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Baby Got Back

Hi everyone!

Been a few weeks since I last posted. My apologies to you and my fellow bloggers. I feel like a slacker, but it has been extremely difficult to form my thoughts into something I feel comfortable sharing. It has been frustrating for me, to say the least.

I know some of my fellow Wizbang writers have much more serious medical issues than me, and I envy them for fighting their battles, and at the same time, still being able to produce quality contributions on a regular basis.

In previous posts through the past few months, I've explained that I have a pretty severe back injury. It only involves one blown-out disc that pretty much exploded while at work, but it has been a particularly nasty herniation, resulting in two laminectomies and two discectomies. My last MRI revealed that the disc is now basically non-existent, so my vertebrae are clamping down on my sciatic nerve, and, well, it sucks, all day, all the time.

The next step is a lumbar fusion. The surgeon will go in, clean out any disc remnants, re-align my vertebrae, and secure them with titanium rods and screws. Bone grafts will be inserted, which will eventually fuse the two vertebrae into one entity.

It's pretty much a trade off: The fusion will (hopefully) eliminate the excruciating radiating pain I have down my left leg, but I'll most likely still have some sort of back pain for the rest of my life.

As I have had this problem since May 1, 2009, I am pretty much worn out with the constant sciatica, and would probably do better with an achy back then a searing bum leg.

I have researched this procedure on the internet to the point of mental exhaustion, and it's funny how the information is presented.

Most of the people who post about having a fusion condemn it. They paint semi-horror stories about what happened, how much worse they feel, how it has ruined their lives.

It can make you pretty scared.

But, at some point, I realized, that is the nature of this medium.

People who have had successful procedures, whose lives have been changed for the better, and who have gotten profound relief from this, really have no reason to get on the internet and proclaim how wonderful things have turned out.

They are happy, or at least satisfied with the outcome and how they feel, and go on to resume their lives, feeling no need to share their thoughts on something which is now a non-issue.

This seems to be the case with most medical situations.

There is so much information on the web. Some good, some bad. Intentions are mostly noble, but, sometimes, things which can scare the bejesus out of you can do more harm than good.

I just want some sort of closure to this whole episode. The mental toll it has taken on me, and the physical distress of not not being able to do, well, physical things, is extremely depressing.

I hope I snap out of my funk soon. I think about and miss blogging every day. There are many things I am not able to do, and, sometimes, this has been one of them.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in and say hello. I'm confident that I'll be back to blogging on a regular basis sooner than later, and I am very much looking forward to getting back the writing spark.

If you have ever had a fusion before, please post about your experience. It would be a big help to a surgical wuss like me.

Happy New Year!

-Shawn


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Comments (17)

Shawn - - I love the websit... (Below threshold)
Mike Dysart:

Shawn - - I love the website and your contribution to it. I am praying for you and for some sort of recovery from all this that you can find workable and allows you some joy in life. My advise is be careful of medical type websites - Just treat the docs like consultants and follow your own logic.

Give us all out here what you can and we will be grateful for your insights.

Good luck with everything

Shawn, hoping for a good re... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Shawn, hoping for a good result.

"People who have had successful procedures... really have no reason to get on the internet and proclaim how wonderful things have turned out."

Got that right. Heard horror stories about shoulder surgery from others (DON'T DO IT!). Well the pain finally got so bad, I got it done. It sucked for about a year, but 2 years later, I'm pain free and have almost 100% full range of motion again.

Hang in there.

Shawn, I certainly feel for... (Below threshold)

Shawn, I certainly feel for you. I had two discectomies and have been pretty much sciatica/back pain-free since. I haven't had to face the possibility of lumbar fusion, but I did a lot of research prior to getting any surgery done. The one thing I would bring up is has your surgeon talked to you about Lumbar Disc Replacement? It's a relatively new procedure, and from what I've been able to read, very successful. In the case of disc issues, I would think the replacement option would be preferable to fusion, but I am speaking from a position of ignorance about your total situation.

Look into it, though.

Hello Shawn,My hus... (Below threshold)
susan:

Hello Shawn,

My husband has had bone fusions twice. The first was hell for about three weeks and finally felt good until another disk went "splat" and all hell broke loose. Same procedure in another area with instant relief of the severe pain. Now it is 9yrs later and he has aches and pains that anti-inflamitory OTC med. take care of.

