Yikes, a cancer scare and a smart phone ‘tech neck’

in Bill Sniffin/Column

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Like a great many Wyomingites, I suffer from persistent pains in my neck and back. More particularly, my neck has bothered me for 12 years, when I herniated a disk.

On June 15 I offered to help my wife Nancy move some heavy plants and, yowsir, something popped and I was in awful pain.

Sniffin in neck brace

Now my neck does odd things when I mess it up – this time, it resulted in horrible spasms in my lower back. Until I put my trusty neck brace on, I was gimping around. A pathetic sight.

Anyway, zoom ahead to Sept. 9 in Casper, where a pain wizard named Dr. Todd Hammond gave my neck a shot of steroids and things are on the mend. His crew of TJae, Lydia, Oneta, and a couple of other pleasant nurses, wheeled me into what looked like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. Within 20 minutes, I was done.

But the journey was an interesting one with many twists and turns.

First my Physician Assistant Jim Hutchison at the Lander Medical Clinic recommended physical therapy with Tom Davis at Fremont Therapy here in Lander. 

Some stretching, some heat, and some “dry needling” (now that is a unique pain) got me back on my feet, literally. It took awhile to get the appointment for my shot as first as there was the need for an MRI procedure.  Jim lined it up at SageWest Hospital in Lander. It showed problems with my neck vertebrae but it also showed a suspicious lump on my thyroid – oops.  If it was over 2 centimeters, it needed a biopsy. What? Not the BIG C?

Later it was another trip to the hospital for that procedure. Radiologist Perry Cook is an old friend and she is always enthusiastic. As I was lying there waiting for the biopsy, she came roaring in the room and said these nodules were usually benign.

“But if it is cancer, you have the best kind of cancer!”

Perry finished No. 1 in her class at Duke Medical School. I trust her and I expected her to be forthright with me. Somehow this conversation was getting disconcerting, though.

When it comes to cancer, I come from a blessed family. My parents never had cancer.  My 10 siblings (aged 56 to 76) have only had one cancer exposure, which my younger sister Mary seems to have managed very well about 10 years ago. For us Sniffins, there is supposed to be no cancer. No BIG C.  What the heck! Why me??

Then they did the biopsy and Perry was right, it was benign. Whew! I kept thinking how fortunate it would have been to catch this possible cancer while doing a routine MRI of my neck vertebrae. Thanks to her colleague Dr. Edwin Butler for spotting it.

So now it was on to Casper.

Nancy is not a football fan so she stayed in her room at the Ramkota while I sat in the bar during Monday Night Football with a bunch of oilfield folks watching the Broncos get beat.  That Texans-Saints game, which was on first, had one of the most fantastic finishes in NFL history. But I digress.

When I first hurt my neck 12 years ago, Dr. Hammond had given me two separate steroid shots after I had been scheduled for surgery. Luckily, I healed fast, came to my senses, and avoided the knife.

This time around, perhaps there may have been another reason for my neck pain. Our brilliant daughter Shelli Johnson routinely goes on 30-mile hikes in the Wind River Mountains. As a life coach, she also leads high-powered business gals from all across the USA on trips to Zion and Grand Canyon. She twice won first in the world for best tourism web site with www.yellowstonepark.com. These awards are called the Webbys.

But this column is about her smartphone. And mine, too.

When I told her about my neck, she said there is a national epidemic of “tech neck,” caused by people arching their 10-pound heads at a 40-degree angle checking their smart phones for 3-4 hours a day. She said she suffers from it and is trying to wean herself from looking at her phone that way.

My wife said that I must be suffering from it, too, since I have my face in my smart phone all day long, too. Boy, do I hate to have to admit she’s right. Originally, it was called “text neck.”

So, I couldn’t wait to ask Dr. Hammond if I had “tech neck” and if he treated others with the same malady? He will give injections to 30 people a day some times and travels the state seeing patients.

Sarah from his staff reported they treat lots of people for “tech neck,” and usually recommend stretching and people should hold their phones out in front of them. 

“We see it a lot. It is a lot more common because of the hand-held devices out there. We suggest stretches. Some can go to chiropractors and get good results. There are a lot of less invasive stuff you can do to correct it before it becomes a more severe problem.”

Either way, my neck is better (thank you, Doc) and I now hold my phone straight out in front of me when I look at it.  I think my head might weigh more than 10 pounds and I know I have a tender neck, thus “tech neck” might hurt me even worse than the average person. In the meantime, I hope this column helps cure a whole bunch of stiff and sore necks among my readers.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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