Tuesday, June 22, 2010

THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST

Several years ago, I started having bouts of back pain lasting from a few hours to a few weeks. Also, the intensity of the pain would fluctuate. At times, I was unable to bend to tie my own shoes or even maneuver getting dressed without being helped. Other times, I just felt stiff and less flexible than I had been in years past. Being the stubborn person I am and having a Wonder Woman complex, I refused to slow down or seek medical help to find out what was wrong until the problem started to effect the quality of my life. My symptoms gradually worsened until the pain had gotten to the point of not being able to ignore.

About 7 years ago, I noticed that not only was I suffering from chronic pain, but I was also losing strength in my arms and at times, my arms and hands had no sensation at all. Not only was my strength being effected, but I was also experiencing a deficit in my fine motor skills like being able to grasp a pen to sign a check. This may seem like a simple task to most people, but for someone whose “wiring” was being effected, the task seemed to be as challenging as climbing a mountain.

Anyone familiar with the pain chart that hangs in most examining rooms, my pain never dips below a 5 and hovers most of the time in the 6-7 range. The fact of the matter is that I never have a completely pain free moment. At least once or twice a week my pain level spikes higher than a 7. What most people ask is how I deal with being in constant pain. I think anyone suffering from chronic pain grows accustomed to the pain over time. We learn to block it out and to function anyway we can. It isn’t until the times when my pain spikes that I am acutely aware just how much I truly hurt.

When I finally had gotten to the point of accepting that whatever was wrong with me was not going to improve without medical attention; I sought advice from my family doctor. She ordered a MRI and x-ray. Based on the results of those two tests, she referred me to pain management and then to a neurosurgeon. The following things were revealed on my Radiology Consultation Report:

1.Reversed cervical curvature (it looks like my head was put on backwards and no, I wasn't Linda Blair's stunt woman in The Exorcist)

2.Herniated/bulging discs

3.Spondylosis

4.Spondyloarthropathy

5.Bone spurs

6.Spinal stenosis

7.Pinched nerves

8.Scoliosis

The pain management doctor, looked at my MRI and x-rays, examined me and then concluded he doubted that epidurals (shots given to block nerve impulses) would work in my case because I had too many things going on at once. I immediately made an appointment with the neurosurgeon because I was at the point of understanding why some people commit suicide who suffer from chronic pain. He scheduled me for more tests before he set me up with a surgery date. The myelogram and CT scan were supposed to help him pinpoint which disks were the worst ones because he didn’t want to repair all of them. He explained that 6 of my 7 cervical disks were bad and that my most severe problems were located in my cervical region. If he repaired all of the damaged disks, I would have no mobility left in my neck.

The thought of surgery and a 3-month recovery period didn’t thrill me, but I did what I thought was necessary at the time to ease my pain. Two disks were removed, bone fusions were done and a titanium implant was screwed into my neck to keep the bone fusions in place and give my neck some additional stability. The procedure is called an anterior cervical discectomy. Looking back at the whole thing, I know having surgery again is out of the question. Is that a result of an unsuccessful surgery? To be honest with you, I don‘t know if my surgery was an unsuccessful or not due to all the other spinal problems I have.

My advice to anyone facing surgery is to explore alternative options and to get a second opinion before undergoing surgery. Try pain management and physical therapy as a first step. If those things offer no relief, then go to Plan B and ask your surgeon LOTS of questions like what is his success rate, how long is the recovery period, does your surgeon follow up with your progress at certain time intervals post-op, how long is the surgery and hospital stay and what will your long term limitations be as a result of having the surgery done? In my case, I have seen no real benefits from having had surgery because I am virtually back at square one.

Several years later and after getting to know several people who have had similar surgeries, I regret having surgery. I feel as though any repair work done on the spine causes a domino effect. The places above and below the site that are repaired weaken over time. Some people I know have had up to 7 surgeries and if anything, their condition has slowly worsened. About every 18 months, another surgery is required.

Gratitude statement: I am thankful I have reached a place in my life where I can cope with chronic pain without the aid of anything, but learning to redirect my thoughts so I don't constantly dwell on the source of my pain.

All gibberish within ©2004-2010 Mildred Ratched Memoirs.

4 comments:

  1. living with chronic pain must be a great challenge. I tried to keep up on the pain management courses - I am attracted to the ones who use mindful meditation/ coping skills to live with their pain rather than trying to smash it or destroy it etc.

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  2. i knew you suffered from serious back problems and pain, but I never knew to what extreme.

    today's entry adds yet another reason why I hold you in such high regard. compared to you, i'm a little bitch.

    i'm hugging you at this moment (not too hard, though, as I don't want to add to the pain).

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  3. OH Lordy woman! And you are thinkin about hoppin on a motorcycle???
    There are two schools of thought..... my brother, like you, opted for the surgery route. He attended my wedding in a body cast.... 8 or so surgeries and 20 years later, I believe he can now walk.... RELATIVELY comfortably with no painkillers. (note the word 'relatively')
    I went the therapy route. And to fight my doctor to do that. My doc was POSITIVE that I would get no relief without surgery. Well, there are those days when - sometimes weeks when......
    But most of the time, I am ok. In better shape than my brother.
    Conversely, a co-worker HAS had the surgery(s) and been in EXCELLENT shape for years since.
    I don't know what the difference is between us all.... the same - degenerating/degenerated/herniated discs.... cervical and lumbar. I wish I understood why some things work for some and other things work for others.
    I guess the doctors probably do too...
    I wouldn't wish the pain on anyone. Especially the kind that just happens from nowhere.... and drops you to your knees... and sucks the breath right out of your lungs. I am glad you shared all that.
    Now, much that you said over the years that did not quite make sense makes sense now. And I commend you for the courage you have had to do all you have done.
    I do not know if you swim - but, I found that swimming helped me with regaining mobility and then KEEPING it more than anything else.
    Good thoughts and hugs of friendship coming your way.... with a few bunny and kitty kisses for good measure!

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