Monday, June 4, 2012

Back And Badder Than Ever

After a long hiatus I am back to blogging.    While the usual work and "life getting in the way" reasons apply for my five month absence from the blogosphere, there is another reason I haven't been writing lately: my back is seriously messed up.

I first injured my back six years ago.  "How?" you ask?  That's a good question, but I have no earthly idea.  One day I was fine, and then the next I had sciatic pain all down my leg. When this first happened in 2006 I had an MRI, pursued physical therapy and chiropractic care and had two cortisone injections in my spine.  The therapy and chiropractic helped (my chiropractors are also physical therapists, and they taught me many exercises that have helped me to strengthen my "core" muscles to prevent further injury). The first shot did nothing for me, and since the second I have been numb in my right foot, though it did help me get back to physical work.  During this initial attack in 2006 the pain was almost literally unbearable--I thought that I had previously understood pain, but what I used to consider a "8" on a scale of 10 pain was now relegated to a "3".  It was bad...

Over the years I have had several more "flare ups" of the sciatica.  These have happened after a sneeze, after a cough and after getting out of bed. In other words, there was no way to prevent them.  And over the last six years, I have averaged about three and a half months per year in rather intense pain.

At the end of October, 2011 I injured myself ducking my head under a low doorway (see what I mean?).  As of now it has been over seven months and the pain is still there.  More MRIs have revealed a displaced L5 disc which is sitting on the nerves that go down my right leg.  Since October I have been numb from hip to foot on the outside of the right leg. For the first two months the pain was excruciating.  I could barely sleep, sitting was torture, and the only thing that helped was walking on our treadmill.  I found that while I had to limp slowly for the first two miles, after that I felt pretty good--so I walked on the treadmill for about 4-6 miles every day.  I am proud that I have only missed two days of work due to back problems in all these years, but things were getting so bad that I yielded to the logic of having surgery to attempt to repair the problem. 

One of the problems this time was the amount of medication I had to take.  During the early winter I was taking three Vicodins a day, and I felt pretty tranquilized all the time.  It helped, but the pain was still considerable (now I only take one occasionally as needed, but it still works out to about once per week).  In December I started taking Gabapentin, a nerve suppressant. This helped a lot (and is the reason I was able to coach softball this spring), but the side effect was a pretty total loss of short term memory, which made it hard for me at my job (I am a history teacher).  In May I upped the Gabapentin dose, which totally eliminated the pain, but then I started getting obsessed with suicide (a known side-effect), and had to reduce the dosage, which brought the pain back.

So finally, on June 8, 2012 I am scheduled to have microdiscectomy surgery.  The surgeon will make a 1-2 inch incision in my lower back, and using microscopic tools will spread apart the back muscles to locate the protruding disc.  Then he will snip off the part that is sitting on the nerve (leaving the rest to function as intended) and sew me up.  That is, if all goes well--who knows what they might find when they get inside. I have decided to make regular blog posts describing the experience and the (hopefully) smooth recovery process.  Stay tuned, and wish me luck!

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