Thank you, Billy Crystal, for that immortal line! And how often I have used it. Never more than this past month, fresh from spinal surgery, but pumped full of pain killers, when I posted a photo on Facebook. “You look so good for just having surgery!” was the general reaction.
Surgery was, for me, a last resort after not months, but years of ineffective treatment and lack of a real diagnosis. Was it sciatica? Piriformis syndrome? A battered joint? Arthritis of the facet joints? By 2014 it had progressed to the point that every step triggered pain in my lower back and down my legs. One by one, I had to give up my physical activities. Ballet barre was out; too much squatting and back leg lifts. Next to go was Body Pump, deemed as too stressful for my spine and joints. Even well practiced Pilates moves were too much. I was reduced to a mat core class as the only thing that would strengthen rather than irritate my back.
Believe me, I left no stone unturned. First there were guided injections. Then a course of physical therapy, followed by acupuncture and more injections. More PT and chiropractic adjustments brought no relief. A spinal pain specialist then gave me an epidural, more guided injections and a rhizotomy to de-sensitize the nerve causing pain, none of which worked. After more MRIs and x-rays, spinal stenosis was the final diagnosis. The narrowing of the open spaces within the spine, stenosis is bony growth that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves that travel through the lumbar spine. A comparison of my MRIs showed that it was advancing, and rapidly. Finally, out of options, I agreed to a laminotomy, an orthopedic neurosurgical procedure that removes part of the vertebral arch to decompress the spinal cord and nerve root.
The day after surgery I was not so sanguine. IV gone, I was staggered by the intense pain. One day after surgery, I was home and humbled. Vicodan didn’t touch it. Neither did Percocet. By the time I gave up on Dilaudid, a serious narcotic, as ineffective, I decided to go cold turkey since it made no difference. Walking was my prescription and 4-5 hours a day encased in a corset- like back brace. The doctor dictated 10 minutes, twice a day to start, building to an hour by the time he did follow up 3 weeks hence. No driving, no sex. I assumed no sex while driving was a given.
Six excruciating days after going under the knife, it all turned around and by a week post –op (my birthday) I was well enough to go out and party with friends. Amazing! But, wait for it….. a few days later I slipped on the ice and fell causing a major relapse and wiping out all the progress I had made. So discouraging, it dumped me into a major depression. Had it all been for nothing? Was I back to square one?
The doctor prescribed a powerful steroid to calm the inflammation but after the six day course it was, if anything, worse.
The minute I got up from a sitting or supine position, any weight on my left foot triggered searing pain up my leg and across my sacrum. The day I was to start PT the technician backed away saying my pain was too acute for any manipulation. “I think you have a hot nerve root,” he decided. “Best get an MRI and see what is happening.” I was fortunate to get an immediate response from my surgeon and had an MRI that afternoon but it showed nothing. I was looking for a source and a fix but it wasn’t there. The doctor then sent me back to my spinal pain guru for a nerve root block. I was seriously at the end of my unraveling mental rope, not prepared for a world of pain. But after my directive to “Hit me with your best shot, doc!” he did nail the right spot and within 24 hours, I was pain free. Just…like…that.
To go from constant pain to complete relief is a feeling too euphoric to adequately describe. As long as it lasts, I am incredibly grateful to feel like myself again. You can double that for my husband!
The real truth here is that it is IMMEASURABLY better to feel good than to look good. As we get older, we start to realize the sagacity of the adage “When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not, nothing else matters at all.” As blithely as I glided through my 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s, when my friends started to falter from wear and tear, replacing their joints like new valves, I got it. And when they failed in their fight with a menu of cancers, COPD, Alzheimers and more, I was properly sobered to the new reality of being over 50. Life is short; sometimes much shorter than we anticipate. The way to enjoy it to the hilt is to face it strong in body and in mind. The greatest wealth, acclaim or success is meaningless in comparison to a healthy body and a lucid mind.
So take care of yourself. Seek help when you need it. Delay could be deadly. Sharpen your mind by challenging it at every opportunity. And enjoy each day that you feel vital and sharp. For as long as it lasts.