I have some very scary but exciting news to share! I am finally going to have surgery to repair my damaged discs in my back. I first injured my back in 1996 when I was 30. We renovated an old house in Goffstown Village. It was a labor of love, there was nothing that I wouldn’t do, I scraped off many layers of alligator-ed paint from the cedar siding, sanded and refinished woodwork, stripped paint off of the mahogany banister, hand rail and newel post. I enjoyed every minute. I did all this in addition to taking care of 3 kids who were 9, 5 and newborn when we moved in. Looking back I cannot imagine that now but I never felt like it was too much for me. Then there was that one day, I had been sick in bed with pneumonia for 3-4 weeks. As soon as I was well enough, I got right back to work, I painted my girl’s closet that had a slanted ceiling. I remember being on the stepladder and painting while bending backward. I didn’t think anything of it. Then I went downstairs and began to wash the hardwood floor while the first coat dried. Suddenly, when I pushed the mop forward , I couldn’t stand on my right leg. It felt like a spring had let go and it wouldn’t support my weight. I had never had a feeling like that before. Serious, searing pain followed. I actually couldn’t really walk, I was very tilted to one side and severely limping. I was only 30 years old, I never thought about my back or that I had any physical limitations at all. I never had to. Suddenly every move I made caused severe shooting pain down my leg. I had a MRI which showed that I had 2 bulging discs, L3 and L5. I had intensive physical therapy nearly every day for a month that enabled me to walk again. I also saw a doctor who was an “osteopath” which means they treat the whole person not just whatever the diagnosis is. She did some “adjustments” to my spine that seemed to help a lot. She was not a chiropractor, she was an MD who performed adjustments. The doctor also mentioned performing an “epidural shot” but the very idea of a needle being stuck in my back terrified me so I said I would think about it. I didn’t end up needing one. Actually I was determined not to have to do that. After a month of therapy, I was back on my feet and within a couple months, the injury faded into the background of my memory. That is, until after we moved out of state.
In 1999 we moved to SC and we moved ourselves. We rented a truck and packed up a family of 5’s worth of belongings and drove them 1100 miles. We unpacked in July, it was 105 plus humidity. I did a lot of heavy lifting and bending. About a month later, I decided to see a doctor. I had another MRI done and it still showed the discs as bulging so once again, I had physical therapy and took pain medicine and steroids. In 2001, I had a bout of pain again. The MRI showed that now the L3 and L5 dics were herniated (no longer bulging) which means they had burst like a balloon and were pressing on the nerves that run down my leg. This time, I saw an orthopedist who performed the first of many epidural shots that I would have over the next 11 years. At times I didn’t have insurance and had to pay for the shots out of pocket, only out of desperation because I could hardly walk and couldn’t stand the pain. In 2006, they cost me $600 each time and I had to go twice. I was relatively ok until last November, 2011. A pipe burst under the slab of our house and I was trying to get things cleaned up. I slid my daughter’s bed across the room and up against the wall. I knew immediately that I had made a serious mistake. By the next morning, I could barely move. I went to my primary care doc and she rx’d strong pain killers and steroids. She referred me to Southeastern Spine Institute. I had another MRI and an xray. The discs in my back had degenerated pretty badly after all these years. L5 had nothing really left to it and L3 showed an area that was pressing on my S1 nerve. This nerve controls the back of your left thigh, this explained why I had pain along the back of that thigh. I also had pain running down the side of my right leg, sometimes all the way down to the ankle. I began the round of epidural shots once again. Between January and August of this year I had 4 sets of shots, each time they did several injections trying to target the areas causing the most severe pain. Each time, it took me several days to feel better after these shots, I actually seemed to have more pain than I did before them. Finally, I was referred to a spinal surgeon. I met with him for the first time last Wed the 12th. He took a lot of time explaining my injury to me while pointing to my X ray and MRI. It was the first time I had a good understanding of why it hurts where it does and it made sense. He is planning to perform spinal fusion surgery in the next month. First I will obtain a new MRI on the 19th, then he has ordered a test called a “lumbar discography”. This test does not sound fun. They will be sticking a needle into the damaged discs and “pressurizing” them. Based on my pain response ( I know, I asked if I could be asleep for this and he said no, they need me to be able to respond to the pain), this will decide for sure whether he is fusing only L5 or both L3 and L5. I will be sedated like I am for the epidural injections but not completely asleep. He is planning to do this surgery from the anterior instead of posterior. He said that the recovery is easier this way since they do not cut the muscles of the back. My goal is to post about every step of this journey from how the tests really feel all the way through surgery and recovery and rehab. I am hoping that by sharing my experience, others going through this same or similar thing can learn from my experiences. If this works, I could be pain free for the first time in 16 years which is something that I cannot really imagine right now. I have lived with pain as a daily companion so long that I have learned coping skills in order to get through the days and nights and keep my sanity, or at least most of my sanity hee hee. Anyway, stay tuned, I will be posting as often as I can and describing my experience in as much detail and as honestly as I can. I am also planning to post links to sites that have all the facts about the procedures that I mention. If you have any questions for me feel free to post them as a comment. Thanks for reading!
This is the link to the Spine Health website explaining the lumbar discography test I am about to have on October 5th.
Below is a video that shows how the discography is performed
My Surgeon: Richard Frisch of the Southeastern Spine Institute