Tag Archives: spinal fusion

Place Generic Title Here

I’ve often remarked on these pages that a good title will write a good blog.  The both of you, my loyal readers, know this to be true.  The rest of you who swing through to gaze upon the wreckage like so many standers-by drawn to a train crash will also note the lack of many decent titles.

Tonight I want to write.

I want to write for the joy of writing.

I just finished watching a movie.  It was a silly flick starring Kevin James.  In it he plays a writer.  Actually he plays an actuary who is also working on a novel.  I mention that because my late father was an actuary.

A note about that…  Growing up, none of us knew how to answer the question our friends would inevitably ask.  “What does your dad do?”  I remember asking the old man once.  I think I was six.  “Daddy, what do you do?”  Reaching deep into his brain he quickly shot back, without raising his eyes from behind the Wall Street Journal, “Well son, an actuary is the man who brings a bomb on a plane.  Because while the chances of there being one bomb on a plane are negligible, the probability of there being two bombs on a plane are infinitesimal.”

A few years later I had cause to ask him again.  I believe I was 11.  “Dad, what’s an actuary?”  Releasing a puff of smoke from the pipe clenched between his teeth he said: “Well my boy, an actuary is place where they bury dead actors.

Finally when I was sixteen I asked yet again.  “Father, what exactly is an actuary?”  Putting the remote down for a brief moment while switching between Jeopardy! and Crossfire he rejoined: “An actuary, lad, is the guy who uses the last urinal in the men’s room because he knows it cuts in half the statistical likelihood of getting his shoes pissed on.”

And I finally understood.

I went back to all my friends and said: “He does something with math.”

In the movie, James’ character, working on a novel, remarks that he writes to escape life.

Not me.  I write to document life.  I sometimes feel as though if I didn’t write down some of the crazy things that have happened to me no one, not even I, would believe them.  So what crazy things have happened to me lately?

I went out to visit the school where I am soon to begin work as an assistant principal.  I met with my spine surgeon and discovered that I’m in pretty amazing shape.  My kids appeared in a couple of short plays at their music school.

None of these things are amazing by themselves.  Take the job, for instance.  Lots of people start new jobs and lots of people work in school administration.  But standing in my new office the other day looking around, being called into meetings with the principal to decide important matters…  A few short months ago I really would not have believed this is where I’d be.  In the back of my mind I had a goal that had almost vanished.  I wanted to be an administrator before I hit 40.  Here I am.  I still can’t believe it.

So I’m cheating. This spine is strong because it’s been fused.

Sitting in the office with the doctor today and looking at the CT scan of my spine all brightly lit up from the contrasting dye I was convinced he was going to tell me I had some kind of condition, maybe even a spinal tumor.  Instead he said: “Both fusion are holding great and the disc height at the level above is incredible.  Your spine is strong.”  He even tossed in “In fact, you’re looking really good.  What are you doing?”  Hear that?  My spine is strong!  And I’m looking good.  Must be doing something decent.

That’s my girl playing the empress (she of the “new clothes”)

OK, with those two plays…  Nothing really remarkable here except that my babies are growing up.  There was a time not long ago when I would hold them and read to them and take care of them.  Now they’re entertaining me.  They’re memorizing lines, looking so grown-up in character on a stage.  How did that happen?

So the title of this post is so generic I didn’t even have to write it.

Nothing amazing happening here except life.

And life is pretty damn awesome.


When Good Friday Eclipses Easter

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.



Fit in 2016?

Thinking about my musings on resolutions yesterday…

About a month ago I kind of gave up put aside my fitness regimen for a little while.  Christmas was going to be an unconquerable foe for me.  I could have exercised more will power but I didn’t.

What did I stop doing?  I stopped running.  Stopped working out.  Stopped caring.  At least for a little while… and I’m OK with that.  I feel like I needed the break psychologically.  I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere, lost my motivation.  I was always fearful that I wasn’t getting this whole thing “right” in the first place and I need the encouragement of experienced pros to fuel me along.

Did this move make sense for me?  Well…

It’s January.  I can see the results of my work-stoppage.

Who knew I could put on weight so quickly?  I’m feeling it, too.  I didn’t realize I had developed as much muscle mass and tone as I had until it all but vanished seemingly overnight.  Oh, and guess who’s got a bit of a gut now?  Yeah, I put on a suit this morning for work.  It doesn’t fit like it did three weeks ago.

My point in writing this?  I toyed with the idea of setting a realistic goal for the new year regarding all of this.  NOT a resolution.  Part of me wants to go big.  In 12 months could I run a half-marathon?  Part of me wants to go laissez-faire.  In 12 months could I walk a half-marathon?

