My Back Story

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about the saga that is my back, because this is a simple living blog, not a “This Is What It’s Like to Live With Chronic, Debilitating Back Pain” blog. But I got some disappointing news from my surgeon yesterday and it’s really all I can think about. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming on Friday.

The History

On Sunday, March 18, 2012, I was getting ready to go back to work after a week of “vacation.” Now I put quotes around that word, because I actually had to work several hours each day of it. I had been chained to my laptop and crackberry and was none too pleased about it.  Burnout was a problem before I was supposedly taking vacation. Little did I know, I would soon be wishing I was physically able to run a thousand miles an hour, even if I didn’t want to actually be that crazy busy.

The Girl had been playing outside in our backyard and walked back in, her feet caked in mud. Not interested in cleaning muddy footprints from all over the house, I went to pick her up so I could carry her to the shower to rinse her feet. Except when I picked her up, my back snapped, I heard a pop and I crumbled to the floor. I literally could not get up. Stephen carried me to the sofa. I’d make a joke about the “I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up” commercial, but it’s not funny.

I didn’t know what had happened, but I assumed it would go away on its own. It didn’t. Turns out, in that moment, my disc had fractured. Like, it broke.

I was in denial for a while, thinking I’d be better in a few weeks with some medication. I even tried to go into work, but sitting was so painful it made me nauseous and I’d burst into tears. I tried working while laying down on the floor in my office. While standing up during meetings and conference calls. One of my partners finally couldn’t take watching it anymore and suggested I take advantage of the FMLA benefits and focus on getting better. So, I did.

Soon weeks turned into months. Acupuncture, massage, yoga, oral medication and steroid injections all failed. I had pain shooting down my leg from my back to my calf and my foot was regularly numb. Surgery was the recommendation.

On July 5, 2012, my surgeon removed the broken disc, implanted a new one and fused the two vertebrae surrounding it.  We’re talking titanium plate and 4 enormous screws. What followed was a five-day hospital stay and months and months and months of physical therapy and rehabilitation. And lots of drugs. When I got home from the hospital I was taking upwards of 60 pills a day.

Before surgery, I thought I’d be back at work by the middle of August tops. I never went back.

By June of 2013, a year after surgery, the pain was no longer shooting down my leg and that last disc was doing better. Through continuous physical therapy I was stronger. But after a few weeks of being off of all of my pain meds, I was still in significant pain. And by significant I mean I couldn’t sit for more than four or five hours without wanting to curl up in the fetal position and wish someone would put me out of my misery. Something wasn’t right.

When I saw my surgeon, I told him all of this. He called for another MRI. The MRI showed that the two discs above the one that was previously fused are degenerating. Partly, I guess, because the one they fixed isn’t moving which is putting more pressure on its neighbors. So, I had injections on those two discs. (They inject steroids, which are meant to reduce inflammation and, if they work, relieve the pain.) They didn’t work.

Where I Am Now

Yesterday I had my follow-up appointment. As in, please doc, can you pull something out of your hat to make this better? The answer was this: let’s try another round of injections by another doctor and see if it works. If it fails by two different doctors in two different attempts, we’re talking about another fusion.

A fusion means another year of rehab. Another year of being dependent on other people. Another year of missing soccer and ballet and baseball. Another year of being a crappy friend and a non-fully functional wife. Another year of not moving forward.

And that is where I am.

25 Responses to My Back Story

  1. How I am understanding to you!!. I am with a great pains on my lumbars since a lot of months. Sometimes they are so strong that I can not to walk, to sit, to be in bed. I have taken a lot of medicines, without result and two injections in my lumbar discs in one month and now I am bad, very bad.. In Spain, the maxims times the doctors put in you the cortisone injections are three, but I don’t want more of them because I am thinking that they are the responsable of my great head pains.

  2. I am so sorry. I actually have an idea of what you are going through. Your story sounds like my husband’s. i will say this for you. i am proud of you for doing something while recovering. Continue doing this. I think this will help you with depression. We don’t mind hearing about it.

    • Thanks, Nadine. I have to keep my brain working, otherwise I’d go bananas! And I was dealing with depression/anxiety before (my crazy job did not help at all). I was doing great on stepping down my meds until all of the house reno stuff got nutso and I started having trouble dealing, so I went back to normal dosage. I really wanted to get off of them, but I’m cutting myself some slack in that department because I’ve got enough to deal with at the moment.

  3. I’m so very, very sorry. I’ll be praying for you. I know that can sound like a pat response. But it has saved my life. After two brain surgeries, three brain treatments (gamma knifes), radiation and chemo all on some random type of malignant cancer I have. It’s been 24 years (got married and had our two children) and I’m doing great, except for those random cravings for kettle chips and nutty buddies. I really enjoy reading your posts, your one of only two I subscribe to. Feel free to share, as Nadine said above, we don’t mind reading about it.

    • Thank you for your prayers. I’ll take them! So sorry to hear about your brain surgeries, but so glad to hear that you are doing so well. Most days I’m pretty okay in terms of being optimistic, but when I get hit with a particularly bad pain day or frustrating news, I just want to hibernate.

