I’m usually one of the first people that will say don’t search Google for answers. The information you find on the internet is only as good as the person that put it there. Not that there isn’t great article, blog, and video content available – there absolutely is. But if your searching for answers or ‘How to’ instruction, you’ll have to sort through a lot of bullshit before you find something solid. The bigger problem is, do you know enough to separate fact from fiction on a topic your searching for on Dr. Google because you don’t know the answer?

Please Do Not Confuse Your Dr. Google Search With My Decades of Experience in the Pool Industry

Seriously, this is a problem. When you are out on the job, and a customer is up your ass telling you the ‘Guy’ on YouTube did it differently. It’s insulting that they even searched the internet for instruction when they know they had already hired you. WTF?! Honestly, I don’t care whose video they watched at this point; it’s disparaging.

I do have a story to share with you where I did the unthinkable and searched for answers

Most of you are already aware that I have walked with a cane for the last decade. For the past three years, I have had to be on painkillers so I could walk at all. I was suffering from undiagnosed pain that had caused a rapid loss of mobility. That’s a big part of why I sold my pool service company back in 2014 and started teaching. You can’t service swimming pools if you can’t walk. I used to track it with a Fitbit; it was somewhere between 10 and 14 miles each day.

Making sure I went to the doctor; I didn’t blow it off. There were years when I took off spans of three to four months to go to doctor appointment after doctor appointment. They ran the whole gamut of tests with all types of medical machines. Sadly, every time they thought they had something, the prognosis was death. That’s some hard news to take over and over again for a decade.

The prognosis was death

I saw the best of the best. I started with a private practice doc, but that came to a rapid demise as the insurance began to refuse the tests he would order. Ok, no problem. I’ll go to the VA. They have their own stuff, and no insurance is needed. From there, I went to the University Of Florida; I think they call it UF Health. And then off to the Mayo Clinic. After that, I was directed to the War-Related Injury & Illness center in DC, then back to Mayo again. My suspected list of illnesses included ALS, MS, Guillain-Barré syndrome, demyelinating polyneuropathy, and Gulf War Illness.

That’s the cliff noted detail of ten years, which, believe it or not, doesn’t seem to do justice to what was happening to me. In 2020, finally, the Mayo Clinic decided it was all in my head. They called it Conversion Disorder. My Neurologist had sent me to Psych, and they had recommended treatment in their PRC program.

Honestly, I had given up at this point and was not going to go, and it didn’t sound like this was for me. But, my wife told me that if I didn’t go every time I complain of pain, she’d remind me of how I didn’t participate in the only treatment option that anyone had ever been prescribed. So, obviously, I had no choice.

30 Days at Mayo at $40,000

Here my diagnosis went from conversion disorder to Central Sensitization Syndrome in about 3 seconds flat. I broke down – I mean tears and everything as they explained there’d be no cure and I’d have to learn to manage it. I did not go into this program with an open mind. The doctors and the nurses were fantastic people, but what really pulled me out of my hole were the folks in my group the were attending these sessions with me. Still, there were rules to follow.

We were not allowed to say the word pain. Instead, we could refer to it as ‘our symptoms.’ I had been told it would be an intense physical therapy program, but that’s not what it was at all. Each day consisted of 30 to 45 minutes of light stretching and then several hours later 30 to 45 minute of cardio on an exercise bike. I’m sure for some, it was more challenging for others, but I was extremely disappointed. There were several conversations with my wife about my plotted escape, all of which she discouraged.

Were we being brainwashed?

In between the ‘physical’ components of the day was classwork. We sat at a boardroom-style table surrounded by walls clad in dry erase panels. There we discussed this Central Sensitization Syndrome thing in great detail. Apparently, I was short-circuiting and needed a reboot. Don’t get me wrong, the people that ran this program were phenomenal and were extremely passionate about helping folks suffering from this affliction. But, to me, it felt like 6-hours of daily brainwashing.

My mood over time did change, and I owe that 110% to the group members I was in. Honestly, it was the first time I was around people like me. People with undiagnosed pain, although everybody’s was different, looking for help. We were able to lean on one another. It was uplifting. We became friends. Seriously, we all still talk – every one of us. But sadly, those that will admit it still hurt.

Pain & Depression

I left this 30-day thing, and within a month, I could hardly walk at all. Completely defeated, I quit. I just stopped everything. I was done, and it wasn’t just the medical stuff. When I say I stopped everything, I mean life. UF psych had me so jacked on depression meds at this point that I didn’t really notice it anyway.

I did manage to write a book in this time: How to Get Rid of Swimming Pool Algae

Fast forward to November of that year. I have a regular check-up with my primary care at UF. Somebody new. My first thought is, “Great; now I’m going to have to tell the whole story all over again for the one-hundredth time.” But that’s not what happened, and it wasn’t a doctor. This time I would be seen by a PA, Sierra, who had actually read my file. This was the first time I did not have to bring someone in the medical field up to speed. She went on with the exam.

What reflexes?

The PA gets to the part where she checks my reflexes with that rubber hammer-looking thing. I already know what she’ll find – I’ve had this done one hundred times as well. She hits my left knee with the mallet and nothing. The PA tries again and still the same – nothing. Sierra then shifts to my right knee, and again the results were the same. I had not had reflexes in my legs in the entire ten years of seeing doctors about this. The difference was that Sierra was alarmed. Everyone else just took it like, ‘Hey, look at that. Huh.’ and nothing else would ever come of it.

Well, that was new, and on the ride home, it got me thinking. So, when I got back to my house, I immediately went online and added the lack of reflexes to my other symptoms. BAM! The only thing that came up in my Google search was Peripheral Neuropathy page after page. I picked several articles that looked to be from the more reputable sources, and each tied peripheral neuropathy to a problem at L3 & L4 in the vertebrae. Again, this was completely new and different from any direction anyone had taken me in.

Self-diagnosis with Dr. Google

I called UF and made a follow-up appointment the next week with my PA, and that’s when I shared what I found on Google. She seemed excited that my Dr. Google self-diagnosis made sense and immediately scheduled me for an MRI. The results indicated that my vertebrae L3 through L5 were crushed and compressing my spinal cord and the nerves running down my leg.

An easy way to remember which nerves are L3 to the Knee, L4 to the Floor (My kick-ass massage therapist taught me that). Surgery was scheduled to repair the broken back that I had likely had for a bit longer than a decade but had progressively become worse in that time.

The Road to Recovery

I now walk without a cane. At this point, I am still in recovery from my surgery, and my nerves are relearning some things. In addition, some habits I acquired to lessen the pain of being on my feet need to be corrected. But I can honestly say that Dr. Google and a medical professional who would finally listen are the reason I can walk today.

Similar Story: Pushing Through – Dealing with Chronic Pain

By Rudy

Rudy Stankowitz is a 30-year veteran of the swimming pool industry and President/CEO of Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants

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