I’m sure there are other middle-aged men out there who’ve experienced the same sense as me.  I’m almost 40, never got serious about fitness until the past six months, was doing sort of OK, accepting that I’ll never have the cover model body, want to keep going, hit a wall, lost motivation, doesn’t want to give up or be a loser at this, can’t decide how to proceed.

Anyone have any thoughts?

I had a trainer who provided me with more help than anyone every has in this area and I will always be most grateful to him.  But I can’t keep taking up his time when I can’t even figure out what I’m doing.  He’s solid in that he’s been doing this so long it truly is a habit he cannot break.  He will run 7 miles every Friday no matter the weather just because he always does.  I think he’d tell me to keep at it, though I’m not sure he truly appreciates what it’s like for guys like me (average, ordinary human beings).  And I feel like there are others who would say “life is short, enjoy it, stop running, and spend time with your kids.”  But I know that I was doing this FOR my kids.  I still have to tip the scales in the direction of doing something because I CANNOT allow my spine to fall apart.

Ah, self doubt…  I’ sure I’ll figure something out.

OK, you can go back to your lives.

Reflections on Running

I have written before about my two attempts at running. Nothing spectacular and, you see, nothing really to it. I tried getting into running and failed. True, at the time (as now) I could the humor in the situation – I believe my words were “twenty feet out from the driveway and my left lung collapsed”. But abject failures indeed were these efforts. 

And I have often almost cared enough to ask myself why. You see I don’t like to fail. In fact, I fear failure so much that I simply do not attempt things I know I cannot master. Really I don’t like to try things in which I won’t excel. 

I think the reasons for my failures lie in the reasons why I was running in the first place. To be clear I’m talking about actual running here. The first time it was to have something over which to bond with my brother. The second time it was to impress a friend of mine (and because he’s pretty cool and I like spending time with him and he’s a runner). But these are not good enough reasons to sustain a habit of running. Let’s face it. Running sucks. I hear it releases all kinds of magical LSD-like chemicals in the bloodstream and people who run have mystical experiences where they get invited to raves with dead celebrities and all. But I have my doubts. 

And now once again I am running. So what’s changed?


A year and a half ago I had my second spinal fusion. They say I can probably hold out another ten years before I find myself in the same place. This time, that’s not good enough. I never considered myself in bad shape but I knew the time had come to tackle getting in great shape now. So two months ago, with nothing much to hold me back (I’m a teacher and it was summer) I took the training advice of that cool friend I mentioned and decided to hunker down. 

OK so here’s the problem. This guy has been in phenomenal shape since his teenage years. Me? Not so much. I played tennis for a while as a youngster and lifted weights (without much guidance) for a while as an adult but had no idea what I was doing. He set me up with a routine and his patience with me (and time spent on me) have been invaluable. And thanks to a gift I have called determination I have stuck with a grueling regimen. To my surprise when this guy saw me after a month in his plan he remarked that I was looking great. Push ups, box jumps, and some sadistic thing called a burpee all played into this routine. My goal is to strengthen my core and protect the spine. 

One day a few weeks ago this guy mentioned casually how his own fitness goals have changed over the years. “I’ve had the six pack and I’m not playing that game anymore.”  Really? What’d you do with it? Is it in your closet ’cause I’ll take it off your hands if you’re not using it. See, as much as I desperately need to do this for my health I’m not going to lie and say that the coincidental side effect of looking like a rock star aren’t appealing.

But in all seriousness I’m starting to see some improvement. Parts of me are getting pretty toned while others are shrinking. It’s all good. And seeing the results definitely helps keep me motivated. 

So running…

Something I’ve noticed is that having a fitness goal has been good for me in other ways. It is taken my mind somewhat off of a stressful job situation and other small matters like infertility. I have been focused on taking care of myself. So, looking back on these past failures, I decided to set another goal. I want to be able to run 2 miles. I know to serious runners that goal sounds ridiculous. But I’m an ambler and a smoker (another goal) and I have to correct for those failures. And again, thanks to his patients and expertise, I have been able to start toward that goal. Baby steps.

I’ve been running with him several times now. Each time has been for no more than 15 minutes broken into sets of 30 seconds running and 12 seconds walking. I’m trying not to think about what my dog-like painting makes me look like on the track. And he’s been good about not sprinting too far past me or running so many extra laps that I’ve lost count. In the end though, I must let go of my innate desire to see immediate results and accept a slower timeline, trusting that results will come.

In the meantime, The original routine he gave me is going well. True, there was one humiliating moment yesterday. I have a tendency sometimes to think that I’m doing really well simply because I can do something better today than I could yesterday. The two of us found ourselves in the fitness center at work doing pull ups. Turns out, my form might be severely impaired. He corrected me as I hoped that he would. Hell, if he doesn’t give me honest feedback I will never know that I’m not doing it right. But to keep things balanced, I could not do a single pull up one month ago. And did I mention the whole double spinal fusion thing? I know, I hate excuses too. So I won’t use any.

