blowing out your back? Well, that’s what happened to me in July 2011. I went to bed one night and woke up the next morning to fall on my face when my leg gave out on me. Anyone who’s limped down this road will understand when I say that you can’t stand for more than a few minutes without your muscles clamping down and spasming, and you can’t sit for more than a couple of minutes because it’s so painful. It’s a good thing I work from home, because the only somewhat comfortable position is to lie flat with my legs bent (try straightening them and you’ll hear me screaming all the way to Alaska!). That’s the life you live when you have a back injury, and I would never wish this on anyone, honestly. It's a difficult and disabling injury that is incredibly difficult to manage.
Oh, we tried everything, flipping the mattress, sleeping in another room, putting a board under the mattress, and building “The Great Wall of China” in my bed with pillows. Guess what? None of that worked. By November, I could barely stand and the discomfort was so great there were times that I would just cry. I spent hours pacing the house like a caged animal trying to escape from the pain, and it was months that I had not felt my baby toe because of the sciatica that raged down both legs. I finally broke down and visited my primary care physician, who promptly sent me for an MRI, and lo and behold, we found out I had problems with two of my discs. L4/L5 bulges, not too bad but enough to need surgery, and L5/S1 had collapsed (see photo on left below). They told me what I already knew: your disc is pinching your spinal cord, ouch! Yeah, so fix me, please!
Two rounds of steroids, a nerve blocker called Gabapentin, muscle relaxants, and physical therapy were prescribed. That’s the standard operating procedure for most back problems I suppose. I was definitely a trooper, braving the intense pain in my back while driving to go to my physical therapy appointments religiously, hoping with all my heart that I could fix it without surgery. I’ve been making it through my day with a strong painkiller that made me so loopy in the beginning that I thought I would lose my mind. Guess what? It didn’t work. And my goodness, if you’ve ever had back problems, you know what I mean when I say it’s so unbelievably discouraging. I mean, my house looks like a torture chamber now: bottles of mind-altering substances, a rack, and a bed of
nails. OK, honestly, it’s actually my medications, an acupressure mat and of course my trusty but huge inversion table. None of those have worked so far, which make you wonder if you’re going to be confined to the house for the rest of your life.
In late-February I tried injections. I must admit that I love my pain management doctor. He’s amusing, optimistic, and entertaining. But it’s frightening to lie in a sterile room with your butt aiming to the sky and an x-ray machine focused on your spine while needles are injected into that narrow, sensitive area that holds the key to independent movement. We tried four injections to no avail. The second one did wonders for loosening up the muscles that were clamped down because of my ‘guarding’, but still the pain didn’t go away (how could it, when I have so much material pressing on the spinal cord?). The best part of the injections was the numbing agent that they used that would make my back pain go down to a four long enough for me to return home.
In June I finally contacted a surgeon. I broke down and realized that I couldn’t go on like this because I was hurting too much, hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a year and nothing else was working. Oh yeah, I called, and then the waiting began. Guess what? You need a new MRI, the other one is now eight months old. Great. So I did go in and get a new one, along with x-rays of my back to see why my range of motion was so horrible. I contacted two surgeons, and finally got in to see one with my new films. Imagine my surprise when I found out how intricate the surgery was going to be? I mean, I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the months who have told me to get the surgery because they’re up and walking in two days. I knew I was a fairly tough person, but boy
did this prove that all my whining was well worth it! Take that!
I guess I have to have two procedures done, that’s why. There are actually multiple issues to address, so there will be two surgeries completed. I’ll have an anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) using a plastic brace to fuse the two discs together and raise the collapsed disc (I hope I get my half inch back, everyone!). That procedure will be done by going in at my bikini line, pushing aside my intestinal sac and then inserting the brace into my spinal column once the collapsed material is removed. Then, I’ll be flipped over somehow (I really don’t want to know how, honestly) for a posterior fusion with bilateral foraminal decompression (PLIF) which will scrape away the bone spurs that are compressing my spinal cord and clean up the herniated material (see photo on right). In truth, I’m not sure which side comes first, but the plan is to complete both procedures at once. Oh, I hope so too. I just want it all done so I can start the road to healing. A sixty percent reduction in pain will at least let me get back on my feet, perhaps hike again, and my surgeon said that I might even be able to resume horseback riding in a year. Unfortunately it’s too late for my last horse, who’s moved on to a new home, but someday I may get back in the saddle. Now I wait.
So I’ll be offline for a time. I’m still planning on releasing Kat’s Last Chance in October as planned, but I probably will be catching up on tons of lost sleep for the first few weeks following surgery. Because these surgeries are so intimidating for us back sufferers, I will try to keep my readers informed and hopefully educate others about my personal experience during recovery, so I’ll try to keep the blog updated regularly. For now all I can say is the end of the road is in sight, and I for one am looking forward to getting my life back!
Please keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned!