An Update on the Back

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The new bike that allows me to get a lot more exercise than I can walking.

The new bike that allows me to get a lot more exercise than I can walking and with no pain.

I saw my surgeon last week, well his assistant anyway, and it was good.  She was happy to see I’ve been improving.  In her words, I beat the odds.  She said most people move towards surgery, not away from it.  I’m moving away.  It’s funny.  Pretty much everyone, my surgeon, his assistant, my two physical therapists, everyone, says back surgery is not a good thing, especially spinal fusion.  I agree.  You do it because you have to.

I educated myself and decided against it.  I think many doctors in our litigation happy society play it safe.  If the patient wants it, they do it. More

Moving on Without Going under the Knife

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Enjoying Disneyland with Jen. No we didn’t just get off Splash Mountain, it was raining.

As I detailed last time, I have decided to forgo surgery on my back.  I wanted to wait to do some physical therapy before posting again.  I also planned a trip to Disneyland since I wasn’t having surgery and wanted to contrast that trip with the one I took last year.  It was a memorable experience and I could easily compare the trips to see if things have improved or not.

Physical therapy first.  I’m doing water therapy, basically exercises done in a warm pool to strengthen my back and abdominal muscles.  The water helps stabilize your body and lessen the impact.  I’m doing well and I can tell it’s working because it leaves me tired and sore, but only for a few hours.  Mostly it’s stretches and basic core building exercises. More

More Decisions and a New Attitude

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I was finally able to speak with my surgeon last week.  It was very productive and I got some bad news and some good news.  I’m not having surgery in the near future.  That’s part of the good news, but the bad news first.  I wanted to take care of the herniated disk and try some non-surgical methods to attack my slipped vertebrae.  Unfortunately, the surgeon showed me that I have bones spurs that are also pinching the L5 nerve and he’s afraid removing those will destabilize my back requiring the fusion.  Wonderful.

The good news is those bone spurs are helping to hold my back stable and preventing further slippage.  I don’t have to worry about the problem getting worse.  The surgeon also agrees that physical therapy is likely a good approach and might even further stabilize or even reverse the slippage.  That’s good to hear.  So, this week I’m beginning water therapy.  Not totally sure what that is, but is obviously involves water and therapy.  I’m also continuing my exercise regimen, losing weight and taking further steps to either avoid the pain or help improve it.

Until last week, I was coming at this from the standpoint that surgery was the answer.  A simple removal of part of my herniated disk is relatively straight forward and I’d done all I could do otherwise to fix it.  But now, that surgery has become much more complicated and I don’t want it.  That has changed my attitude.  Now I am determined to do everything I can to avoid or at least postpone surgery for as along as I can.  That means changing the way I sleep, sit, eat, you name it.

I suppose now this blog will change with me.  Instead of documenting my surgery and recovery, it will document my efforts to avoid those.  I’ve got a lot of ideas and theories.  I honestly already feel better and part of that is surely my attitude.  I walked two miles today.  No stopping to squat down and relieve the pain and when I got home, it hurt but it was manageable.  I’m hoping with the help of the therapist, I can find other ways to improve.  I’ll talk about some of my ideas next time.  Hopefully all this will help someone decided for themselves and maybe help them avoid a serious surgery.

I’ve Made a Decision About my Back Surgery

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I’ve spent the last week or so contemplating my back surgery.  I scheduled surgery for November 5th, 2012 and I was scheduled to have a partial diskectomy (shaving off the bulge on my L5-S1 disk) and a have my L4-L5 joint fused.  Well, spinal fusion is a big deal.  I’ve read so many negative things about it and the pain and recovery are intense.  I read one study that said the average recovery 15 months!  Additionally, fusing one joint puts more strain on the surrounding joints and many people have additional fusions to fix the problems the first fusion causes.

I have leg pain consistent with a pinched L5 nerve, the nerve that exits the spine between vertebrae L-5 and S-1.  Just so happens I also have a herniated disk right there and on the same side the pain is on.  The evidence seems to point to that herniated disk.  I also have that slipped disk and my spine is offset slightly just above that, but I have no pain I can associate with that.  The L4 nerve, the one that exits between L-4 and L-5, runs down your leg also, but in different areas.  I have no pain in those areas and no significant back pain.

Back surgery is usually  a last resort.  I’ve tried exercise, chiropractic care, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy and a cortisone shot to help that leg pain and none worked.  Surgery makes sense, especially because the surgery for the herniated disk is fairly straight forward.  Spinal fusion is not so straight forward and I’ve never tried to fix the problem, a problem I wasn’t even aware of before the surgeon took an x-ray to help him with my herniated disk surgery, with non-surgical methods.  I haven’t done specific exercises, lost weight or done any physical therapy, decompression, etc.

I should though.  Without specific pain and without any non-surgical treatment for the slipped disk and offset vertebrae, I can’t see doing something so invasive and recovery intensive.  If I had debilitating pain from that problem, even then I’d try non-surgical techniques first.  Spinal fusion is serious business and can cause other problems.  The failure rate is relatively high.  I’m 46 and I have a lot of time left to live and do damage the surrounding joints that would have to work harder to make up for the fused joint.  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life climbing up my spine with fusions or cause a new problem to fix something that really isn’t a problem.