All in all, I write this tonight to take stock of where I have been, where I am now, and where I hope to be in the near future. But I also write this as a way of saying thank you to my friend. I always knew that if I had a good personal trainer I could make an honest go of getting in shape. I’ll just put this out there, this guy’s the best.

Now I’m off to see if I can find that missing six pack. 

Running Redux

Not the actual track we ran on but you get the picture. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Not the actual track we ran on but you get the picture.
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Several years ago I blogged about my experience of running.  I was not being chased by anyone or anything.  No, my older brother had come to spend an extended stay with us in our home in Northern Virginia and I had foolishly mentioned to him that I would like to go running with him.  You see, he’s a marathon runner among other things and I am self-obsessed.  That’s a nice way of saying that ever since I was a teenager I have been trying to find the magic secret to getting myself in shape.  Never had a whole lot of luck.  So this time, I thought, why not try running.  Perhaps it will help me kick my metabolism into gear and I’ll start burning body fat quicker.  Because that’s the only thing missing from the Adonis equation, right?  Well, big brother kicked my ass that night.  My spleen exploded, my heart stopped functioning, and I wet myself.  And this was all before I had reached the end of the driveway on our way out.  I think we did two miles and I could tell he was just being kind when he said “Hey man, that’s cool.  You did good!  I’m just gonna’ go out and run another 25 miles but you go shower and all…”  By the way, any sentence that starts with “hey man” is always bad news.

Tonight, a mere five years later, I went running again.

What’s going on this time, you ask?  Let me clue you in.  I have a friend (there’s a shocker), a coworker with whom I became close over the past year since we’ve worked together.  From the get-go I was happy to have met the guy because I realized we had so much in common.  On top of all that, he’s the only other man in my department at work so even if we hated each other we’d have to bond somehow.  But, I actually like the guy.  Of course, I came to find out recently that he actually didn’t think we had much in common.  This explains the bizarre faces he’d make when I’d drop by his classroom and start to chat up a recent movie or fungal infection.  It had nothing to do with the fact that he was teaching Scripture to high school freshmen.  Anyway, isn’t that what guys talk about?  movies and jock itch?  What do I know?  I grew up with 8 sisters.  Wanna’ talk about absorbency; I’m your guy.  I didn’t just write that, did I?

About the time we met I had mentioned to him about how I was trying to get back in shape.  Here’s a glimpse at my inner-life for you.  I’m ALWAYS trying to get back in shape.  He mentioned that he was a personal trainer in college so I asked if he wouldn’t mind training me.  His response, somewhat muddled, indicated that he’d rather not take on the challenge.  “The thing is,” he said cryptically, “I don’t want to.”  Actually it was something more like “I have to wash my hair that year.”  Somewhat dejected but not deterred I turned to drink.  Yes, gin makes everything better and who are you to judge me?!

And then the chronic and debilitating spinal pain and sciatica I had been suffering for three years intensified.  Come the end of February, I was scheduled for immediate surgery and like that I was out of commission for the next five months.

Statue of my friend from the Athens Museum of Bizarre Art (to scale). Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Statue of my friend from the Athens Museum of Bizarre Art (to scale).
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

By September we were back at work and this friend of mine was strutting the halls, puffed out chest, and looking like he’d lost quite a few pounds.  “What’s your secret?” I asked.  Turns out he had simply changed his diet and kicked up his running routine.  There it is again.  Running.  I still don’t get it but if it does the trick (as it clearly had for him) then it’s worth a shot… again.  Completely ignoring the fact that he would not train me a year ago I asked if I could go running with him some night.  Sadly, he agreed.  And he kept me to it.  Tried to tell him I had a colonoscopy scheduled for tonight (a complete fabrication as I’m sure they’d do those in the morning) but he wouldn’t let me out of the deal.

After work I came home and got changed.  Gone was the shirt and tie, the tweed vest, the suit pants.  In their place were Under Armour running shorts and a gray, slightly oversized tee shirt.  Hey, if I’m going to look like a fool at least I’m going to look like a million bucks doing it.  I met him at the track of a local high school down the street from his house and we began by warming up.  I had already committed to swallowing my pride.  “Just push through,” I told myself.  “In no time you’ll be able to see your abs again.”  And then I remembered that I have never seen my abs.  My friend and I walked the quarter-mile track and then he stopped.  He began to grab his right leg behind his back and stand there, perfectly balanced.  “Stretching,” he said.  I grabbed my right leg behind my back and hopped like a scalded dog for about five seconds before falling on my face.  Then he moved on to some kind of heel stretch.  “Are we going to be using our heels a lot?” I asked.  I guess that was a dumb question in hindsight.

