Bad Back Blues
Back pain is boring, except when it's your back that's in pain .
I apologize to you, my Snarky Senior fans. I haven’t posted anything here for quite a while. This is not because I’ve given up writing, but because I have an actual paying job doing a weekly newsletter for a website called Life Experienced. You are all invited to follow me over there. Sign up for their newsletter. It’s a lot less snarky than this one, but still fun.
To fill you in my life: It sucks. The spinal stenosis that I’ve had for 20 years got suddenly worse and I wound up in nasty pain. The kind of pain that shoots down the back of your legs and makes you want to keel over. I hobble around with a cane and/or a walker but it still hurts. Sitting is OK, but it doesn’t do the rest of my body any good. I can still swim which is a blessing.
Back pain is boring. It’s one of those ubiquitious ailments that no one gives a lot of thought to—until they get it. Then they never want to shut up about it. I haven’t been suffering silently, despite being raised by two stoic parents who expected me to suck it up when it hurt. I just want to complain endlessly but since I know how obnoxious that is, I try to shut up and smile. Until I have to get up to go to the bathroom. Then I allow myself a grimace or two.
I have been consulting the medical profession which has limited remedies for this common indignity of aging.
First, I went for two epidural steroid injections. I’d heard about epidurals helping women during childbirth and this pain wasn’t anywhere near as bad as that so I figured it had to help. The problem was that the lidocaine they gave me to dull the pain of the injection only worked for 24 hours—long enough to give birth. Not having pain for an entire day after the shot was a blessed relief, but the steroids never kicked in.
During the shot, the doc mentioned that he did some kind of electrical spinal stimulation implant. It involved implanting a gadget that you operated with a remote control when you were in pain—giving yourself a zap when needed. The problem was no one knew in advance who it would work on. First, they do a trial implant, where the gadget that delivers the electricity remains outside your body while you try it out. If it works, they implant it and you walk around with a remote control to press when in pain. This all sounded somewhat Dr. Frankenstein-ish. I could envision my hair standing on end when I pressed the button. And it also involved surgery—which could cause problems like infection. Plus the permanent implant wasn’t guaranteed to work even if the trial implant did. And I tend to lose remote controls. Would I wind up groaning in agony while I rummaged around in the dumpster that is my purse?
So I put myself on the rack—literally. I went to a chiropractor who put me in traction and tried to stretch me to decompress my spine. It hurt like hell and left me in more pain, but I liked the chiropractor so much that I was ready to do more sessions because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He was a sweet young man from Jamaica, with a lilting accent who seemed to desperately want to help me. He even lowered his rate because I was a “nice lady.” He was fascinated by my being a writer and probably wanted me to say something nice about his practice, which I wish I could do. But I realized that being tortured to cure torture wasn’t a great solution.
I also tried physical therapy with a lovely woman who came to my home to put me through my paces. I enjoyed her visits, especially when she “stretched” me which was like a massage. Seeing her raised my spirits, but they didn’t do a thing for the pain.
Everyone has a cure they want me to try. Acupuncture? I’ve tried that in the past and, believe it or not, I got nauseous every time and it didn’t give me any pain relief. CBD oil? Expensive and not covered by Medicare. Medical marijuana? I never liked smoking pot though I did it in college to be one of the cool kids. Ibuprofen and Tylenol? They barely touch the pain and make me sleepy. Opioids? Not an option anymore due to massive pharmaceutical malfeasance.
The reality is I don’t have the energy or money or emotional bandwidth to try every alternative cure in the bad back arsenal, and there are a hell of a lot of them. So, I’m having surgery--the simple kind—they call it a laminectomy which sounds like something you’d use on to refinish a kitchen counter—but it basically involves shaving away the offending bit of bone that’s pressing on the nerve.
The surgeon was honest with me. I really need a fusion, which is a much longer more complicated surgery that involves lots of hardware inserted in the back. I know too many people who had those and came out in more pain. He told me the laminectomy will probably work for a while but is likely to fail eventually because I haven’t got the bone density to support it.
I figure that I’m going to fail eventually if not sooner, and I’d like to be able to walk to the mailbox in the meantime. Wish me luck.