus, has been pushed out and is pressing against and chemically inflaming the nerve roots inside that part of the spine.

Well, I thought, how bad can that be? I mean, it’s all still got to be pretty orderly, right?

Looking good....

This is the top view of L2L3. That’s the little guy at the top of the side view. You can see some definition on the disc and a nice center of goo. So far, so good. Moving down the spine…

Still looking good...

L3L4 here. Again, everything looks nice. Disc, goo, everything in its appointed place and proportion. Dear gods, you’d think there was nothing wrong with this guy.

Why are we even bothering to magnetically resonate this perfectly healthy spine?

L4L5. My spine is a thing of beauty. Of BEAUTY, I say. Look at that. Who wouldn’t want this spine? I mean, yes, there’s an awful lot of that greyish stuff AROUND the spine that probably isn’t that desirable, but that’s another story. For now we’re talking spine and this spine will kick your ass right off this planet. Could the surgeons and the MRI machine be wrong? Could the side view somehow have been tricked? Has my L5S1 intervertebral disc become sentient and crafted an elaborate practical joke? Well, let’s look at the next picture to make sure.



This is my L5S1. What’s left of it, at any rate. As you can see the healthy, glowy goo which is supposed to reside comfortably in the middle of the disc has seized upon the exit at about 8 o’clock and spread out all over the place. “The place” in this instance being the spaces in my spinal column where the nerves go out to my lower back and legs. The goo is a delicious jelly-like substance made up mostly of different proteins that, while very nice and helpful when trapped inside their disc, react with nerve tissue like something out of the end of a Tony Scott movie.

Nerves (played by Michael Madsen): Hey, who the fuck are you?

Nucleus Pulposus (played by Tom Sizemore): Who the fuck am I? Who the fuck are YOU?

Other Nerves (played by Mickey Rourke): Oh, you’re DEAD, motherfucker!

(Everyone pulls out guns and starts shooting each other.)

Just think about how much more involved and invested people would be in their medical care if doctors explained things the way I do.

Hoity-toity book-learnin’ doctor-speak: “An atheromatous plaque has built up in your posterior interventricular artery that will require a percutaneous coronary intervention.”

My version: “Okay, remember the part when Vasquez and Gorman stopped the Aliens from chasing Ripley by blowing themselves up in the ventilation tunnel? It’s like that, only in your heart.”

“Percutaneous coronary intervention,” or “killing Aliens.” I wonder which is more appealing.



One Response to “Is that supposed to be some sort of insult? I don’t actually have a spine, you know.”

  1. slerock said

    So, are you trying to tell me that we’re NOT going bungee jumping on Saturday?

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