SCIATICA AND LOWER BACK PAIN

1/2019 – A healthy, normal, kidney-shaped disc (between vertebrae L2 and L3)
1/2019 – My bulging, round-shaped disc (between vertebrae L5 and S1)

2010-2014:

I’ve had lower back pain sporadically, a few times a year, since about five years ago. I think it may have started when I fell on my butt snowboarding on Sugarbush resort in Vermont. I remember the mildly shell-shocked sensation of my tail bone hurting throughout that day.

Since then, I think my back hurt for a day or so every time I had my period and also when I wore high heels for several hours. So, I remember my back would hurt for 2-3 days every time after a firm holiday party at the end of each year, where I had to wear heels for 2+ hours. But the pain was never bad enough, or consistent enough, to get treated.

My sedentary job, rather than any snowboarding incident, could have been the genesis of what I would later discover is a disc problem. Or, the root of my disc problem could’ve been carrying 15 lbs of weight on my belly while pregnant. Maybe it’s snowboarding falls, law firm job, and pregnancy all combined that caused my back injury.

2018:

Then Dash happened. Weirdly, throughout the nine month pregnancy, the back pain had disappeared completely. Pregnancy hormones are powerful stuff.

I was also back pain free during labor and for four weeks after Dash’s birth.

Dec. 2018:

But the lower back pain came back with a vengeance around four weeks post partum. It did not go away after a few days, as it used to for the past 4+ years. The pain did not go away and was there every day, day and night. I had to start taking Ibuprofen twice every day, not because of any post partum pain, but because of lower back pain.

The pain, in fact, spread down to my right leg. I researched online and quickly identified my symptoms as sciatica. Sciatica stems from a pinched nerve, which is when a nerve is pinched because a disc is bulging out or herniating out of the spine and touching the roots of the nerve lines.

When Dash was about six weeks old, I went to see a chiropractor three times. Her treatment was around 5-10 minutes and minimal. I think her treatment made my pain worse.

Early Jan. 2019:

So I went to see a family doctor, who agreed that I might have a pinched nerve and ordered me an MRI. I got the MRI test when Dash was around ten weeks old. The result was posted on my online health board as soon as I was leaving the MRI office. It confirmed that I had a bulging disk at the L5-S1 disk.

My family doctor then sent me to a Physical Rehabilitation and Medicines doctor. The PRM doctor made me move my knees and feet and confirmed that, fortunately, I have no nerve damage. She said I have a moderately bulging disk and that I just need to go to physical therapy and learn exercises to cope with the pain and to grow ab strength. She made it seem like a once bulged or herniated disc cannot easily be un-bulged or un-herniated.

I also started going to Bikram hot yoga every day when Dash was eight weeks old, to see if it would ease my back pain. To my delight, even after just one session of Bikram, my back and leg felt much better. I started alternating Bikram and hot pilates every day, to build more core strength. The pain became so much less that I was finally able to stop taking Ibuprofen completely.

Feb. 2019:

I went to physical therapy twice a week for four weeks, as the PRM doctor prescribed me. Each session was an hour to an hour and a half.

Not sure if it is my daily hot yoga or hot pilates or the twice weekly PT, but my leg pain went away. But back pain remained, and sometimes got worse. I am now back to taking Ibuprofen twice daily.

INTRODUCTION

When I was around 14, I was living in Budapest, Hungary, and my father gave me a book to read. It was written by a Korean-American lawyer practicing in California. It was an autobiography of how she was a first generation immigrant and overcame struggles to become a lawyer. Her name was Erica Mihae Kim and the title of the book was ā€œIā€™m Always a Korean.ā€ That book was life-changing for me. It was when I read that book that I set my goals on becoming a lawyer in the U.S. If she can do it, I could do it.

Years after she wrote the book, she became embroiled in a political scandal involving the then-President of Korea Lee Myung-bak and has been disbarred in California since 2009. 

Around the same time, in middle or high school, I also read another autobiography written by a Korean lawyer, TV personality, and politician named Ko Seung Duk. His book focused on the strategies he employed in studying hard to become a living legend who passed the troika of notoriously difficult national Korean exams for being admitted as a lawyer, an accountant, and a diplomat. The book was akin to a self-help book for those wanting to learn the secrets to studying effectively and passing those standardized tests.

His book inspired me to look for ways to optimize the way I study. One of the methods he employed when he was studying was to eat rice mixed with vegetables and meat cut into tiny pieces with scissors, so that he would not have to spend too much time or effort chewing and that he would digest better. Another method he used was to put a long string on a ceiling light switch to reach down to where he sleeps on the floor, so that he could study until the very moment he falls asleep and switch off the light easily, without having to get up. I was inspired by how seriously he took his time and his dedication and single-mindedness in achieving his goals.

He also became embroiled in a political scandal years after he wrote the book. The scandal involved his young daughter who accused him of being an absent father and alleged that he was not fit for heading the Korean education ministry.

It is interesting that both authors of the two books that were crucial to my formative years became disgraced later in their lives. It is important to remember not to idolize any person or put any person on a pedestal. Humans are not perfect. They may inspire you in a certain way but may fail in others.

Just like how these two books inspired me and helped me decide what career to pursue, I want to share in this blog my experience of becoming a first-generation immigrant and a lawyer. I plan to write about how and where I grew up (hint: multiple countries and continents), how I learned English and the American culture, and the 20 year-long journey of changing my immigration status from a F1 student visa holder to an American citizen. I also plan to post thought pieces on subjects that interest me, such as different cultures, current events, travel, and motherhood. I hope you find this blog enjoyable!