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Should I Have Back Surgery?

I find myself at a crossroads.

I usually try to keep things upbeat when I write, but life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. I have serious spine issues. I’m barely into my forties and I have the spine of an octogenarian. I don’t let it keep my spirits down, but sometimes it does keep me immobile. I’ve been in pain management for a year with no success, and today I went to Medical City Dallas for an MRI and a cat scan to check out some further issues and consider whether surgery has any chance of helping me.

It all started about five years ago, with a fluke moment where I bent to pick up my five year old while we were out on a hike, geocaching. If you aren’t aware, geocaching is a world wide game where people hide small containers all around the world and with an app, you navigate to those containers. Once you find one, you open it up, sign the log, and then you can take or leave a token behind of some kind for another. That day, we were climbing an evergreen to find a teeny tiny container hiding inside and I noticed that The Baby was too close to the street. I reached down to grab her and felt something give.

The pain started as no big deal but got worse throughout the day. After a few weeks, I couldn’t get through the day without taking maximum doses of ibuprofen. I couldn’t perform downward dog in yoga or perform even a single lunge. The first sets of images showed a herniated disk and some disk degeneration, so they sent me to get an MRI. the MRI showed an 11 degree scoliosis – mild – multiple degenerated discs and multiple herniated discs, one of them right on a nerve. They also diagnosed a hemangioma (tangled cluster of veins) and arthritis advanced enough to cause some arthritic bone spurs. Keep in mind I was only 36 years old at this time. Basically I had all the things wrong with my back, and the rest of my life to live. How could I cope with this?

Back surgery is often risky and can sometimes cause more pain than it helps. I did physical therapy, and other than super strong core and abs that I greatly appreciated it didn’t change any of the pain. Next I tried asking for stronger medicines. Remember, we Americans are in an opioid crisis so getting opioid prescriptions is rare, so we try other things. I tried switching to Aleve from Advil. When that failed, we tried tramadol. When that failed, we tried an opiate patch that contains a pleasure blocker so you can get the pain relief without the “high” and reduce the risk of dependency. Still, it didn’t move the needle. After a year of ever increasing doses and supplements of Tramadol and daily maximum doses of ibuprofen, my general doctor has encouraged me to try surgery to save my kidneys from a lifetime of abuse. The doctor asked me for a CT scan and said I’d likely be a candidate for disc replacement.

Through this I’ve also attended a year of therapy to help deal with the emotional stress and twenty pound weight game that has come with the inability to continue what was once a rigorous and quite enjoyable workout schedule. Yes, I was one of those people that loved working out! I still do, I just can’t do much more than walk, and even then no more than just a couple of miles.

Anyway, I’m waiting the results of the latest MRI and hoping with all my heart that someone will be able to help me. Listening to the Dr. Death podcast scared me enough to wait five years even for a consult. Fortunately, I have good doctors who assure me that the surgeon I’ve been referred to is someone they would choose to work on their own spine.

I’ve got to choose between the devil I know and the devil I don’t. My next appointment will open some of my options, and I’ll likely sort them out here. I invite any feedback on experiences with back surgery – good and bad!

Update #1 – No surgery yet

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