It’s Not A Stroke
Every now and then I have to stop myself from flapping a towel vigorously at people who have read way too many articles about the Warning Signals Of Everything without actually carrying away much of the information in their excitable noodles. They are often likable, appealing people, but they are worriers, and the modern medical model, which catastrophizes everything to the point of telling people to consult their doctor before, for instance, doing any exercise, has not done them any service.
“My fingers have been tingling off and on lately,” they will tell me. “Do you think I’m having a stroke?” They will wave the hand about and wiggle the fingers — seriously, this is a repeat occurrence — while continuing to babble about how they wonder if it might mean they’re having a stroke or going to have a stroke or had one at some point in the past, so breathlessly that I practically have to shove a pillow over their faces to tell them that hands get pins and needles from spastic forearm muscles, contracted upper chests, tight necks, locked collarbone joints and possibly compressed discs in the brachial plexus region, but that I have never, ever heard of a stroke manifesting as a radiculopathy (the fancy term) that comes and goes.
And if they’re worried about a stroke, why are they on my table? Why aren’t they in their doctor’s office? The urgent care clinic? The ER? And why won’t they shut up and stop gesticulating long enough for me to get to grips with the real culprits?
Sometimes it is a pain in their leg or maybe ass and they are terribly afraid it is some monster called Sciatica which everyone seems to assume is incurable, or a ruptured disc, and not the consequence of a perfectly obvious cross country drive or house move. But mostly it is the hand and arm stroke thing.
I did miss cancer once but my cantankerous colleague Sister Age caught it. We alternated doing massage on a guy with excruciating mid back pain that had been through all the diagnostics, X rays, MRI’s, you name it. He reeked of tobacco: hair, pores, garments, breath — he was a cab driver and I can’t think what the inside of his ride must have been like — and Sister Age said she couldn’t imagine how anyone that smoked that much didn’t have cancer somewhere so she noodged him into getting another MRI and sure enough there was a spot in the spinal column that had migrated from his lung.
Maybe worried people in their doctor’s offices should also visit their massage therapists, I don’t know.
If you suddenly lose part of your visual field or can’t speak clearly or can’t move one side of your body for Chrissake call 911 or 999 or whatever it is in your part of the world, or make a fuss till someone calls for you, but if your arm has been getting pins and needles off and on for a couple of weeks just let me find the gumball I know will be there in your bicep or clavicular pec and stop talking long enough for me to see if I can make it relax.