I’ve Made a Decision About my Back Surgery

7 Comments

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.

Advertisements

Another Side of Retirement: Surgery

4 Comments

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.

Bump in the Road

6 Comments

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

%d bloggers like this: