Imagine you are a political prisoner awaiting interrogation by your captors. You are given the choice of enduring either an EMG or waterboarding. Which would you choose? I would ask one question: Are those my only options?!
A Thursday morning EMG consisted of the full complement of slow electrocution and needling--and when I say needling, I refer to both definitions. Needles were dug into my muscles and then pushed about while Dr. Kim (no relation)coaxed me to bend my toes and ankle upward--an action which I could not execute.
"Hm," he said, digging the needle harder into my calf, "I know you are stronger than that. You could move them while you were sitting up." I summon all my strength and try to will my foot to move, but to no avail. "C'mon," he taunts, "are you afraid of pain or something?" I detect a lilt in his voice, a faint trace of humor offsetting his deadpan countenance. I decide that this is a script he follows with all his patients.
"No," I finally say after remaining silent through all the discomfort beforehand, "I'm doing my best!" I feel a tiny surge of defensive irritation at his mocking, but my foot still doesn't cooperate.
To prepare for this test, I had googled Dr. Kim. He is Korean, and graduated from a Seoul medical school. After years of practicing medicine, maybe he has found that goading pierces our pride, supplying an extra surge of adrenaline to the wayward, uncooperative appendage. Or, perhaps this ritual teasing is part of his culture, engrained years before practicing medicine. I try to push away darker thoughts, resisting the urge to classify him as my newest tormentor, next on the list after Multiple Sclerosis and degenerative spine disease.
Many pin pricks later, Dr. Kim shares his findings. "Nothing abnormal going on except for one area, S-1. I don't know what that means, though, since there were no other abnormalities. I will send the results to your neurologist and see what he wants to do next."
"But, don't I have a bulging disc in that area?" I ask.
"That shouldn't be causing any symptoms. It is normal for someone your age to have them." He seems bored with my rather unremarkable results and does not ask any questions, nor does he ask if I have any.
At home, I look at my MRI radiology report. Nerve impingement in (L-5)-(S-1), the same area that signaled an abnormality. I wished I had thought to ask if it might be from scar tissue left by the sciatica flareup.
I decide to wait and ask my neurologist when he calls about the EMG results. I'm guessing that he will say that MS alone is causing the increased weakness, numbness, and absent reflexes. MS, my old tormentor. The thought comforts me. It has been my captor and torturer for many years, and, like a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome, I have developed a strong bond of empathy and familiarity with its quirky nature and unpredictable outbursts of violence.
My choice of interrogation technique? Torture by autoimmune attack. Like most people, I would more readily forgive the transgressions of an old friend than of a new acquaintenance. Wouldn't you?