Mr. Freeze in a Pinch
By Larry Teren
Mention Mr. Freeze to a baby boomer and he or she most likely would conjure up the memory of a Batman classic television episode from the mid 1960’s. This arch nemesis of Batman was originally played by the sardonic George Sanders. When George inconveniently committed suicide, he was replaced in a follow-up episode that showcased the popular character by Otto Preminger. Unfortunately, Otto had a habit of playing all his performances, regardless of the character, as if he was still the prisoner of war camp Commandant in the movie Stalag 17. In fact, Adam West in his autobiography mentions that Otto was not very much appreciated on the set. The tv show producer elected to go with Eli Wallach the third time around. The fourth time around never happened as Batman only aired new episodes for three seasons.
Mr. Freeze was aptly named so because he was forced to live his life of crime constantly cocooned in a frozen tundra due to the results of an accident. He was trying to cryogenically preserve his late wife for a rendezvous many years into the future when the process backfired. The moment Mr. Freeze stepped out of the bitter cold, he would do his own imitation of the wicked witch melting in the climactic scene of the Wizard of Oz movie.
I bring this up because until the last few days, I spent more than two weeks living the life of Mr. Freeze. Four Fridays ago I woke up with a pinched nerve in my neck on the left shoulder. I figured it was one of those so-called muscle spasms from a cold and go about your business. It became too obvious, though, that as the day wore on that I couldn’t turn my head to the left more than 15 degrees. Out of frustration I jerked my head a few times to force it a full 90 degrees to the left. I don’t know why I was trying to do a Jerry Mahoney. (Paul Winchell’s ventriloquist dummy would rotate his head a full 360 degrees to impress a statuesque blonde comedienne shilling punch lines for him on stage.) As you can guess, forcibly turning my head made matters worse.
I spent the entire night that first Friday until sunrise awake in pain. My left arm was throbbing from the shoulder to the fingers. I couldn’t lay down turning to either side. There was no relief. Generic versions of Tylenol pain relievers did nothing. I sat up in bed or on a sofa sectional all day Saturday dozing off now and then to awaken to the realization that I had a situation. Was somebody up there listening? I did my best impression of Nancy Kerrigan, pleading “why me?”
I got a hold of my doctor and brother-in-law (the same person) Saturday evening while he was vacationing in Florida. His immediate diagnosis of the symptoms was that I had a pinched nerve and herniated disc. Check out http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/tc/herniated-disc-symptoms to learn more about the different ways to get it and the typical symptoms.*
Naturally when I heard that I had a discontented disc, visions of surgery and who knows what afterward popped into my head. In 1961, popular actor Jeff Chandler, 6’4” and athletically built, had a herniated disc when he injured his back on a movie set. It required surgery. The surgeon butchered the operation and Jeff died a few months later. What chance did this 5”9” couch potato wannabe have?
My dad had spinal stenosis. It has similar type of symptoms to a herniated disc and/or pinched nerve and usually requires surgery. Granted he was 78 when he had the surgery but it didn’t do much to cure his spinal pain and resultant issues. Two years later he fell down, broke both ankles and that was the end of his walking and even standing on his own until he left us at the age of 86.
I was given a prescription for a cortisone and steroid pill that was supposed to reduce the inflammation in my left arm. Another pill would relax my muscles. Yeah, sure. Uh, uh. Did nothing for me. For several days I was in tremendous pain, hardly able to sleep at night. I did find that Ibuprofen somewhat cut down the pain for an hour or two, enough to take a cat nap here or there. Hey did you know that between 4 and 6 in the morning, they mostly showed stupid infomercials on tv? Luckily, at 4:00am one station played Dobie Gillis followed by Make Room for Daddy. Talk about tough choices- the Danny Thomas show was on at the same time as Get Smart. I just wanted something to take my mind off the pain.
I was told not to bother with an MRI but to see how the two pills taken three times a day would work out. If things weren’t getting any better, then the next step would be physical therapy. But, I still haven’t told you what it had to do with Mr. Freeze.
The anti-inflammatory nor the muscle relaxer did nothing. However, putting an ice pack on my neck gave temporary relief that helped let me snooze for an hour or so. It brought to mind another great lefty within his own generation (great people think alike). Sandy Koufax had to ice down his bionic arm after every shutout or no-hitter he was throwing in the mid 1960’s. Like Sandy, I got used to the ice pack ritual, except for me it was several times a day and night.
Okay, I wasn’t as gifted as my fellow southpaw, nor as erudite as George Sanders’ Mr. Freeze, but we shared that common craving to be swathed in an ice cold environment. What made it worse for me was that there was little I could do to distract from the pain. The throbbing made it impossible to use a computer keyboard for several days. Clients were sympathetic but they also wanted my solutions to issues. A couple of times it played out like a scene in a disaster movie where the airport controller figure (that would be me) guided the hysterical passenger (pick a client) who is left to fly the plane after the pilot died from a heart attack. Conversations went something like this:
Me: “you don’t know what an escape key is?”
Me: “ok, now press the break key.”
Client: “where’s that?”
Me: “top right side of keyboard.”
Client: “no, there are just lights there.”
Me: “press the F5 function key.”
Client: “where are the function keys?”
Me: “throw the computer on the floor.”
Client: “okay… what do I do next?”
By Wednesday of the first week I called my bro-in-law down in Florida again and got him to authorize physical therapy sessions. I called one location and they were booked up until the following Wednesday. A second location said they were able to see me that afternoon.
The PT evaluator told me that I had terrible posture. I told her she was ugly. Now that we were even, she explained that my injury did not happen by accident but was waiting to happen. My spine was getting curved due to sloppy posture. She gave me a couple of quick exercise tricks that would start to retrain me how to look up and straight out instead of staring at the ground. Of course, I would eventually end up with a healthy spine and nerve system but probably also with facial bruises from falling down because I couldn’t see where I was going.
We scheduled five physical therapy sessions which I have now finished. Even if my pinched nerve and discombobulated disc was not all completely healed, people told me that I looked taller. I had to then explain to them that the PT put me in one of them stretching machine contraptions where my head is pulled away from the rest of my body while I am lying on a bench. I think my PT’s took some of the same classes that dentists attend. You know, when the dentist puts all that equipment in your mouth and asks you what’s new? The PT had me stretched to the limit and all I can remember her saying was, “Where did you hide the money? Who helped you do the job?”
At one point I said to her that she seemed perturbed that I kept telling her my left arm still throbbed. She replied that she appreciated my situation because of the radiculopathy. That was the twenty-five dollar way of saying that the type of residual pain I was experiencing was due to inflammation, pinching and lack of blood flow. It could be caused by a progressive disease which in layman’s terms is called “growing old”.
What did I learn from all this? I have bad posture which caused a tick in my neck to which my overreaction caused a herniated disc. But by looking straight out and not worrying about tripping over anything on the ground directly in front of me I should be good to go. I can also put away the ice pack and see things an inch taller thanks to the rack device.
* note: we do not endorse any website for medical issues and solutions.