I’ve contacted my surgeon and I’m waiting hear back.  I’m hoping they will go along with my wishes and see my logic.  If not, I’ll find another surgeon.  I would have to hear a lot to change my mind.  People, maybe even you, live with slipped disks, compressed disks, herniated disks, etc. without any symptoms or with manageable symptoms.  I’d rather lose weight (4.6 lbs so far), do physical therapy, even take mild painkillers than spend 12 months in pain and recovery.  I’m young and I’d rather be out doing stuff.

So, that’s the latest update.  I’ll post again after I discuss this with my surgeon, hopefully today or Monday, and see what’s what.  Oh, by the way, if my medical terminology is off, please excuse me.

Another Side of Retirement: Surgery

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As many of you know, retirement isn’t all fun and games.  I’ve blogged several times about the fact that while retirement is great, it’s still real life with real problems and real obstacles.  One of those obstacles is often health.  We all have “degenerative life disease” (you’ll see where that comes from in a minute).  We are all breaking down, some faster than others, on an inevitable path to the grave.  Fun, right?  But we live in an amazing time when medical care can extend not only our life, but our active, productive life.

That’s where this post, and likely most of my posts for the next few months, comes in.  As I alluded to in my last post and I’ve been discussing over on my other blog, Fly Fish Nevada, I have back issues and will be having surgery next month.  I know surgery is one of the more “popular” activities in retirement.  My mom had her knee replaced last year.  A blogger I follow had both of his done earlier this year.  Lots of retired folks, and therefore usually older too, have health issues that require surgery.

My intent is to write about mine, both prior and after, as a resource for others.  My condition is very common.  In fact, degenerative disk disease (DDD) affects just about every human on earth.  The term is a bit of a misnomer.  Degenerative refers to the fact that disks in the spinal cord degenerate over time naturally.  Disease makes it sound like it is both acquired some how and curable.  DDD is just the natural aging of your disks, which have no blood supply.  They thin, compress, herniate, whatever.  It’s called getting old.

That’s where I came up with degenerative life disease.  We all break down over time and will eventually die.  It’s natural and not a disease, though a disease might be what finally gets you.  Most people have DDD but not all are symptomatic.  Some people’s disks just break down in a way that doesn’t pinch nerves or cause vertebrae to become damaged.  I am not one of those people.

I have two problems.  One, I have a herniated disk between L-5 and S-1 (look it up) that is putting pressure on my sciatic nerve and sending pain down my leg, causing it to burn and tingle and sometimes makes my leg feel weak.  Two, I have a slipped disk between L-4 and L-5 causing L-4 to nearly slide of the top of my L-5 vertebra.  That’s doesn’t cause me pain…yet.  But it does cause my spinal cord to compress and my spine might collapse.  OK, not really, but it is highly unstable and could become much worse.

Next time, I’ll describe the procedures to fix all this and what I’m doing to prepare.  They are pretty cool, but the recovery, full recovery, can take six months.  However, if that means I can get out fishing, hiking and generally attempting to do further damage to my body (just kidding…sort of) it will all be worth it.  Stay tuned.

Downsizing the Fleet – Part III

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My ex-travel trailer. That’s another almost $200 in my pocket every month!

I’ve been attempting to declutter my life for the last year or so.  One of the major areas I focused on was vehicles.  Not just cars, but everything with wheels and/or an engine.  Why?  Partly because I wasn’t using the stuff, even after I retired I wasn’t using the stuff, and partly because most of it is more trouble than it’s worth (you can read parts one and two here and here).  I’m reminded of a line from the song “Between Angels and Insects” by Papa Roach, “The things you own, own you.”  Yes, I listen to that kind of music.

The entire song is about how we pursue money at the expense of other probably more important things.  It’s an angry song, just the kind I like, but worth a listen.  The line above, “The things you own, own you,” is true in many ways.  My vehicles were like that. More

Bump in the Road

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This has nothing to do with the post, but it’s pretty isn’t it? McLeod Lake above Mammoth Lakes, CA with the Sierra Crest in the background.

My wife had her gall bladder out a couple of weeks ago.  The week before that was spent at urgent care as her symptoms progressed.  As you might expect, my focus has been elsewhere.  She’s recovering and doing well.  Still tired and in some pain, but on the road to a full recovery.  It reminds me how precious not only life is, but the good times in life.  We’ve had a lot of bad times as of late and when things do manage to go smoothly, I try to appreciate it.

I had 10 inches of colon out 5 years ago.  Things went well for a while, but then almost three years ago our washing machine flooded our house.  Not the end of the world, but not exactly good times.  The contractor dragged his feet and we ended up three months later spending Christmas in an unfinished house.  Considering my house was built in 5 months, that seemed a little excessive for flooring and paint. More

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