Odd symptoms for--what??

First: all the standard disclaimers. I am not a doctor, neither are you, and what you post is not “medical advice.”

Now then. A good bud, age early forties, a regular gym-goer and a hairstylist, has developed the following set of symptoms.

(1) Growing numbness, beginning at his neck and left shoulder, gradually spreading down his left side all the way to his feet, and subsequently down his right arm–not all the way to his right foot, though. Occasional stabbing or shooting pain.

(2) The triggering event was pumping iron at the gym. I don’t know the name of the exercize, but it’s where you lie on your back and push a weight upward toward the ceiling, with your arms. He felt a sudden sharp pain in his upper back / neck region.

(3) But the numbness didn’t start right away, but slowly increased day by day over several weeks (now, months).

(4) He has basically lost muscle coordination in his hands and fingers, and has a fairly severe degree of “glove anesthesia.”

(5) X-rays show no sign of a tumor, and no collapse of a spinal disk–nothing obvious, in other words.

(6) When he gets his heart racing, he gets a “pins and needles” sensation throughout the affected areas, which is quite uncomfortable.

(7) The severity isn’t constant, but rises and falls more or less by the hour.

He has no medical coverage, can’t afford an MRI, and is basically at the mercy of the public health system. The doctors speculate that it’s a pinched or “bruised” nerve high up on his spine. But they are inconsistent in what they tell him to do, how soon it will heal, what to take for it, etc. He goes to a chiropractor regularly: doesn’t seem to make much difference.

One doctor said it was arthritis, which makes no sense to us, given its relation to a triggering event. I suppose it might be a little bit of bone or calcium-flake trapped in a bad spot. Sometimes it also sounds to me like an infection of the nerves; but that’s just speculation.

Comments? He’s frantic, and doesn’t want to think he’ll be this way, or worse, for the rest of his life.

This is when I’m really glad to be in Canada-- I don’t have to pay money (other than my taxes) to get medical care. :mad: It’s inhumane.

If he’s seeing a chiropractor, he should probably stop. The chiropractor doesn’t know any better than any other practitioner what the problem is for sure; if there’s damage to nerves, bones or muscle, manipulations of that sort could make the damage worse.

Scott, this isn’t just a standard “go away, don’t ask us” GQ disclaimer, but there are so many potentially Very Very Bad Things that this could be… It could just be a pinched nerve, but it could also be HIV, for example.


Besides HIV, it could be anything from a pinched nerve to Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, etc., ad infinitum, the onset of which symptoms might have been merely coincidental with the weightlifting.

He needs a doctor, and specifically, a neurologist.

What state does he live in? What steps did he go through to get the one diagnosis of “arthritis” that he got?

As a person with no insurance, I have found that if you pay any Dr. or hospital $25 a month, they do not generally fuss and will take care of you medically. However, don’t miss any month. Then you can be sunk. The $25 a month plan is cheaper than finding insurance, especially for us that are uninsurable. There is also no interest to pay.

He should NOT be seeing a chiropractor. They will usually only make things worse. It sounds like a herniated disk that is pressing on the neural nerve or the neural nerve is pinched between vertebrae. He should also cease the weight-lifting until he finds out what’s going on.

He should most definitely see a neurologist and get himself evaluated. The longer he waits, the better chance the damage will be permanent.

Indefatigable, check your rhetoric at the door.

I agree that he should see a neurologist. It sounds like a pinched nerve, probably from getting it trapped somehow when he was lifting. It could be HIV. It could be a bullet lodged in his spine, too. When you hear hoofbeats, look for horses before you look for zebras.

I think chiropractors are a bad idea only because I think neurologists are much better suited to diagnosing what is clearly, IMHO, a nerve problem. Chiropractors’ usefulness is a matter about which reasonable people may disagree. (Hint hint.)

Hey, not all weight lifting hairstylists are gay you know. Wait, they probably are. Although several things are very atypical, you can’t rule out carpal tunnel syndrome, just to give you a possibility that won’t result in death. But he definately needs to go see a neurologist. He’ll be able to find one that will see him. You can’t go around with serious symptoms like this and not seek professional help, no matter what the cost. The cost of anything is what you have to give up to get it. One’s life does not seem to be an unimportant thing.