Moments later he simply said “Let’s hit it” and off we went.  For fun he had brought his six year-old son and four year-old daughter along.  Turns out that everyone’s athletic in his house.  I thought I was maintaining a good pace until the little ones were literally running circles around me and I was only a few yards down the track.  Meanwhile their daddy had left me in the dust, completed several laps, and was now doing some kind of weighted pull-up off the goal post at the end of the field.  This was humiliating.  And I know humiliation.  I helped produce the only reality show in the early 2000’s that DIDN’T make it through a full season, for God’s sake.

In the end, we walked back to my car.  “I’m really sorry,” I said, “I wanted to run the two miles you suggested but I had to quit after one.”  I actually did feel bad about this.  Probably slowed him down and threw off his routine and I no longer wonder why he didn’t want to train me in the first place.  He tried to be polite and give the old “Hey man, don’t worry.  It’s your first time.”  I’m hoping it’s not my last only because of how I hate to be defeated but I have a feeling it might be. I’ll have to begin the process of searching for some kind of magic elixir like meth to help with the body fat thing just so I can finally see myself as I want to (oh and be in good shape I think).  Will I ever be as good as this guy?  Doubtful.  But I was still somewhat joyful as I drove away…

Eight and a half months ago I could not walk.  Tonight, I ran a mile.  And that’s something to be proud of.

Getting Back in the Game

It’s time, friends.  Or, considering the original purpose of this blog, I should say “It’s time, kids…”

What time is it?

Go me!  It's been one hell of a five year run with this little hobby.

Go me! It’s been one hell of a five year run with this little hobby.

It’s time for me to resume my life.  Five months and two days ago I had my second spinal fusion surgery.  And for three years leading up to that I sought non-surgical alternatives that were ultimately not for me.  I mention that last part because during those three years, although I blogged someone routinely (at times very routinely) I was not the man I used to be.  In fact, I wasn’t really the man I wanted to be.  To be certain, though, I was not fully the man I was called to be.  That is, I am a servant of Christ, a husband, a father, a teacher, and last of all, a chronicler of all these things.

Well, last Thursday morning I was discharged from my physical therapy.  Although I still have some surgical follow-ups for the next few months I am by and large past the most intense parts of my recovery.  I feel better than ever, if not a whole lot weaker from the whole experience.  You know what that means?


Yay!  In fact, there is still some lingering muscle ache here and there but the debilitating sciatic pain that was killing me before is gone.  So, prompted by a congratulatory comment on my blog from WordPress, I am ready to get back to more regular posting.  You might recall that over the past three years there were moments when I posted that I was done or giving up or whatever.  Yeah, those days are over.  I can’t give this up.  It’s too much fun.  And now that I have my life back (and I do think, better than ever) it’s time to tell you all about it.

Posting every day?  Probably not.  But I will be checking out the daily post prompts from time to time and posting about them just for fun.

So, if you’re keeping score…  Surgery: over.  Recovery: pretty much a done deal.  Back to work?  Done.  Also, I’m getting back to the gym and this time with a professional bodybuilder as my trainer.  This should be plenty of grist for the writing mill.

Stay tuned and thank you all for your continued prayers.

I HATE Numbers

See that number, just mocking me?

See that number, just mocking me?

Fellow iPhone users know what I’m talking about.  Every app on my screen for which I’ve allowed “push notifications” seems to mock me on a constant basis with a bright red circle hovering over the app with a number in it.  The thing is, I hate numbers. Actually, I hate math. Numbers are kind of harmless. It’s kind of like how a person might hate watching Nascar but be OK to get behind the wheel of the family minivan. Still, I hate loose ends and seeing those numbers reminds me that something needs to be attended to.

Check out those times...  Up top shows you that it was already late-night, down below shows that I let the alarms go all day.

Check out those times… Up top shows you that it was already late-night, down below shows that I let the alarms go all day.

For the past few months I have been taking a variety of painkillers to manage the recovery from my spinal fusion. In order to keep them straight I’ve kept a constant reminder or two or three open on my phone’s “reminders” app. So if I took a Valium at 8AM I would instantly reset the clock for 2PM. over the past few weeks I’ve been stretching it. 3:00 would come and go. Then 4:00, 5:00, etc. ultimately though I’d feel an onset of pain and reset the clock again.
Today I followed the advice of that disgustingly saccharine Disney song that also seems to mock me daily. I simply “Let it go…” And by the grace of God I made it through the day for the first time in over a year without… Ready for this?… Anything!
Take that, math! I hate you!
Praised be to God!



Tiny Tim hated math too...

Tiny Tim hated math too…