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.
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.