He should see a neurologist for sure, and a cardiologist for possible vascular disease (possible partial occlusion of carotids).

A chiropractor is definitely a NO-NO.

Derleth: I don’t mean it as a slight against Americans… I’m probably the least bigoted Canadian I know (which, granted, isn’t saying much), and I know a lot of Americans who feel the same way.

Oh, you meant about chiropractors… sorry. :rolleyes: Yes, they may or may not be useful. I meant that in this case, until proper diagnostics can be done, he shouldn’t be having any kinds of manipulations or massages.

If you are inferring that HIV is only related to gay people, that is unfortunate and erroneous. Many straight people are HIV+, and many of them don’t know they’re HIV+ because they don’t believe they’re in a risk group. HIV+ is an equal opportunity disease.

A person could also have significant neuropathy due to diabetes, smoking, or just plain aging (although usually not until much older.) There are many, many possibilities for these symptoms but a neurologist is the most likely diagnostician who’d be able to identify the cause.

If this person lives in a city he could go the county hospital where they have fee structures based on income. Even if he is not eligible for discounted services, as the other person posted, as long as you pay a minimum amount the county usually will not throw you into collections.

It definitely sounds like neuropathy (which is a rather broad term, I know)… the trick is to find out what’s causing it (I doubt that the bench pressing was actually the trigger - as you say, the guy goes to the gym regularly and the symptoms were not immediate; I drive a car regularly and first noticed my neuropathy when applying pressure to the brakes, but there was no connection whatsoever between driving and my neuropathy!). I would suggest that he see an endocrinologist…

There are a couple of ways to go about beating the high cost of health care… as has been pointed out, most major cities have county funded hospitals and clinics that will really work with you financially depending upon your income. It’s sometimes wise to visit a financial counselor first…

That being said, the problem is usually getting an appointment in a timely matter. My advice is to go in as an emergency patient if and when the pain becomes severe… MOST county or state funded hospitals are teaching hospitals and they generally will admit a patient for whom no immediate diagnosis can be found and run batteries of tests until the cause is found.

My two cents…


MRI and full neuro exam. Now.
Xrays are really only good for bones, not for nerve tissue.

it sounds like a lower motor neurone lesion of the cervical spinal cord.
he needs to be examined by a neurologist.

if he has lost muscle co-ordination in his hands and arms, his earning capability as a hairstylist is being severely compromised, no?

get it quick, maybe some treatment can be offered, leave it too late and treatment may be less effective.

has syringomyelia been ruled out by the x-ray?

in the mean time, i’d stop the chiropracter appointments and just ice his neck to reduce any muscular swelling.

Dauerbach, you’re the first person to mention “gay” in this thread. In response to Scott’s remark that he wondered if it might be an infection of the nervous system of some kind, I put “nervous system infection” into Google, and what came up on Page 1 were tons of hits for HIV.

It had nothing to do with any assumptions on my part about weightlifting hairdressers.

Some feedback on the feedback, in hopes of soliciting more.

He, and I, live in the Los Angeles region.

He is basically what I would call a member of the “working poor.” He does not qualify for any kind of public assistance. As a so-called contracting employee, he has no health coverage whatever. He manages, just barely, to pay rent and buy food. No way can he afford an MRI–which is academic anyway, because no way will they offer to give him one sans a demonstrable ability to pay.

He does not have HIV.

I have been with him twice to the emergency room to try to get some answers.

Time 1: after a 5-hour wait, he was given an x-ray, a prescription for anti-inflammatories, and told he should have an MRI. (“Well, maybe you could save up–?”) No definite diagnosis, but “it’s probably pressure on a nerve.”

Time 2: a 13-hour wait in the lobby of a much bigger county-hospital emergency room. After which he was told he could either wait a few more hours, or come back the next day to “urgent care.” Which we did. Another x-ray; similar diagnosis; more anti-inflammatories; more “he really should have an MRI.” Thanks.

Emergency rooms (but not urgent care clinics) are required by law to “stabilize” you, whether or not you have the ability to pay. But stabilizing someone with creeping paralysis evidently means getting the patient to stop complaining and out the door. No “we’re keeping you overnight for some tests.” No “treatment.” They’re willing to let you make an appointment for physical therapy: this means you get to sit in another waiting room from the time it opens in the morning until, hours later, you get seen by someone who doesn’t have access to anything already done–so off you go to get more x-rays.

