Unpleasant Strangeness

It seems my bicycle is not the only thing breaking down. Apparently I am falling apart as well. This past week has been a weird one.

It started during my ride back to Stone Town from the northern beaches on Zanzibar. I felt a little pain in my upper back. I just thought I had slept funny or strained it slightly. But as the day wore on it got worse. By the next morning it was painful enough to see a doctor, who prescribed some anti-inflammatory drugs. They did not help. That night I was in agony. A constant pain was shooting into my upper back by the spine. It felt like a knife was sticking into me. I also had numbness in my hand and arm.

First thing in the morning I went back to the doc, who gave me some different drugs then sent me to the government hospital to get x-rays. An African hospital is pretty much what you would expect: dirty, unorganized, people laying around or waiting to see a doctor. It was awful. I did not stay long; the x-ray machine was broken. But while I was there the nurses could see that I was in pain (I was doubled over, keeling on the floor and wincing.) They took me to another doc who gave me injections of painkiller and more anti-inflammatory drugs. But he said there was not much more he could do without an x-ray. He suggested I go to Dar es Salaam.

Returning to my room, I felt helpless. I could not possibly pack up my bike and take the ferry back to Dar. I could barely walk without excruciating pain. Then I realized there were small planes that flew to Dar. So I checked into it and managed to get on a flight that afternoon, leaving my bike and almost all my belongings in my hotel room. It’s only a 20 minute flight so I was in Dar by 4:30pm. I took a taxi directly to a clinic recommended by my guide book.

I almost collapsed as I was filling in the admission form. I had to kneel down on the floor and was grimacing with pain. The nurses took pity and shot me again full of painkiller. Finally I saw a real doctor (from South Africa I think). He said I should get an MRI but the only MRI machine in Tanzania has been broken for 5 months. So he told me to get a CT scan instead, which they arranged for 9:00 am the next day.

Meanwhile he gave me more pills (Tramadol and Olfen) and a neck brace. A taxi took me to a nearby hotel. It was 8:00 pm by this time. I had not slept much the night before, nor had I eaten or bathed all day. But the drugs seemed to help and I slept more that night.

The next day, after my CT scan I saw the doc again, after a 3 hour wait. He said I had bone spurs on the spine in my neck and swelling of some of the discs which were impinging on the nerves, causing the pain. How did this happen? Well it could be normal wear and tear, it could be from riding, he did not know. Here is the official results from the CT scan. Don’t mean much to me but a Schmorl’s node can’t be a good thing.

1. Cervical sponylosis with posterosuperior osteophyte at C5 impinging on the C4/C5 intervertebral disc

2. Diffuse disc bulgings at C4/C5, C5/C6 and C6/C7 intervertebral discs with indentation on the thecal sac.

3. Schmorl’s node at the inferior end plate of C4 vertebral body.

The doc was not optimistic. He said I should fly to South Africa and get an MRI. Based on that I might need surgery. Great. the last thing I want is spinal surgery in Africa, even South Africa. But if I go back the USA, it effectively ends my bike trip.

So I returned to Zanzibar and am now just holed up in a small hotel room (at least it has A/C and a TV). I am just trying not to exert myself too much. I want to let my body heal itself if possible. I am taking loads of painkillers and they work pretty well but I don’t know how long I can or should just sit here. I have travel insurance and need to check with them to see how much I am covered. I know they will fly me back the USA if I need to but surgery is a last resort. I’ve had back problems before and they managed to clear themselves up over time without surgery. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyone else ever have this problem? Was it the most painful thing ever, or am I just being a wimp?