Following Your Intuition

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The theme of O, The Oprah Magazine’s August issue is following your intuition. I read the articles with much interest because I recently ignored a nagging feeling only to regret it later. Painfully regret it.

I have had off and on back pain for the past decade, ever since taking a fall down a relative’s staircase. Beginning this year, the pain increased in frequency and intensity. Several weeks ago, I had an episode where the pain now radiated to my hip and down the back of my left leg. I finally visited my primary care physician (PCP) and he did a preliminary examination. He initially diagnosed a possible pinched nerve. He ordered an x-ray and prescribed medication for pain, an anti-inflammatory and a muscle relaxant. He asked me to schedule another visit in a few days go over the x-ray and measure improvement, if any. Taking the medication did take the edge off the pain although there was still stiffness in my lower back. During the second visit, the doctor asked how I was feeling and I advised, truthfully, that I was much better than I was during our last visit. He nodded then advised the x-ray was normal so there was no way I had a pinched nerve. He said I simply had a pulled muscle and advised me to continue with the medication and handed me a printout of exercises to perform to strengthen my back muscles. He advised if I didn’t continue improving, he would then refer me to an orthopedic specialist.

Although it was a diagnosis I wanted to hear, it just didn’t seem right. So I asked him, “The pain in my hip and down my leg, that also comes from a pulled back muscle?” He nodded, noticeably irritated that I was questioning the diagnosis. I left the appointment relieved that I didn’t need additional tests or specialist visits, but also with a feeling that something was wrong. I eventually shook away the feeling. I mean, I’m not the MD, he is. This is a man I not only respect but also like as a person. I had never had a reason to question him, so why was I doing it now?

Twelve days later, I suffered a relapse that was twice as intense as the one that prompted my first visit to my PCP. The pain lasted throughout the night and didn’t let up that morning. I called my doctor’s office as soon as it opened (8:30 am), explained I was having a relapse, and requested the number to an orthopedic specialist so I could possibly see him or her that day. The receptionist advised she would have to pull my file for the doctor and call back when he recommended the specialist. I waited.

And waited.

While waiting, I noticed something strange happening with my left leg. Little by little, it was becoming numb. The numbness eventually settled around my ankle and top of my foot. I was unable lift my toes. I’d be lying if I said this was anything less than frightening. Tired of waiting for my doctor, I located an orthopedic specialist and made an appointment for 8:45 the next morning. Note 1: My doctor’s nurse called me four hours later with the name and numbers of two specialists.

The next day, the orthopedic specialist examined me and determined that I had drop foot which is difficulty lifting the front part of the foot due to weakness or paralysis. He ordered a magnetic resonance imaging or MRI to determine its underlying cause. The results were available the next day and he requested I come in for a consultation. During the consultation, he advised the cause of the drop foot was a herniated disc that was pressing against the L5 spinal segment nerve root. This spinal nerve runs down the back of the legs and provides sensory and motor signals to the legs. Note 2: I have now learned that an x-ray alone should not be the only testing done when there is consistent back pain. The x-ray will almost always come back as normal. For an accurate diagnosis to be made, an MRI should be done.

Later that afternoon, I kept thinking if I had only followed my intuition and got a second opinion, I might not have experienced this relapse and drop foot. Thinking my condition was a just a pulled muscle, I didn’t exercise much care in my normal routine. I continued to do all the lifting and bending I’d always done. When I felt the stress in my lower back, I attributed it to the pulled muscle. How much further damage had I done by not having an accurate diagnosis?

I’m not laying much blame on my PCP. His specialty is not orthopedic medicine. His response could have been a lot better, though. Mostly, I blame myself because I knew there had to be something else causing my intense pain, but I didn’t want to believe it. Instead of following the voice inside me, I shut her up.

In the August issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah Winfrey writes on her “What I Know For Sure” page: “I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t.” Boy, did that speak volumes for me.

And, hopefully, it speaks volumes for you. Whether your intuition is nudging you about your health, career, or personal situation, take the time to listen, even if you feel silly for doing it. It’s better to feel silly than be sorry.

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