Damian Mann

Medical runaround nearly as bad as back pain

It started sometime around the eclipse as an odd twinge down the left leg — a bad omen in retrospect.

When the twinge turned to pain that traveled from my lower back to my left thigh, my doctor gave me a cortisone shot in the hip. While filling the syringe, he asked a peculiar question: “Where should I put it?” I chalked it up to his unusual sense of humor and odd bedside manner.

This was just the beginning of a bout of extreme pain aggravated by a tone-deaf health care system that had me running in bureaucratic circles and saddled with an unnecessary two-week course of oxycodone, raising the specter of becoming another opioid addiction statistic.

At the early stages, a Medford physical therapist wisely said a vertebra in the lower spine was out of whack, requiring an MRI and possibly an injection. At first, her diagnosis seemed to get short shrift with the medical establishment.

A specialist, on the other hand, was stumped but casually suggested a pressure fracture in the femur might be the culprit. He said he was only interested in an MRI from the hip to the knee but not from the lower back to the knee.

After seeking this initial round of help, the pain began a downward spiral that would eventually leave me writhing on the floor barely able to walk or stand, even while gulping down oxycodone.

Almost another week passed before an MRI was scheduled — for two weeks later — from the lower spine to the knee.

My niece and nephew, Angelo and Brittnee Zwirn, offered to care for me at their Central Point home. What they thought would be a few days of convalescing stretched into more than two weeks of being waited on hand and foot.

“That’s what family is for,” my niece kept reminding me.

Even they were dumbfounded at my treatment. At one Medford hospital, a nurse wheeled me through an aisle of chairs, bumping into a few, and then through a narrow door, all the while warning me to watch my hands. After a jarring ride in the wheelchair, I dove for the dirty floor, noticing the grime while flat on my back, desperate for release from the pain. All that misery could have been avoided if the plea for a gurney had been heeded.

At one point, my niece, who had taken the day off to care for her uncle, spent almost eight exasperated hours on the phone and managed to schedule an MRI six days sooner, but the MRI of the femur and hip was ordered first, and two days before the lower spine.

Once the specialist had the MRIs, he said the femur and hip were textbook perfect but a herniated L2 vertebrae required an injection. Huh, almost a month had passed after the physical therapist had figured that one out.

Almost a week later, I went eagerly to the appointment with another specialist, who said this type of hernia was pressing on a nerve in a manner that was way more painful than typical for this type of problem.

He said that I could either wait up to three months and the hernia would heal itself, or I could get just get an injection.

“I thought I came here for an injection today,” I asked.

The doctor said “no,” because it would have to be scheduled.

“Not again,” I thought.

However, he did say that the oxycodone and flexural are useless for nerve pain. Huh, two loopy weeks for nothing.

He did agree with one astute doctor at the fourth and last late-night emergency room visit at a different Medford hospital. A few days earlier, she had suggested the nerve drug gabapentin.

She said I was the only patient who’d come in that Friday night who wasn’t drunk. She was the only doc with great bedside manner.

Finally, another clinic called and said the appointment for the elusive injection was set for two weeks later.

“This week is booked,” the scheduler said. “And next week the doctor is on vacation.”

I’ve spent a month away from work, though the pain has happily turned mostly to discomfort and the annoying numbness in the left thigh. Now I can get around without a crutch.

And, I’m still waiting for the injection, but debating whether it’s necessary since most symptoms have started to abate.

As they say, time heals all wounds.​

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on Twitter at

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