I’ve just had my 3rd back operation in 3 years. I first injured my back, while I was making a frame, leaning over a table for a week, in a really bad position. I had a bulging disc, that a little while later became herniated. Since then, I’ve tried almost all there is to try: physio, acupuncture, osteopathy, medication, yoga, a chiropractor, Alexander technique, Reiki, meditation, a pain management program, epidural injections, a denervation, and finally… surgery. Impatient as I was, and desperate to get back to my career, I decided, after 2 years of trying everything else, to have back surgery. Back then, I didn’t realize how unpredictable back surgery is. I had no idea. I went to 4 different surgeons, finally finding one who seemed sympathetic enough to offer me an operation. The only problem was, he made me choose between 2 different operations: a disc replacement and a decompression (sometimes called discectomy). As I realize in hindsight, a good surgeon will not make the patient choose between operations; he or she will give an opinion about the best course of action and never, never offer an operation that he or she doesn’t think will help the patient. I opted for the decompression, as it sounded easier, but it turned out to be the wrong choice. The surgeon made a damaged disc even more damaged, by cutting into it and removing even more disc material. After the operation, I couldn’t sit, stand or walk without pain, which increased the longer I put any pressure on it. After another 2 years of trying a myriad of other options, I finally went under the knife again; this time, a double fusion of L4/5 and L5/S1. As my fusion strengthened, my pain just got worse. I was sent to a psychiatrist, to see if the pain was in my head. The psychiatrist said I was clinically depressed because of my situation, but that this was a reasonable response to not being able to work, see friends, or go outside my flat. I had to lie down on the floor of the psychiatrist’s office, as by this point I couldn’t sit or stand for more than 2-3 minutes at a time. Soon after this, my surgeon discovered that the head of one of the screws that he’d used in the fusion operation was hitting my iliac bone. So he suggested another operation to remove the screw, which I had 3 weeks ago. While he was operating, the surgeon discovered an indentation in the bone and lots of scar tissue and inflammatory tissue around the area. He removed the culprit screw, as well as 2 other screws and the rod that held them all together. Now I am waiting for the pain to resolve, but finding it extremely frustrating, as the pain is still there, and of course, worse than usual, due to the operation.
During my many explorations of ways to help my pain, I came across many pain consultants, including pain physios and pain psychologists. Many of them thought that I had ‘chronic pain’ which is when your body keeps sending pain signals even after the thing that has caused the pain has disappeared. The nerves become over-sensitized and can sometimes send signals to the brain when they shouldn’t, and even just a little pressure can be read by the brain as a pain signal. When I went on the pain management program, the people running it kept trying to convince me I had chronic pain, but I didn’t believe them; I thought my pain was from something actually wrong. After the fusion, I had almost come to believe that they had been right all along. But after the screw diagnosis, I was confused: perhaps there actually was a ‘real’ cause for my pain all along? I honestly don’t know anymore. For me, the pain is the same as it was ever since the discogram I had in January 2011, before the fusion. This pain never left. It’s possible there have been new things causing the pain, but the pain signals are travelling down the same pathways as before, therefore feel the same. I don’t know. All I know is that it still hurts and I am still trapped at home, unable to go out, and dependent on others to get my shopping, and cook meals. My mental state is not good, after being in pain for so long, and I find it hard to feel hopeful, while I see no change, as of yet.
I thought it might be a good idea to start a blog about my coping strategies and about my thoughts and feelings, while going through this, in the hope of helping someone else out there in a similar predicament. Stuck at home, in constant pain, mostly isolated from others and not sure when the pain will cease. This is a hard thing to go through! There must be ways of coping that I haven’t thought of, or ways to connect with others that don’t involve making my pain worse (ie going out). Perhaps between us, we can come up with a toolkit for survival in such a situation. Please feel free to post, with your own stories, or ideas or suggestions.