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.
Reflection On 2013
January 2, 2014
I made a promise to myself to try to do more writing in the new year so, uh, well this is a start on my brand new 10.1 Samsung Tablet! THANK YOU SANTA! Honestly, I did try to be good last year and, for the most part, by golly I think I might actually have achieved that pleasant state of being. I didn’t openly curse anyone. (Actually I haven’t done that in a while, as it causes ugly facial lines and I need to put a stop that. Also, it could cause a fracas!) I was kind to animals and old folks, and young folks, too. But hey, I am not perfect by a long shot! (Yes, honey I did find the chocolate ice cream you hid in the freezer and ate it all....sooorrry.)
Overall it was a good year, full of simple things that brought me joy. I got a new (used) car which was an upgrade from the 1997 Honda CRV I had been driving for years. It’s a larger, safer SUV, a Nissan Murano. As I travel 50 miles a day round trip to work it does make me feel a little more secure to be sitting a bit higher off the ground.
And, on that note, God sent me a guardian angel one clear, sunny day this past November. I was en route to a medical appointment when, on a long, straight stretch of road with nothing coming in either direction (except me), some dude in a Ford F150 pick up truck pulled right out in front of me. I had nowhere to go as he was in my lane and about to be T-boned by me. I slammed on the brakes, did a quick calculation in my head, and swerved into the oncoming lane, off the shoulder of the road, narrowly missing a row of mailboxes. I held my breath, knowing that one way or another this accident might not be avoided by my last minute maneuver. Had someone been driving in the opposite direction it would not have been a good thing. I was shocked when I managed to squeeze by and saw the truck, still sitting in the middle of the road, in my rearview mirror. Whew! That was a very close call, the closest one I’ve had in years! I have to admit I laid on the horn and didn’t let up until I was a mile on down the road.
I work for a government agency and, during the federal budget debacle in November when hundreds of people were furloughed (leave without pay) my coworkers and I were only furloughed for one day and were reimbursed for the time. I and my work associates were most grateful indeed. Initially we were told we would be off every Friday for a month. Hey, who wouldn’t want every Friday off, right? However, without pay it’s a different story. I narrowly missed a direct hit to the wallet and once again thanked my guardian angel.
Throughout the year I have suffered with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain Syndrome, poly arthritis, migraines, and sciatica which has many times literally brought me to my knees. I can’t say I haven’t wondered from time to time as to who put this physical curse on me but this year I have come to grips with the fact that it is what it is. I could either curl up in a ball in the bed and feel sorry for myself or deal with it and go forward. So, I have chosen the latter of the two. I am so grateful for the understanding of my friends, coworkers, family and my husband most of all because he’s the one who sees the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes right down to it.
I also am blessed to have my little dog, Gus, who is right by my side when I have to resign myself to bed for a day or two. He’s my watchdog, my faithful companion, my solace, and certainly great entertainment as he’s the funniest critter I have ever had the pleasure to be owned by!
In September, I was so delighted to be reunited with my childhood friend whom I had not seen or heard from for a long span of years. We have known each other since the fourth grade. She’s a kindred spirit whom I have and always will love like the sister I never had. I went to visit with her and her family in Winston-Salem in early December and we picked right up where we left off. We sat up until late in the night catching up and remembering the days of our youth. I thank God we are back in each other’s lives. She’s such a blessing and I was honored when she named one of her daughters after me.
The Season would not be complete without attending the annual FOCUS Christmas party hosted by dear friend and publisher, Tammy Panther. A good time was had by all and many of us remembered our dear friend the late, great John E. Tucker, Jr., founder of FOCUS. He would certainly have approved of the soiree his loving wife threw for friends and employees.
This year Christmas kind of hit me from behind and I was guilty of doing last minute shopping but I didn’t forget those Salvation Army bell ringers standing out in the cold. I popped a couple of bills into every bucket I came across. And, each of those ringers replied, “God bless you. Have a merry Christmas.” I replied politely, “Thank you.” But what I really should have said was, “No. God bless you kind ladies and gentlemen for standing out in this chilly, windy weather to ring the Salvation Army bell on your own time. May your buckets runneth over.”
As the year drew to a close, I spent the holidays with my in-laws and family and, for the first time in several years, it was a blessed Christmas. By that I mean everyone seemed content and happy. It was a time of good food and great company. There weren’t tons of gifts, as we all like to keep it simple, but there was tons of love. I was in the kitchen at my mother’s house on Christmas Eve after all the gifts were opened when I overheard my sweet 5-year-old nephew exclaim, “This is the best Christmas ever!” It warmed the cockles of my heart to hear a small child agree with what I already knew, it truly was perhaps the best Christmas ever.
As this new year begins, I believe that good faith, a positive attitude, and kindness will prevail over any obstacles 2014 might throw my way. And, well ... Santa, I’ll try to be good. I’m definitely gonna need all the help I can get so all of you who know me well please help me keep myself in check, will ya? It’s a hard job but somebody has to it.
Okay...well, I have officially completed my first column with the new technology I have been given. Yea!
My wish to you good readers is that you have a very happy, prosperous new year and may God bless you every one.