    • Thanks Stephanie, but he is the second opinion. I also did a lot of research before I chose him and, according to both my local medical malpractice attorney friends and other sources, he is top notch. I have the utmost confidence in him. He’s recommending non-surgical intervention options before discussing another fusion. But that’s where we ultimately end up if other options aren’t successful. As for the first fusion (L5-S1), it helped with the pain shooting down my leg, so I feel like it was successful. But I still have pain and it’s coming from L3-L4 and L4-L5.

  4. Oh my gosh, Kandice, I’m so sorry. I know what you’re going through, though. I had terrible shoulder pain after a matrix-esque fall down the stairs as a teenager. The older I got, the worse the pain got, and by the time I was sitting at a computer all day for my full time job I couldn’t make it through the day without trips outside to go cry. I saw three docs, each of whom said I had a different problem. I saw three physical therapists — and only the third physical therapist — not the docs — finally figured out the solution. I went through SIX people before we figured out what was wrong. So keep getting opinions. I know exactly how hard it is and I’m cheering for you!

    • Thanks for your comment, Zoe. So sorry to hear about your shoulder, but I totally get just wanting to go cry. My physical therapist was awesome! He got me put back together after the fusion, but then I started having the other issues.

      6 people? Good grief. That is awful!

  5. I don’t have any similar stories to tell you, but my heart does go out to you. Chronic pain like yours sucks, hard, and I’m really sorry you’re dealing with it. I hope in some small way blogging and simplifying can help you find some peace.

  6. thanks for sharing, sorry for your pain.
    glad you are making your life will make day to day living
    a bit easier

  7. You poor thing. That sounds horrific.
    Chronic pain is HUGELY debilitating.
    Give yourself credit for what you are achieving, and the life choices that you have made.
    I am sure you are not a non-functional wife and I am even more sure your kids will forgive you the missed soccer and ballet and baseball.
    You are doing an amazing job.
    You are coping amazing well. I don’t think anyone reading the blog even twigged how bad your back really was.
    You manage to blog with great humour, and are achieving big things, despite such a debilitating condition.
    I can’t imagine how rubbish you must be feeling, and I don’t really know what to say.
    I am thinking of you and sending all my very best wishes.

  8. I am glad you shared this part of your story. Sometimes the sharing makes things a little easier to handle. And it sounds like you are in good hands medically.

    Yes, it is a shame that you will miss things you would choose to participate in with your family. But you are still a vital and important person in your family so don’t be too hard on yourself. And as for the “non-functional wife” thoughts … well, in that regard this is what marriage is all about – in sickness and in health – even if those exact words weren’t part of your service, it is implied by the word “marriage.” No one knows what the future holds – you are married to each other because you love each other – you created a family together – and none of that hasn’t changed I am sure.

    Hang tough. Do what your medical personal suggest. Be the best physical therapy patient ever. You have the right life attitude – and living is better than the other option. And how you handle this this next life struggle will be a good example to your kids. You have done this before … you and do it again.

    You are in my prayers.

  9. I am so sorry for what you’re going through, but I pray that God would heal you of all back pain and do a supernatural work in your life. Knowing about your back pain makes me appreciate your blog and your sense of humor even more. Ultimately, your children will remember that you persevered despite great odds and it will make them better people.

  10. I am so sorry that you are in such a bad place right now. I hope that in the not so terribly distant future you will be able to look back from the other side. Going through something difficult or even awful is easier if you know it is temporary. So, I’m wishing temporary for you. I am so enjoying your simple year. Thanks

  11. Hi Kandice,

    While the cause was different, my mother suffers with a similar back pain. She had the Brooklyn Bridge installed in her lower back and still deals with pain. I’m so sorry you are faced with this and hope that you find a way to get relief.

    I don’t know how to help my mother and I wish i could help you, too. Hang in there…


  12. Try to focus on what it could mean after that very long and hard year…less pain and more involvement with your family. Keep your eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel

  13. Not that you are looking for advice and you may have already done this, but have you considered chiropractic? A consultation can’t hurt anything. Either way, back pain is no fun and I hope whatever you do you find some relief!

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  15. OMG I hope the right treatment presents itself soon! I know your pain & limitation, but really just a fraction as I had most of my L5-S1 removed 21 years ago when I was 29, and have had very minor issues since. I’m very thankful. Sending you healing thoughts!!

  16. Hi Kandice,
    My husband has had significant back pain for years and years. Just this week, his sciatica flared up again just as he is going back to work teaching. He is miserable.

    The first time his back brought him to his knees, we had a brand new baby. Every picture of Ron and our baby for the first 6 months showed Ron on the floor.

    His back pain did lessen over time. He learned to listen to the signs when a flare was likely. He hasn’t had to get surgery-yet.

    I wanted to offer a little hope that maybe with time your back pain will get a little better. Ron had to ask a lot of questions and do his own research when it came to pain management. Doctors are weird about this, but I’ve read about devices they can implant to bring peace–and do not lead to addiction. It might be worth asking about this so you can get some of your life back.

    Mostly, I want to say that I’m sending prayers of support because back pain is its own hell. I feel for you and your family.


    • Thank you so much. I appreciate the prayers. It’s been really hard, but I’m trying to remain optimistic.

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