EMG: The hyperbolic version

Thursday, March 20, 2008

So I'm going to share all the details of the EMG, because if there's any other person like myself, who googled it for more information and was told that it was no big deal by many well-intending LIARS, well, I'd like to enlighten them. I have all kinds of humorous non-medical things heading your way soon, I promise.

I think it's important to note (mostly because I have a desire to preface everything I do with some important fact, have you noticed that?) that I have a very high pain tolerance. I have broken 10+ bones and have never taken a narcotic for it. I had my tonsils taken out at 20 (which I do not recommend, by the way) and took nothing more than children's liquid tylenol. I had brain surgery and was on only Tylenol within 24 hours. I am no stranger to pain. Nor to needles, I do not have a phobia of them, just a general indifference.

For those who don't know, the whole point of the test is to see if the nerves are working properly with the muscles. Since my hand/arm isn't working properly, that was our best theory and this is the best way, with the MRIs of the past, that we can sort it out.

The test started off nicely enough. It's actually a two part test. For the first part, they stick an electrode on the backside of whatever they're shocking (in my case, my hand), literally to ground you (yea, that wasn't ominous), then they use a little gel stuff and tape a rectangular electrode to the area they're testing. Then they take something that looks like a small cattle prod and put it up against your skin a certain distance away from the rectangle. One side of the cattle prod and rectangle is black, the other is red and I'm sure there's both a rhyme and reason, I care about neither.

Anyway, then they use the cattle prod to shock you.

The doctor told me that it was going to be like shocking yourself on a car (or if you live in NOLA, on the shopping carts at Sav-a-center/Rouses). It is not. It's not painful, but it's not pleasant either. Your body jerks without your consent and it is just sort of icky feeling. And this continues, moving the cattle prod different distances from the rectangle, moving the rectangle receptor to different nerves, etc. Truly, if that had been the whole test, aside from the one measurement that they couldn't get and thus had to re-do easily 30 times in 3 minutes, I wouldn't be complaining. However, it was not.

The 2nd part is the actual EMG. My doctor told me they were using a "baby" needle, which is great, but unlike what everyone told me, it's not an acupuncture needle. It's not. It's a real needle, connected by a wire to the computer. It's sharp, it hurts.

She took the needle and pushed it into my muscle. There's a popping feeling when you actually pass into the muscle belly and it makes my butt pucker up just thinking about it. And holy-freaking-shit it hurts. She told me to "take a deep breath" each time she stabbed me and I just wanted to tell her to go screw herself every single time. I didn't want to breathe, I wanted to hold my breath and freak the hell out because it HURT.

This is a test relying on sound waves so if you contract the muscle, the computer that it's connected to makes a shit load of noise. The goal is to be noise free so you must now relax the muscle WITH THE NEEDLE STICKING IN IT. And once it's relaxed, then you do a minor contraction of the muscle to hear how it's conducting things, and then you do a major contraction for the same reason. As I'm sure you can imagine, contracting a muscle with a needle in it is not terribly comfortable. And then the needle is removed, though honestly, the pain persists for a while after. I was achey for several hours.

(By the way, I realize that I'm slipping in and out of 1st person, I haven't decided if I'm writing this more as a memoir or as a manual. Also, this is why I didn't pass my college writing exam.)

So then to the next muscle. Lather, rinse, repeat. It was tolerable until the needles to the hand. Both doctors in the room warned me ahead of time that it was going to be bad. Frankly, I think I deserve a medal for not swearing. I believe I uttered out the phrase "holy moly" at one point, but mostly managed to stay composed, did not cry, did not pass out. Imagine someone sticking a needle into the fleshy part of your palm by your thumb. Pushed in nice and deep and then WIGGLING it around to get to the right spot (wow, that's probably the dirtiest thing I've ever written). A full 24+ hours later, the spot where that particular needle stick was, still hurts.

The last three needle sticks were in my neck and were made more pleasant by the fact that I'm still sunburned from the parade Sunday. I'm a little sensitive in my neck anyway (that whole 5 inch scar thing, you know), but having a needle stuck through remarkably sunburned skin into remarkably sore/tired muscles feels super-awesome. I highly recommend sunburning any surface you plan to have stabbed with needles.

The whole experience lasted a good hour and involved somewhere around 10 different needle sticks. I survived and the doctor repeated over and over how impressed she was with me. Apparently many a large man has been taken down by this particular test and the fact that I didn't even swear made me a champion.

One of the few good parts of this test is that you get the results immediately but this is one of those double-edged swords. See, on the one hand (nothing like a good mixed metaphor), I'm thrilled because everything is NORMAL. No nerve or muscle damage, conduction speeds fall in the normal ranges in both hands. On the other hand, there's the fact that because nothing is wrong, there's no treatment that's going to magically fix this. There may be no treatment that will fix it period. The neurologist just said to keep going to physical therapy. I'm trying to be optimistic because it is great that nothing is wrong, but I'm sorry if I think that after 3 months of physical therapy, a few more weeks probably isn't going to restore my 500% decrease in function.

But such is life, and there are just so many more important things happening all around. Plus, soon there will be lots of presents and let's be honest, nothing cures the blues like lots of presents.


Kate said...

Ow! Ow! Freaking ow!!!! My butt is clenching just thinking about that too. I need to go look at some cute pictures. Or some more wedding cakes. Mmm. Cake..

Ow! I hope you're milking this- no need to be stoic all the time!

imbeingheldhostage said...

I know this was a miserable experience for you, so maybe now isn't the best time to say this-- but your writing style is fantastic. I love it and I was picturing this ordeal feeling like I was really there (I chose to remain aloof and stand in the doorway, because I'm no idiot-- why feel pain when I don't have to!).
Thank you for sharing this, I'll quit whinging about my sore tooth now.

Anonymous said...

That does not sound like a pleasant experience! I'm sorry for your pain. I'm fairly new to your site but I just want you to know that you don't always have to be funny. So, don't apologize for not being funny. Actually, you're kind of funny even when talking about serious things. I enjoy your blog - keep it up.

Lisa C.

Anonymous said...

Holy cannoli. I'd have been cursing like a sailor with a tooth ache! They'd have heard my in Ohio. Much worse than Sun's EEG (and just one little letter difference; heck, they even sound alike).

Glad no nerve damage; sorry no further insight to a problem they can treat.

Do enjoy CA and mom!

invisibleglue said...

oh :(((( this is the test that they moved from the 10th to the 24th :(((( Mine is full body; and supposed to last for four hours. :(((( They told me that they will give me valium first. did they give you valium (wondering how in the world I can get out of this one!)

Anonymous said...

I had that test done last Thursday...I am a pretty big guy who does not take the novacane for a filling at the dentist. So I feel that I can take a good amout of pain...but this test had me crying like a baby and yes I almost cused out the doctor who was really cool.

Anonymous said...

i just got back from mine and it wasn't THAT bad..honest. the needles were inserted in the back of my neck, both shoulders, down both arms and in both hands. to me it felt exactly like an acupuncture needle. i agree that the wiggling part wasn't pleasant, but the whole thing overall wasn't bad.