Friday, November 12, 2010

What a Difference a Year Makes...

Last year at this time I was going through one of the worst experiences of my life.  It started innocently enough when I woke up with a backache.  I was prone to lower back problems so I didn’t think much of it.  For years I had to leave the bed after a few hours of laying in it and move to the couch where I had more back support.  Sometimes I’d wake up fine and then bend over for some reason and not be able to straighten up.    I chalked it up to fun times in your 50’s.  Old. Age. Sucks.

By Monday I had gotten progressively worse so I called in sick to work and scheduled a chiropractic appointment.  I was sure he could fix me right up.  I was really crippled when I walked in there, unable to straighten up and in a lot of pain.  He took some X-rays and then quickly came to the conclusion that it was beyond his scope of treatment.  He recommended I get an MRI.  Throughout the rest of the day I could find some level of comfort as long as I was sitting but after a trip to the bathroom that evening I sat down and suddenly full blown pain prevailed.  I tried shifting around to ease it but nothing helped.  I tried laying down, I tried standing up, I everything inbetween but the pain was unrelenting.  The best way I can describe it is like a toothache in my back.  I have had some painful things in my life, broken bones, kidney stones, kidney infections, appendicitis, simultaneous kidney stones and appendicitis, but nothing has ever hurt to the degree of an abscessed tooth.  Even an abscessed tooth, however, has its moments of reprieve.  I’ve probably had 8 of them and when they flare I can ease it starting with room temperature water.  And then cold water.  And eventually ice.  It buys me a little time and the moments inbetween the pain get shorter and shorter but it’s something.  With my back there was no reprieve.  I laid there on the floor crying for a good half an hour before I realized I needed a plan. 

I called Barb who told me to call a friend for help.  Chris was out at Kensington and I knew I need to get to the ER and I knew I couldn’t drive myself. I’m not sure why I needed her to tell me this but somehow it validated me into action.  I thought about my friend Carole but I knew she had to work the next day.  I thought about my neighbor Kara but she has two little kids.  I HATED to prevail upon anyone for a trip to the ER, it’s like the greatest imposition ever.  I did eventually call Kara but I hung up before she answered.  She called me back and I didn’t even have to ask, she just said “I’ll be there.”  It is one of the most kind and gracious things anyone has ever done for me.   I kept telling her she could just leave me there and I’d take a cab home but she stayed until the end.  I was really a mess walking in the ER, I couldn’t straighten up, I was bawling, and I was literally writhing around on the floor in pain. I would have been embarrassed had I had the presence of mind to do so.  After the perfunctory hour or two of waiting I did eventually get a shot of something and some pain medication with orders to come back for that MRI.  The next day was Veteran's Day and I was so happy I didn't have to worry about work.

And so it began.  In the following days I did get the MRI and then another trip to my doctor who said I had I had needed to see an orthopedic specialist, Dr. Bozarth.  Everyone who saw my MRI and X-rays concluded I had a I had a ruptured disk and some of the rupture material was floating around land landing on nerves.  They had isolated it to the L3/L4 area of my spine and that area affects the left leg.  After the night at the ER most of my pain centered around that leg.   Any movement, sometimes just a cough or a sneeze would precipitate a sharp, gut-wrenching pain down my leg. The kind of pain that took my breath away and caused involuntary yelps.  My left knee was numb and prone to giving out on me.  I fell more than once when it buckled.  I was taking pain medication round the clock but oxycondone was developed for post surgery pain, not nerve pain and although it helped a bit, it barely took the edge off.

I had some leave scheduled in November before all this happened but I still was missing more days.  It was one of the most humiliating aspects of the entire experience, constantly calling in sick and feeling the perceived judgment of my boss.  In all fairness the judgement may have been entirely in my head but it was my reality.   I had a really hard time sleeping and would usually get up sometime in the middle of the night and watch TV sitting up for a while. The way I shuffled around the house I felt like I was 90 years old.  As the weeks went by the constant pain and lack of sleep threw me into a very dark place.   It doesn’t take long for depression to suck you in to its dark swirling abyss.  The entire time Chris was gone for 4-5 days a week and I was trying to hold a household together, managing the day to day functions.  Buying and carrying groceries, loading the stove with pellets, changing the litter boxes were all challenging.   Sometime in early December I had a steroid epidural where a steroid is shot into the space in my spine where I was having the most trouble.  It realized a very temporary improvement.  Then on December 22nd I had arthroscopic surgery.  This time they discovered I had an extra nerve root growing on top of my spine and a broken blood vessel on top of that.  They had to chisel a trough in my spine to lay the nerve flush and reroute the blood vessel.  Thankfully my disks were all fine.

I was home for three weeks afterwards recovering. Even though the whole experience from start to finish was less than 3 months it felt like it was forever.  It still gives me problems and I never have gained my strength back in my lower back.  Sometimes it feels great though.  Just recently I did a brisk 4+ mile walk and felt great, had no residual pain the following day and I felt really hopeful so two days later I hiked the hill up behind town and started down the path I used to walk every day.  In doing so I managed to put myself a good month behind.  For some reason I really struggle with hills. 

One thing I know for sure:  I will never take my health and my mobility for granted again.  I saw how quickly and how easily it can all disappear.  And how long it takes to get back and how deeply it affects not just your physical health but your mental health.  So take a moment to give thanks to your creator that you enjoy whatever health you have and then put yourself on your to-do list and treat yourself kindly.  You body may be falling apart but it’s the only one you got!


  1. Wow, that was only a year ago? Time flies, doesn't it? I'm sure glad you got through it and got relief. I've been lucky to never have much physical pain ... knock on wood.

  2. I am so happy to hear you are feeling better, and I will pray for your continuing recovery's been a long haul for you and it looks as though it's taking more time...patience my friend...I know it's easier 'said' than 'done' - so please don't push yourself too hard!!!