Regular readers to this page know that I have a condition known as degenerative disc disease. This is sometimes called disc and joint disease or DJD. It was precipitated by a genetically inherited “bad back” on my mom’s side of the family (her brothers have both suffered similar fates) and a traumatic injury to my back when I was four years-old. The whole thing came to a head for the first time when I was 23 years-old and I had my first spinal fusion at the L5-S1 level. Fun. Thirteen years later I had another spinal fusion at L4-L5 (the adjacent level).
This pic is tired, I know. I’ve used it before but it shows the current state of my spine in case you didn’t know.
I had really hoped that I would be able to avoid another fusion (or at least the symptomatic back pain and debilitating sciatica for at least 5-10 years at the next level. So far, I think I’m doing well in that regard. I got more serious about my health than I ever have before. Hell, I started eating vegetables and lots of them. I took up running before realizing that it required one to run. The thing I’m proudest of, however, is that I got serious about getting jacked. I haven’t had the kind of success I had hope but I’ve done OK. You see, it’s important for me that I build up ever single muscle in my body in order to safeguard my spine. It’s not really a vanity thing – not really. Still who wouldn’t love being almost 40 and looking like one of the Jersey Shore crew on summer vacation? I won’t lie, that’s a cool prospect considering I looked far from that from the time I was about 15 until recently. But I stepped it up and looked into things I had never done before, all the while remembering the lessons learned from surgeries and physical therapy. In other words, I’ve been doing all of this safely. Currently I’m doing a program called Body Beast designed to bulk up. I figure the more muscle the better.
About a year ago I was at my standard weight, hovering around 200. I have a medium sized frame so that’s not impressive. But when I got serious-serious I dropped down to 173 with Insanity. I felt great knowing that I could complete something most men (including many athletic men) attempt and give up because it’s hard. I took heat for it, good natured I believed. Then I decided it was time to build up. I’m going back toward 200 but this time hard-core, solid muscle because I need it. I’m up around 187 after two months and again, I feel great. I’m enjoying seeing results (even if I’m the only one who sees them).
So why is God screwing with me?
Just when it seems I’m doing something good for myself, for my health, sacrificing time away from sleep or from my wife and kids to get in that workout I need to do I start to notice twinges of pain here and there.
About a year ago I began to experience what I knew was Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS. It’s not painful just uncomfortable. Fortunately it only hit me at night so my job and family life wasn’t affected. I looked it up and it seemed to be a common side-effect of spinal fusions at L4-S1. Then in the past few months (following around the time of my dad’s death) the symptoms morphed into painful leg cramps that strike in the middle of the night.
Time to see the surgeon.
I went for a visit to a man I trust with my life. Hey, I’ve never let anyone cut me before nor even put his hands inside my body. That’s how much I trust this guy. He’s Mayo Clinic trained.
I love his response after looking at my X-rays. “I can’t know what’s in the box until I open the box. But before I cut you let’s run some tests.”
I had a nerve conduction study first. This showed no nerve damage. Praised be God.
Then it was time for the Myelogram CT.
Me after my Myelogram. See, it’s not that bad. I’m smiling.
This past Thursday (Holy Thursday) I went to an imaging center and had a dye injected into my spinal column so images could be taken. The procedure is painful in itself. The after effects aren’t pleasant either. I went home and went on bed rest for 48 hours. My dear sister, an RN, came to town for an Easter visit and was put to work as my caretaker. This consisted in lying on the couch watching 85 episodes or the 1980’s-90’s crime documentary Unsolved Mysteries while drifting in and out of sleep.
On Good Friday I had an opportunity to unite real physical pain with the crucifixion of Our Lord. I was truly thankful.
Then came Holy Saturday. And… unfortunately it still felt like Good Friday. Throughout the day I tried to make myself believe that the pain was dissipating and I could do things like mow the lawn. I had been told that by 48 hours I’d be golden. On Saturday night my wife, kids, and I got dolled up and headed to the Easter vigil – a tradition for us. Unfortunately I made it into the first of seven readings before the splitting headache got the best of me and we had to leave. A consult with the surgeon’s office on a Saturday night uncovered that my puncture wound from the Myelogram hadn’t healed and I was leaking spinal fluid into my body, thus causing a spinal headache. He called in an awesome script and after more rest I felt better.
Here’s the thing. For the Christian the pain of loss and agony of death on Good Friday makes sense because of the promise of resurrection and joy of a new life and a glorious body on Easter Sunday. Tomorrow I’m going in to have something called a blood patch performed. They’ll take blood from my arm and inject it into the puncture wound to clot and stop the leaking of fluid.
I think I can take it that my Easter is coming a bit later? That’s OK because I know myself and I know I deserve a bit of a longer Good Friday.
I’m writing all of this because I’ve received comments over the years from people who’s been faced with spinal problems and have apparently been helped by reading about someone else’s experience. I’m also writing to ask prayers. Pray the procedure goes well. It’s not a big deal. But also pray I can get back to my Body Beast. LOL. I’ve only got five more weeks until I look like Charles Atlas (in my mind) and I am pumped about that. Of course, since it’s just me who’ll notice the difference I suppose I can convince myself I look that good now. Yeah… that’s it! It’s an Easter miracle!
Happy Easter to all of you reading this! In the Catholic liturgical calendar, Easter lasts for seven weeks so enjoy every minute of it. Remember the Lord is risen indeed. This isn’t a spiritual resurrection. He conquered death, destroyed that bastard. He is all-powerful and lives and reigns forever and ever for you and me.