EMG Tests

Today I was forced to make another trip to the VA hospital in Portland. We had to be there by 0900 which means we had to be up and conscious by 0630, out of the house by 0730 in order to arrive by 0830 because we didn’t know exactly where we were going. Just what was going to happen. I was having an EMG test on right leg to see what’s going on with the nerves in that area of my body. An EMG test is all about how good any given nerve conducts electricity. Exciting stuff.

We arrived at the hospital shortly after 0830, as planned, and quickly discovered that I check in for the EMG test at the same office I use for physical therapy.

About EMG tests, in case you’ve never had one. Depending on the doctor who does it, they can be rather benign, or extremely painful, because of favorite method of the doctor involved.

On the lower end of the pain scale the doctor uses simple contacts on the skin, like they use with EKG machines. They are usually placed on either side of a joint. The doctor induces an electrical pulse in one probe and measures how long it takes to get to the other contact. Since they know how long it takes for the pulse to travel a certain distance, they know if the nerve is good or bad.

On the high end of the pain scale the doctor uses hypodermic needles which they jam into your muscles, as close to the nerve as possible, and induce an electrical pulse using those babies. Trust me, those really hurt a lot. We never made it to the end of that session because I made that Nazi doktor stop what she was doing the second time she jammed one of those probes into my neck.

In the middle of the pain range is the doctor who uses really long, thin wires, like acupuncture needles, to induce and measure the pulse. These aren’t too bad until it’s drilled into your thigh and he tells you to flex that muscle. It makes the attached oscilloscope go nuts, and it really hurts. But, you do it, more than once, because you want to know what’s going on.

Today ranked just below the Nazi Doktor who did my first EMG test. Dr. Pagel used a combination of taped contacts and the dreaded needle. Only one, but it was about three inches long, and not fun. As the doctor worked he kept talking, to distract me, and I asked questions to stay distracted. He shared a bit of info about what he was doing at one point, telling me he was only sticking the needle in about an inch.

The first jab, on the top of my thigh, actually didn’t hurt much, but it went down hill from there. He jabbed me in the inside of my thigh, on the outside of my thigh, right next to my shinbone, and a few other places. Then he had me turn over which caused me great concern because I was afraid he was going to stab me in the back.

We discussed this briefly and I learned that he wouldn’t have to do anything in my back unless the tests in the back of my leg were normal. Then he stabbed me in the back of my thigh and I was rewarded with a motorboat sound indicating the nerve supplying that muscle wasn’t working correctly. He stabbed me in the calf muscle and determined the same thing. Then he stabbed me in my left calf muscle so I could hear what a good nerve sounded like. Those don’t make any noise on the oscilloscope.

I quietly thanked God that the nerve in the back of my thigh wasn’t working right because that meant no back stabbing. I was very relieved. I know for a fact that being stabbed in the back with those needles is no fun at all because my friend JP had that done and he said he was hoping he’d die, right there on the spot. Can’t say I blame him after what I went through. I’m sure it was the same doctor he had, too.

The diagnosis is S1 radiculopathy. Some of you may think I’m yanking your chain, but I’m not. Honest. When I first heard what he said, I thought it was ridiculopathy, which was ridiculous, of course. Diane found it a bit amusing, however, thinking it was very appropriate for me.

Now I need to get an MRI of my lower back so they can zero in on the real problem and see if it’s fixable. Could be I’ll just have to live with it, like I have been for the last 30-40 years. It has, however, been getting steadily worse over time, and drugs help, so I’ll survive whatever solution is determined. One possibility is lower back surgery which, I was told, is very successful. This means to me, of course, that I could be one of the non-success stories, and wind up in a wheel chair the rest of my life. That would seriously suck.

Whatever the outcome, I’ll be just fine. I’m only sharing this info so you can make an educated decision if you are ever faced with the need for an EMG test. Hopefully you will never have the need.

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