Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pain that F*cks with Your Brain

I have been living with chronic back pain for 20+ years.  I don't talk about it often because it's just become a way of life.  Plus, who really wants to hear me complain all the time. :)  I originally injured my back when I was in junior high.  My friend and I were practicing dives off the side of the pool, and I scorpioned myself (kicked myself in the back of the head).  It hurt at the time, took my breath away, but I didn't say anything.  I was too embarrassed.  (I have absolutely no reason why, but at the time it seemed important.)

As the years went on, I continued to swim.  My back never got better.  In high school, I wasn't eating properly and getting enough nutrition, so my body turned to itself to compensate. According to the doctor, it had started digesting that muscle in my back.  But that's as far as any tests went, and the matter was dropped.  I was given supplements and told to go on my merry way.

Even after swimming, my back never got better.  Every so often it would flare up and put me in pain.  During those times, I headed to the chiropractor.  I was adjusted, massaged, put on tens units, given ultra sound treatments, told to wear a brace, did exercises with a band.  When I was pregnant with my second child, I went to physical therapy to relieve the pain.  None of it did anything.  My back would still flare up and put me in a really bad mood.

Within the last few months, I decided I wasn't going to go to the chiropractor anymore.  I had been to two different ones, and they were't helping.  Plus, the thought of being adjusted was panic inducing.  I hate being adjusted.  Instead, I went to bone and joint specialists in town.

Long story short, the doctor upset me.  I felt that he wasn't listening to anything I had to say and based on x-rays (which I have had several times before and never show anything), he basically told me nothing was wrong and put me back into physical therapy.  At close to the 6-week mark, nothing was improving and the therapist told me to make my follow-up visit.  I did, and the doctor said he didn't want to see me for another 4 weeks.  That wasn't helpful.  Something needed to be done, so I found another doctor.

I was really nervous about going to see the new doctor.  After all, every visit I had up to this point wasn't helping, and I was still in a lot of pain.  I questioned why I had even bothered.  I had been compensating for this long, I could continue to do so.  On top of the pain, I was living with the frustration of no one helping me.  I was constantly in a bad mood.

I have to say, this new doctor was amazing.  He listened to me and sympathized with my plight.  He asked if I had ever had an MRI, which I hadn't, and it genuinely shocked him.  He didn't understand how people were treating my pain when they didn't know where it was coming from.  I had thought the same thing, but I didn't question.  On hindsight, I probably should have.

After the MRI, it became apparent that I had a herniated disk.  As the doctor described it, my disk is like a jelly donut and all the jelly has been squeezed out.  The doctor thought it was odd that it had bothered me for 20+ years since they often heal in 1-2, but he said it occasionally happened.  I'll admit it:  that news depressed me.  I was hoping it was something that could be fixed.  I was hoping something could be done to take the pain away.  Instead, I was told I would have to live with this for the rest of my life.

The dark disk at the bottom of this picture is the injured one.  

There were several different options for me to choose from to correct the problem, one of which was surgery, but I didn't want to do that.  In the long-run, it could cause more issues with the rest of my disks, causing the need for more surgeries.  So, the first course of treatment was to have steroid injections.

I'll admit it, it scared the sh*t out of me to think of having needles shoved into my back--and I'm not afraid of needles.  I have five tattoos and I've had steroid injections in my shoulder and my wrist, but getting them in my back was nerve wracking.  I had to go to a surgery center to have it done; it couldn't be done in an office.  I almost didn't go through with it.  But then I told myself: what else did I have to lose?  I'd tried everything else and nothing worked.  Might as well give it a go.

I have to say, I'm really glad I went through with it.  Although I was sore at the injection site, the rest of my back felt great.  They say it takes at least a week for it to fully kick in, and I can't wait.  If it's already helping now, I can only assume things will get better.  For that, I'm so thankful.  For those of you who have lived with chronic debilitating pain, you know how fantastic it is to get even a shred of relief.

I find it amazing how much pain has ruled my life over these years.  When my back flared up, it totally changed my thought process.  All I could focus on was how much I hurt.  My patience was nil to none; I often yelled at my boys for minor infractions, my job irritated me, it was difficult to interact socially.  My writing suffered because I didn't think I was good enough or just couldn't sit long enough to work on it.  It put me in a really bad spot.

Now, however, knowing that there is a way to relieve it, I'm looking toward the future with optimism.  Fixing a herniated disk isn't really possible.  There's really no way to put the jelly back in the donut.  Even though I don't have a permanent solution, there is a temporary one, and that gives me hope.  Some days, that's all I can hope for.

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