Final Relief From Decrepitude
September 4, 2014
I can’t name the day or time but I remember the year when the first twinge in my lower back made itself known. I was just starting to hike the trail around Price Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Within the first few steps I began to feel as if some imp was marching along behind me, jabbing me with a sharp stick just to the left of my lumbar spine. (That would be L-4 and L-5, as they say in the biz).
“What’s up?” asked my hiking buddy. “I think I must have slept wrong, got a catch in my back is all. I think I can walk it out,” I replied. That was in 2002. I ate Advil like candy and alternated with ice and heat until eventually the pesky pain went away. The minute the next cold snap came along, my spine started talking to me. It said, “Hey, look, you go on ahead and if you get there before I do let them know I’m coming.”
It is disconcerting to say the least when you reach the age that parts of your body begin speaking out loud to you. Every time the barometric pressure dropped, so did I. My ears popped, the knees throbbed and the old back screamed, “Stop the bus I want to get off!” Of course, I couldn’t figure out who the heck was driving this old bus as random searing nerve pain shot down my legs into my feet and left me nearly incoherent at times. This would happen uncontrollably, causing me to jump and say aloud, “Ooooooh!” It could really be embarrassing in the middle of a monthly staff meeting or while dining out in public, as I would have to hop up from my seat and pivot back and forth of my toes to get the nasty shooting pain to ease off. And, I awoke frequently in the night with a numbing paralysis in my left leg.
Over the course of the next 12 years, this back problem grew aggravatingly worse. It was gnawing and during the cold winters it felt as if it was literally chewing away at my very essence. I became someone I didn’t recognize anymore, I was irritable, exhausted all the time from pain, depressed, and antisocial. I didn’t want to be by myself, alone with myself. I went from one doctor to another trying to get an answer to what was wrong. I also spent tons of money on this quest.
I had seen a chiropractor every month for years, but it seemed to do little for my pain. I went to a Chinese acupuncturist and, over time, it helped somewhat but insurance didn’t pay for it and the fee was a whopping $60 per hour. Needless to say, my wallet put the kabash on that! I have been to neurologists, had nerve conduction studies, seen internists and rheumatologists.
I had physicians throw Percocets and muscle relaxers at me like candy and beads raining down from a Mardi Gras float. I was given Lidocaine patches and, the granddaddy of them all, Fentanyl pain patches. Of course, none of these truly alleviated the pain, they only masked it and dulled both my senses and cognition.
To make matters worse, I also have a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia so I became one big walking unit of pain. I couldn’t walk very well, let alone run. I couldn’t bend, twist or lift either. I truly began to wonder if I had been cursed by someone along the way or if karma was giving me my just due. I was all but to the point of seeking out a witch doctor to help me with this problem.
Finally, after years of trial and error, I was referred to a rheumatoligst in Statesville who didn’t mess around. He’s a nice guy and straightforward about clinical diagnosis. His waiting room is always swamped with people. He’s a busy person because he is very good at what he does. Yet, although his examining room visits are short, I felt I had been seen, listened to, and proper actions taken toward my ailment put in place. He referred me to a pain clinic.
Like lots of other folks, I look up all the medical terminology on Google. So, I was well aware of what the real problem was. A lumbar vertebrae had slipped to the maximum was impinging on my sciatic nerve. I knew it could only be a matter of time before that nerve became damaged enough that there would be no help for it. The side effects of this condition would be pretty bad if something wasn’t done.
So, I first got the recommended epidural injections of steroids into my spine. My relief was instant but after about three weeks, that niggling pain came creeping back. I had four of these shots and during the time I was getting them I discovered that after insurance paid on these procedures, my cost out of pocket was a whopping $1,200.00 per shot. That’s dadgum expensive for a medical band aid! Finally I said, ENOUGH! I want to be recommended to an orthopedist who can fix this problem once and for all, I can’t stand it anymore! I was referred to a great physician who practices with Carolina Orthopedics in Lenoir. I had already had an MRI and had a neurologist look at it. He said I needed a second opinion. So I got one by the referred orthopedist whom I liked so much I decided to let do the job. I had seen the MRI and it looked pretty grim I could see the major slippage squeezing and twisting my sciatic nerve. I also showed it to my rheumatologist and he agreed surgery was the only answer to this problem.
The problem was I had what is called spondylolisthesis. (Yeah I know, right? Trying saying that word real fast five times in a row!) I underwent surgery for it this past April. Recovery time was 12 weeks. I didn’t have that kind of time accrued where I work. I had been out of work so many days with my back it was hard to build up sick time. Thank goodness where I work we have what is called voluntary shared leave where you can donate sick time to those who don’t have enough. I was so fortunate and will be forever grateful that my comrades at work donated 6 weeks of time toward recovery I would not have had otherwise.
Patching me up involved placing rods, screws, cages and a bone graft in the lower spine. (I don’t plan on going through any metal detectors any time soon!)
The minute I was no longer under the influence of anesthesia and was able to get out of my bed and walk to the bathroom I knew with the very first step my pain was gone! Of course there was some surgical pain but it was nothing compared to the pain I had been going through for years.
I returned home to my bed and the company of my beloved bed buddy, my dog Gus, and began to improve and get stronger with each day. During that time I received calls, Facebook messages, and home cooked meals from family, friends and neighbors. Immediately I began dropping weight and went back to work some 25 pounds lighter.
There are many lessons to be learned in life. This experience was a major one for me. I had no idea how much I was cared for until this point in time. I felt the love and prayers coming through to me along the way. I got out of the hospital on Easter day. Spring had come into its own during the five days I was admitted. As I sat in the wheelchair waiting to board the car I truly felt an all encompassing love coming to me from everywhere.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I gave thanks to God many times during the day. I was thankful I finally found a doctor who could do right by me, thankful he had an excellent operating room staff and, thankful for the gentle love and care my husband provided as he kept watch over me while in the hospital and beyond. And, most of all, I was thankful to be among the living once again.
I can only say gentle readers to be relieved of serious pain and depression is allowing me to laugh more, move more, endure more and walk briskly again! It’s like walking through a dark night into the light of day. And, the difference between dark and light is a most profound gratitude.
I’m still in full progression of the healing process and have a nice eight inch scar down the center of my spine nearly to the top of the buttock region, but that’s really okay as my bikini days are um, uh, “behind” me now.
I’d like to send out a big mucho gracias to everyone who sent good vibes my way. I felt them through every minute and hour of the ordeal. Much love, thanks, and peace to all.