By Barry Lewis
Published: 2:00 AM – 12/08/13 Last updated: 8:35 AM – 12/08/13
My Nanny Ethel used to walk around her Brooklyn apartment wincing in pain as she held her lower back.
“My sciatica!” she’d cry out.
I couldn’t tell if she was cursing in Yiddish or just speaking gibberish, since I didn’t know a sciatica from a pizzeria. But I did wish there was something I could do to ease her suffering. I also remember being relieved that I would never feel such pain. Why would I?
A hurting back? Obviously this was an old person’s pain.
I was never going to be an old person. Certainly not an old immigrant woman who’s pain I suspected probably had something to do with the hours she had spent standing over a hot stove stirring borscht or making noodle kugel. Maybe she had pulled a muscle outrunning Cossacks in the old country.
Hey, I was 9.
But I always knew that as long as I stayed healthy, ate right, exercised and kept my distance from Cossacks, I’d never scream, “My sciatica!”
For more than half a century that’s worked out just fine.
Then a couple of months ago I started getting these sharp pains. On my right side. Specifically on my lower right cheek. Not the one on my face.
It usually came when I was driving in the car for about an hour. Then it only took about a half-hour before I was hurting.
Figured I must have been exercising too much.
I finally decided to go the doctor, who after hearing me explain the pain, tell him where it hurt and how often it hurt, seemed pretty sure he knew what was ailing me.
But I thought what he said couldn’t be right. It didn’t add up. Made no sense.
He threw out a word I hadn’t thought about in decades.
He said I had an inflamed sciatic nerve.
Far be it from me to tell a man of medicine about the human body, but I had to remind the doctor that I didn’t have a pain in my back. It’s a bit lower. And that I was very familiar with sciatic back pain, sharing with him the diagnosis of Dr. Nanny Ethel and her 9-year-old intern.
Thus it could not be sciatica.
I took his silence as a measure that he appreciated my second opinion.
He assumed I must have been out sick the day my med school class discussed the wide range of sciatica, which could branch from the lower back, as experienced by Nanny Ethel, to the lower buttocks. It seemed like he was looking me straight in the eye when he said buttocks.
He then suggested that at my age and health, taking anti-inflammatories and doing some simple stretching techniques every morning should relieve the pain.
I thanked him and said I’d also stay away from Cossacks.
He mumbled buttocks again.
I left confident in knowing that my family, friends and co-workers will take much satisfaction from the fact that I’ve become my own biggest pain in the butt.