I came to Guatemala knowing the L-4 and L-5 disc separation in my spine was narrowed and had become so used to having pain I just assumed that was my new "normal". After a few weeks of riding on the rough roads and walking on the difficult sidewalks here, I had more pain than was tolerable. The sidewalks here go from somewhat flat, to completely broken, to slanted (to accommodate the rainfall) to 1' high curbs every few feet. There is no such thing as an even sidewalk.
Thankfully, the church has an area doctor who made a recommendation that I see Dra. Cifuentes, a very capable orthopedic surgeon just a few blocks from the apartment. Dra. Cifuentes ordered an MRI, a myriad of X-rays and an ultrasound and afterward told me I had a ruptured disc. That weekend a very fine orthopedist was going to be in town to assist her in a complicated surgery, so she showed him my test results. His recommendation was 15 decompression therapy treatments on Xela's DX-9000 machine, as state-of-the-art as anything in the U.S.
The following Monday I head to C.E.D.A. with Sr. Otto as the mission nurse and my translator, to start therapy. Having been on several medical missions to developing countries, I was more than a little anxious about putting my spine in their hands (and machine!) I prefer natural medicine altogether and had refused the pain meds Dra. Cifuentes said I would need for the healing process. I looked up the FDA reports on the drugs and opted for essential oils and an occasional dose of Advil.
The first four treatments were painful either during the decompression or during the night afterward. What followed was three weeks of irregular sleep and a pattern of recovery exactly as
my physical therapist, Evelyn, said I would have.
The clock in the lobby matched the 50's decor perfectly. I don't know if it was intentional, but most days 50's music was playing in the lobby. It took me right back to my years as a child, listening to records, the Ed Sullivan Show, or the radio in my living room. It was a sweet remembrance.
After the first day of going with Sr. Otto, I arranged with a taxi driver familiar to the mission to have him drive me for the treatments. His name is Jesus and he showed up at the office promptly, often with his family in the car. I borrowed a cell phone and called him with my halting Spanish after the treatments and he came to get me 10-30 minutes afterward. Since C.E.D.A. is across the street from a school, it was pretty fun to watch the families come and go. Several school kids have dads who are taxi drivers and the routine goes something like this: They drive up to the corner (streets in Centro barely fit one car), honking as they come with a pattern familiar to the child, and the tiny kids would run out to the taxi. Their dad didn't want to lose his place in line, so he kept driving around the corner while the kids were swinging on the car doors, trying to get inside the car. At first I couldn't stand to watch, but later discovered there is a fine art to it that the Guatemalans have mastered.
Mike named the DX-9000 "Strech", which would be "Estirar" in Spanish. We told Evelyn that he had to have a name. Stretch pulls a given amount of pressure with each treatment and with each change of pressure there is a bit more discomfort. Your spine is somewhat fragile afterward, so we went to Medi Xela as ordered by Evelyn, to get a full lumbar brace.
The first two weeks I had to be quite cautious and rest a lot. After that, my job was to not sit much, which was a challenge, given my office job. Evelyn started me on a series of exercises that would help maintain the correction Stretch provided for my spine.
Each treatment on the machine takes 30 minutes, but the before and after is very spa-like. Here medicine is very complimentary and so I was treated before with heat therapy, massage and electrical stimulation for the irritated nerves. Afterward, the treatment was much the same. In a word, it was amazing. Evelyn was amazing too and we have become good friends. She is a graduate physical therapy student who was at first unsure of her English skills, but I provided lots of good practice for her. We gained lots of insights into each other's cultures in the time we spent together. She gave me a long list of places to buy safe produce, the best restaurants and tiendas.
After three weeks I'm completely pain free and learning to do the normal daily tasks much more carefully. Dra. Cifuentes is pleased with the outcome and a little surprised I could do it without the very serious neurological meds she ordered. I kept the prescription forms for them to add to my Smash book for souvineers. Next year before I head home we are going to see if another treatment would be helpful to keep me in good shape once I return home. I can see why there is such a fascination with travel medicine now; the treatments here are less than half what they would be in the U.S., and include many extra amenities that the A.M.A. thinks are fluff. They aren't fluff in my book. Thanks Dra. Cifuentes and Evelyn for my new and improved condition!