Thursday, April 3, 2014

Decrepit Back

by Allison Pang

I don't have much to add to this week except to mention my back. My glorious back.

Back the Betrayer, I name it.

Breaker of Discs, and Grinder of Bones.

Bringer of Pain.


Decrepit being the word of the week, I have a long and sordid history with my back and assorted back issues.

Most of it all began in February of 2008 when I bent down to chance Lucy's diaper. (She was about 18 months old.) My L4-L5 disc blew out, leaving me unable to get off the floor. Keep in mind, the DH was at work and I had a toddler and a 4 year old. And it took a while for the 4 year old to find a phone he could reach.

Lucy thought it was great fun, mind. She wobbled around me and straddled my head and bounced up and
down on it and then then opened a package of peanut butter crackers and pulled them apart and laid them all over my legs.



I ended up at pain specialist and had an MRI done and was told that even though I was just past 30 years old, I had the back of someone who was 60. Not only did I have the cracked disc, but I also had a number of odd birth defects that made things "interesting." I've got a vertebrae or two that aren't fully formed on my right side and a set of facet joints where one is abnormally small and the other is ridiculously large.

Anyway - that was the start of the saga. In the five years after that, I suffered multiple steroid shots, facet-joint injections, a micro-discectomy (which failed), about $10k in out-of-pocket prolo-therapy expenses (which was about 40 injections at a time, every 6 weeks), a discogram, radioablation of the nerves on the left side of my spine, chiropractics, cupping, trigger point injections, magnesium infusions, acupuncture...and a fair amount of painkillers.

I have seen more specialists than I care to think about and everyone had a theory as to what would make me better. The discogram actually showed a Level 5 Dallas grade tear in my L3-L4 disc as well, but as of now that is holding steady and I'm not looking to borrow any more trouble. Could be that it's going to require additional work later on, but eh.

The worst part of all of this is that the cures can hurt just as much as the cause. And worse than that is the fact that it never really stops. Mentally, that's really, really shitty - because you know, no matter what you do, you will always be in pain.  It becomes a vicious cycle. In my case, the initial disc blowout was bad enough, but eventually the disc began to collapse into the spinal column and put pressure on a nerve. Which meant pain running down my left leg, all the time.

The micro-discectomy took care of the nerve issue, but it left the surrounding bone structure unstable, thereby putting a lot of extra pressure on my muscles all around it. Which led to trigger-point muscle knots that just never let go. Those muscle spasms then started pulling hard on the vertebrae and my SI-joint, which started dislocating all the time. Which led to more pain. Which led to more spasms.

When what was left of the L4-L5 disc collapsed on the left side, the vertebrae began to grind together and that's when I ended up finally giving up and turning to painkillers. (I'd been avoiding them for those 5 years because I knew it could be such a slippery road.) But there comes a point when you have to do *something* even to just get a little bit of relief. So I was on opioids for about a year and suffering from a fair amount of depression.

But like everything else, it's a short-lived relief. The more often you take the painkillers, the less they work, and the more you have to take. And that's no good. Between being stoned out of my mind and unable to do anything physical, a lot of my life suffered.

The end result turned out to be another surgery. And I was reluctant to do it. Surgery of this level can't be undone, and I'd read so many horror stories of people who'd had fusions done that left them worse than before, or with new types of pain. I went to at least three different surgeons to try to figure out the best course of action, but I was constantly double guessing myself.

I had the double fusion in September (L4-L5 and L5-S1), and while I ended up giving up some things (the ability to touch my toes, for example) there is an upside.

 Six months out and I'm as close to pain free as I've been in a very long time. (At least as far as the back is concerned.) Sometimes I have a flare, or bad weather makes things ache, but it's a different sort of pain and just knowing it will subside makes all the difference.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the human body. An amazing machine with many moving parts that can malefaction as they bloody well please.