Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back Issues

I am not one to really complain about pain.   I have a crazy high pain tolerance.   So high, I had a cavity filled without any numbing agents or drugs.     My tolerance for pain has a few negatives:
  • I get annoyed when people are constantly bitching about being in pain or something hurting - because I just wish they would deal with it like I do (I do know that everyone has different thresholds)
  • I feel like a baby when I do finally bitch about something because I have it so well ingrained in me to just deal with pain.
  • Because my tolerance is so high, I sometimes ignore things that are really an issue because they don't bother me all that much.   Probably ignoring them until its too late.
A good example of the last item is my back.    Back in November 2005, when I was still living in DC, I had a lot of pain and numbness going on between my back and legs - and I just ignored it, until one day I realized my leg was really numb and I had to drive home to Philly that night for Thanksgiving.   I called the doctor and he got me in, and the way I described it, he thought it was just a pinched nerve, but since I had a long drive ahead of me, he wanted to send me to a neurologist, and was able to get me an appt for that day (it was the day before Thanksgiving).   So I went to the neuro and he was agreeing that it was just a pinched nerve and gave me some muscle relaxers and set up an appt for me to come back in a few weeks.   I came back, and thought it was getting better, but then it got worse a couple days before going to the doctor, so he figured I reaggravated it and told me to take it easy and come back in a few weeks.   I came back and it wasn't getting any better - just a hell of a lot worse.  

By this point I would be in crazy amounts of pain at night and in the morning.   At night I would toss and turn until I found a position that was the least uncomfortable and didn't send sharp pains down my legs.   In the morning, I would have to lie down on my back every few minutes for the back pain to subside - to the point that I would get out of the shower and lie down on the bathroom floor before I could take the 5 steps to my bedroom, and then I would get into my bedroom and lie down on the floor before starting the long process of getting dressed with constant interruptions of lying down.    I had a HELL of a time getting socks and stockings on because it was way to painful to put my arms past my knees at that hour.   I felt like I was an old lady or something.    Then Id get on the shuttle to the metro and on the metro and Id flip back and forth between sitting or standing being better - and I had horrible pains written across my face it was so bad.

So at my next appt the doc finally said I should get an MRI, but then I couldn't get back in to see him for another month to see the MRI, so I found a new doc that I could get an appt with right away.    As soon as he put the screens up - he scared me shitless.   He had no clue how I was even standing/sitting in front of him.   I had 2 fully herniated discs and 1 partially herniated disc as well as a few other issues going on in my back including spinal stenosis.   He said I needed to have surgery right away.   I said thanks, I just want to get a second opinion - which offended him greatly. 

He did give me a 1-week steroid pack to help reduce the inflammation and relieve the pain - which I have to say was the best thing any of the doctors ever did.   It worked!  But I still took the diagnosis seriously and went to get a second opinion from my mom's doctor in Philly.   I knew that she usually had to wait a month or so to get an appt with him, so I was prepared.    The Philly doc wanted to get the doctors notes and scans from the DC doc before seeing me to make sure that I really need to see a Neuro and not an Ortho doc or soemthing.   Long story short, during this time I found out that the doc who was offended that I would get a second opinion was a complete ASS, but I finally got the information needed to the Philly doc - and the nurse called me that day (a Friday) and asked if I could come in on Monday.   Uh-oh!   A typical one month wait and they want to see me the next business day!   Even my mom was shocked and concerned.

So I went to see the doc, and he said that its great that the steroid pack was working and that I was feeling better, but that yes, I really do need to have surgery.   He also said that based on the fact that I had no trauma to cause this and my mom's back history, although "they" say this is not genetic, he does feel that this is genetic (more issues Adam and I can worry about passing on to our kids).

With that I was back to square one, but I at least knew what my issues were.   I was living in DC, but no longer had a doctor in the area to do the surgery, so now I needed to find a new doc.    I was able to get recommendations from a co-worker at the time, and found a new doc with good bedside manner.    Not only did he have good bedside manner - he wasn't in a rush to get me on to the operating table.    He agreed with the Philly doc that based on my scans I absolutely needed to have surgery.  BUT, the 1-wk steroid pack worked and Im not in pain, and therefore he was in no rush to get someone feeling good into surgery.   He had another MRI done, but there wasn't any change in the scans, and he felt strongly about not operating on me if I was feeling good.   Therefore he weened me back into an exercise routine, and I continued to go pain free, so after about 6 months, I stopped going to the doctor.   Since then, I have stayed consistent with my exercise and kept the pain away.   I usually find that when I get lazy, thats when my back starts to flare up.

Well at least that was the case until 6 months ago or so.   Around that time, I started to realized I would have flare ups with my back more often - and they were BAD.   They also happened to correlate with something else that would occur at that time of the month.   And then after some heat, drugs and keeping exercise to a minimum, the flare up would die down at the same time that my "something else" died down as well.   Each month I think about going back to a neuro - and now I'm back in Philly, so I could go to my moms doc.   But the flare up eventually dies down - and the last thing I want is to have back surgery.   But now I also think about the fact that Adam and I want to start to grow our family in a non-fur-creature way, and how will that affect these back flare-ups?   Will it be a 9-month long back flare up?   I have a high tolerance, but I have trouble handling 2-3 days of it some months, I don't think I could possibly survive 9 months of it....

But surgery usually isn't the answer.   A lot of people who have back surgery end up continuing to have back pain - and in all honesty the pain Ive been getting now is back pain, not sciatica or the other pains that came along with the herniated discs.   Its pain that (I feel) is due to weak back muscles.

P.S. Although my back is usually better, I still did wait too long with my back issues.   I have a permanent "scar" from my sciatica - a numbness in parts of my both legs - so although my back is much better I really did ignore the issue until it was too late

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