So at this point in my life I had just graduated with a degree in interior design and moved off to the big city for better job opportunities (and to be closer to my girlfriend). My back is still hurting like hell. My legs are still going numb. I’m having to walk with a cane on my bad days, having to stay in bed on a heating pad and hooked up to electrodes on my really bad days. It wasn’t long after my move that my girlfriend tells me about a coworker that had very bad back problems and was being treated for them at a nearby office that specializes in back and spinal injuries. After telling my story to her coworker she highly recommended making an appointment. Still feeling burnt from my last doctor I was very hesitant about everything (not to mention my last doctor told me how evil big city doctors can be!!!!), but I then realized I had nothing to lose since I was completely miserable anyway.
Continued after the jump.
Upon walking in the office I'm immediately comforted by the choice in design of the office. The furniture, materials, even the layout of everything - it's very nice. I know this isn’t indicative of a good doctor and stems from my love of design, but it’s certainly more comfortable than wooden rocking chairs and tin stars in the waiting room. I get called back, wait a bit longer in my room, and finally meet the doctor. Right away I felt much more comfortable about this doctor. He didn’t try to kill me right away or steal my wallet. Another tally mark in the column of “My last doctor was a tricksy little hobbit.” He looked over all of my x-rays and MRIs, post and pre-surgery number one.
So what did this doctor have to say?
- I was born with an extra vertebrae. Although not really important, it is interesting (I actually don’t think I was born with it. I think it started to grow when I became a vegetarian, as I think since that point in my life my body has been evolving into some other sort of species of superhuman. Or even de-evolving into some sort of animal. Just kidding. But not really……)
- My disc is completely useless; I need a replacement or fusion.
He asked me about my last surgery and what my previous doctor did. I tell him everything he said and did (minus the part where he thinks doctors like him are devils). This surprises the doctor. He gets a look of confusion on his face and says, “Hmm. I don’t know why he would have done that.” He then drops it, as to remain professional and not slam the other doctor. He does tell me my last surgery was completely pointless and probably did more harm than good (which is the painful truth).
|The type of disc now in my body.|
He then proceeds to tell me about what I need to get done - either a fusion or a disc replacement. Again the negative sides of the fusion are brought up and I am still against it The disc replacement is exactly what it sounds like. My old/bad disc is removed and an artificial disc is put in its place.
I tell him I’m ok with the artificial disc. He asks me what insurance I have, so I tell him. He then tells me I’m covered by one of the very few insurance companies that don’t cover the surgery, AND that without insurance the surgery costs around $80,000.
BUT! There is a clinical study going on with artificial discs at the time and if I qualify I can get the surgery completely free of charge (except for x-rays and office visits). I fill out some paperwork, give it to the program coordinator and anxiously await the results (about 10 minutes). She comes back, tells the doctor something, and he starts to smile. This made me smile. I qualified for the surgery and got scheduled for it about a month later. During that month I had all sorts of tests done, more x-rays, MRIs, and everything else you can think of.
It was finally time.
I arrived at 6am, got prepped for surgery, and was ready to go. I don’t remember much right before the surgery. The only thing I do recall is getting very cold then sweating profusely. As the nurses were helping me move onto the actual operating table they thought someone had spilt water on me or I had urinated on myself because I was so wet. I told her it was just me sweating and that I was worried it might be the anesthesia. And that’s the last thing I remember.
I woke up feeling groggy and a bit uncomfortable in my mid-section, all of which was normal. The surgery consisted of one doctor making an incision from below my belly button to my waistline, then moving aside muscle and organs to get to my spine. Then my orthopedic surgeon came in to take out the bad disc and place in the new artificial disc. To do this he had to chisel out slots on the bottom of the top vertebrae and on the top of the bottom vertebrae, this creates spaces for the artificial disc to fit in and eventually fuse together with the bone.
Luckily the surgery went perfect. I was up and walking the halls that day. The only thing that made it uncomfortable was the catheter in me, which I made them remove. Once that was out I was walking rather quickly! All the nurses in that section of the hospital were standing in the halls watching me walk and talking about how they’ve never seen someone do that. This was a good sign for me.
I went home the following day to start my recovery. This was a bit of a pain. I couldn’t take care of myself for a while without having someone around to help. Taking a shower was a pain, as I couldn’t get anything around my incision wet. I had to put a plastic covering over the bandage before I took a shower to block out the water. I also couldn’t bend over in any way, so any time I dropped something, needed to pull my pants back up (from using the bathroom), needed my legs dried, needed to scratch a toe, etc – I had to have someone else help me. I don’t like feeling helpless like that, so it was mainly a mental struggle for me.
After my recovery I started physical therapy. This helped strengthen my back and regain any mobility I had lost (or simply never had in the first place). Unfortunately towards the end of my physical therapy the pain came back tenfold. The nerve pain in my leg came back, my legs were going numb all the time, and I was having a hard time walking. This led to me having to get more tests and procedures done – which I won’t talk about because they are somewhat irrelevant. All I will say is that the last thing I had done was a nerve block, and that sucked. At my 1 year follow up I remember the doctor telling me there’s nothing they could do about the pain, that the nerves will have to heal on their own and that could take around 1 year to a year and a half. This deeply devastated me and I was happy I didn’t have to go back to him for another year. I know it wasn’t his fault, but I needed to mentally shift some blame over to something else since there was nothing anyone could do. Plus it was just too reminiscent of what my last doctor said.
|Current x-ray, shown while bending backwards|
So…… fast forward to today. Actually, three days ago. It was my 2 year follow up visit (it served as both the follow up for my doctor and to get the information for the clinical study). I took my normal 6 x-rays, spoke to the doctor, filled out all the forms, and that was it. My x-rays looked good, the disc has fused perfectly and everything is great. Another good note is that because so many people in the 5 year clinical study (others who got the disc) have stopped coming to their appointments, the company/sponsor of the study has decided to give incentives to come back. So because I went back on time and did as I was supposed to I got a $100 American Express gift card and will get them for every visit until it ends. Better yet, they are also paying for ALL expenses for every visit and even picked up the bill from my last visit (over $1,000). Feels good, man.
A few months ago while eating dinner with my girlfriend, she asked me how much, if at all, my pain has gotten better since my surgery. I had to stop and think about it for a few minutes. I’d say that my pain has actually decreased by about 40-50% overall. The rate at which my symptoms appear has also declined compared to before the surgery. That’s not to say I’m pain free and I still don’t have problems walking without hurting or my legs don’t go numb any more (my left leg is going numb right now as I write this). The important thing is that I’ve gotten better, even though it is a relatively tiny bit. I’ve gone through a lot of shit with my back and I’m not going to overlook some relief when I have it.
So that’s it. If you actually read this far, I thank you. And I’m sorry. I can sometimes ramble, forget details, and everything else that may have made this story a bit non-cohesive and annoying.
All I can say to anyone else is if your back is hurting you in a weird way or has been hurting for a while or you’re noticing symptoms like your legs going numb, get yourself checked out. Take care of your back and yourself. Say your prayers and eat your vitamins.