Meanwhile you’re not seeing clients, so you don’t make money, so you can’t afford the bills that start arriving in the mail.

Oh, as to the course of action: the first ER doctor said “no exercize, no strain.” The second one said, “build those muscles back up to support your back.”

He doesn’t seem to be getting worse, and might actually be getting better. But it varies day to day, and he’s scared.

I don’t have the resources to pay hundreds, much less thousands, of dollars to buy him medical care. (Of course, he’ll never be able to get medical insurance even if he could pay for it, as he has a ‘pre-existing condition.’)

So tell me, rugged individualists and principled libertarians, about how life is tough, he should have saved his money, it’s nobody else’s problem, blah blah blah.

Ok Scott, I think it’s time for your friend to dramatize his symptoms somewhat. First, do a little research, find a medium size community hospital with a residency program, then make sure they have ER residents. This is because residents LOVE to order tests. Now make sure they have an MRI and find the hours of operation. Be sure to go to the ER when the MRI is running anyway. Now your friend goes in with a complaint of temporary blindness in one eye. It’s gone now, but for a couple of hours your friend was blind in one eye. All the other symptoms be truthful about. The blindess makes multiple sclerosis the leading diagnosis and they WILL order an MRI. And it certainly could be MS by the way. Hopefully it will be normal, but most central causes of symptoms will be apparent on the scan.

Oh, and just to make you feel better I just want to be sure you know that when you are responsible for your own bills, ones you by definition cannot afford, you are expected to pay the inflated prices, not the steeply discounted prices that the insurance companies and government pay. The reason the charges are so outrageous is that essentially no one pays them, only a fixed percentage.

I agree with dauerbach. Get medical services any way you can.

I am part of the working poor, working 2 jobs, and having so many medical bills and normal living bills that I cannot afford food.
If you go to a hospital like dauerbach suggests, they have to take you. There are also community doctors that have to take you.

I pay each one $25 a month until the bill is paid off, even if it takes 3-4 years to do it. I have had that happen. If they accept the $25 once, they must take it forever until the bill is paid off.

It is possible to get assistance on the bill, most of the time, too, especially at hospitals that are not private hospitals. Your income is based on your net income, (what you get for take home pay) minus monthly prescriptions, monthly doctor appointments, utilities, rent, or house payments and any thing else necessary to live. Sometimes the whole bill is written off.

It is ridiculous that children and adults with those children and Medicare people get insurance by the government and those who pay for it with their taxes can die for all they care. Medications required to support your very life are denied. I just now heard on the radio, as I write, that we need more Medicare services. I am so tire of hearing that. They get most of their bill payed for and can also do the monthly payment thing.

My mom is complaining that she must pay to have her toenails cut! Working people have to go with out their insulin and die as a result. It makes no sense.

Scott, I don’t understand this obsession with getting an MRI. Even if your friend could pay for it, it would be meaningless without a qualified neurologist to interpret the results. The technicians at the MRI center just run the machinery–they don’t interpret the results. It’s the same way the X-ray tech only takes the pictures of your leg–he won’t tell you what they mean, you have to have an actual doctor tell you, “Yep, it’s broken all right…”

So your friend’s starting point should be finding a neurologist who will take him on as a patient. Forget about the hospital and the ER and the MRI. Find him a neurologist, who can then order the MRI and who can then tell him what it means.

Here are a whole bunch of starting points. Call these people and talk to them.

The Los Angeles Free Clinic.

The Harbor Free Clinic, in San Pedro.

And then there’s UCLA and its various programs.


These were all from Page 1 of a Google search for “free clinic los angeles”, if you want to look for more.

Now, wait a second DDG.

Granted, I’m not totally familiar with the US medical system, but, are you telling me that if “Friend” goes to the hospital and the ER residents on call believe that he has MS and order an MRI, it isn’t going to occur to them to have a trained professional - a Neurologist, for example, examine the results? Or do they just order the test and then toss them?

If so, that seems like a strange use of resources.