The prednisone really appears to have done the trick. You know how when you're sick with a fever there comes a point where the fever breaks? And after that you're not instantly better, but you are definitely getting better? Yeah, the prednisone appears to have broken this fever. My pain levels have slowly dropped over the last 10 days down to a baseline 2, which is pretty near where I'm used to, with spikes into the 4-5 range. I'm mostly getting by with no pain meds these days.
I can still wreck myself pretty easily - shoveling that last foot-plus storm where everything had to be hefted over the snowbanks was pretty bad for me. But I can do 80% of my normal life activities now, including sleeping from time to time on my right side.
I've seen a PT a couple times. I don't like him - he's a condescending git who nags me about my posture. (inner me: dude, you are NOT my mother. My mother spend two decades nagging me about my posture. I know I have bad posture - tell me something useful.) He had one or two useful things to show me and I have some exercises and a fancy rubber band to play with now. But honestly the cervical traction wasn't doing jack-all to help and I don't need supervised exercise time. Well, OK, I do but that's just to make sure I don't slack off. I last saw him on Friday and he suggested I not make any more appointments until I'd seen the neurosurgeon.
This morning I trot nervously into Lahey neurosurgery and hand them the CD-ROM from the MRI. I have a thick paper that's a write-up from the doc who first looked at the imaging and it's full of medical gobbledygook I'd have to look up word by word and no summary diagnosis. I had noticed the frequent appearance of the words "mild" and "moderate."
The neuro and I looked at the MRI images together and talked about my symptoms and what has provided relief. He showed me where I have definite narrowing of the nerve outlets due to spurring, but the places where it's worst don't match up to where I'm having symptoms. Likewise, I do have bulging in the T1-T2 area but he pointed out that pretty much all my disks are bulging. He said that's not unusual for men of my age.
So, yes, my back is still fucked but it's not nearly as severely fucked as it could be. In particular I'm nowhere near a candidate for surgery. He agreed that a pain clinic is a sensible next step and that spot injections would probably bring the greatest relief. (Funny, I'm pretty goddamn sure that I asked for that, oh, back on Jan 16. It's like I know how my back feels or something, despite everyone insisting on trying to treat "neck pain" I don't have. Grr.)
The neurosurgeon agreed with the Ortho's diagnosis that (contrary to what the PT insisted) my arm symptoms are likely unrelated. The place where the MRI shows the greatest constriction is C4-C5 and my arm symptoms are consistent with C7-C8 which look completely normal on the MRI.
This week I'm trying out a new massage therapist and have the pain clinic evaluation. I'm nohow "well" but this fever feels broken and I'm convinced I can mend. I need to get serious about my PT routine, including the lower back stuff because that area is definitely all "hey, we're tired of carrying this extra load so we're going to get cranky now."