I too ruptured a disk and went to the Southeastern Spine Institute here in Charleston, SC. My problem was a ruptured disk with nothing but a sliver between the vertabre. Long story short my doctor, loved him, said he would just do disk replacement before ever considering fusion.

Out of the clear blue my lawnmower repair man and I were talking one day and I learned we both had the same doctor. But get this. His problem and solution sounded like what you have described. He also said he felt like a new man.

Good luck. I know how the pain can just sap the life out of you but take the plunge before you have to have an ambulance take you to have it done. Not fun. You might not be able to put clean underware on before they get there.

Hope this eased some of your fears.

Susan

Shawn, pulling for ya man..... (Below threshold)
Rick:

Shawn, pulling for ya man... I ruptured a disk resulting in disk material laying all over my sciatic nerve... it was a serious itch-bay... finally decided to have them remove that disk material surgically and had instant relief...

Not exactly aligning with your situation nevertheless... I know some of the pain you're going through man and send some empathy your way...

Shootin' a prayer flare with your name on it even now...

Shawn, I had a sp... (Below threshold)

Shawn,

I had a spinal fusion in Sept.2007 after two disectomies in 2yrs. All surgeries were done via scopes,not traditional incisions which means less post op pain and also shorter hospital stay. I went in the hospital on Tuesday morning and was home Thursday afternoon. I even stopped at Panera's for lunch. My life is much better without the pain and that is a purposful understatment. I now have a plate and 4 three in. wallboard screws in my back. A lateral xray of my back is pretty impressive because you can easily see 4 THREE INCHE screws backthere which was enouch to make me say...HOLY SH*T and I'm a CRNA.I still have some numbness in the anterior portion of my left lower leg but it's not bothersome and a very small price to pay.

I told the surgeon if this were Roman times I would get on my knees and kiss his feet and I'm not kidding. The pain was bad enough I could not go to work anymore and I told what I do for a living'which isn't exactly manual labor. I am careful but I lead a normal life which pleases my wife. BTW, when you speak to the anestologist be sure to tell him you want the Versed as soon as the IV is started.. Versed is a derivitive of Valium and will block your memory within 90 sec.You will act normal but will not remember even going to the OR. This is a good thing but I am assuming there is no contraindication for this . Good luck but I am pretty sure you will say the same thing I said which is "Why didn't I do this sooner".

Sorry to hear about your si... (Below threshold)
apb:

Sorry to hear about your situation - I wish you all the best.

Not to influence your decision, but I have a neighbor that had fusion - he's woken up daily with pain at 4:00 a.m. (I often see him sitting inside watching the world), and then on to his meds. He works a labor-based job, but seems none the worse for wear at the end of the day. From talking with him, the bad side effects are tangent to the end result - he has no paralysis, and the pain is controllable...

Again, best wishes.

Best wishes, Shawn.... (Below threshold)
bobdog:

Best wishes, Shawn.

Shawn,You are correc... (Below threshold)
MikeS:

Shawn,
You are correct. If the operation is successful, one tends to forget about the pain. I tend to not think about my ex-wife either... must be a survival trait.

I ruptured a disk (L5/S1) about 25 years ago and got a hemi-lamanectomy (sp) to relieve the pressure on the nerve. Until the first operation I was bedridden and in severe pain. The doctor cleaned the bulge in the disk out, carved some bone from the area and I did very well, experiencing only occasional back pain (only in my lower back) that an ice pack or heating pad and rest would relieve. Then, about 2 years ago, the sciatica returned and I went downhill for a few months. I consulted with a few ortho docs here in Arkansas and in Tulsa about disk replacement but I was not a good candidate due to arthritic bone loss in that part of my back. Fusion was the only alternative that remained so I scheduled it up and got it done.

I had the fusion in 06/2008, spent 3 days in the hospital and about 4 weeks off work. Once the surgery trauma healed I experienced very little pain. Four screws, three rods and a six inch scar. They did not use bone splints on me, the surgeon had the bone they removed pulverized and mixed with red blood cells that they had drawn just before surgery. The bone and blood paste was packed around the implants and formed the base for the fusion. The screws and pins are only there to hold everything in place until the bone grows back. The last CAT scan I had done showed excellent bone growth and the disks are completely fused. I am also about an inch taller than I was before the surgery.

I feel better now than I have in years. Over the holidays I tore out the basement stairs and built a new staircase. There is nothing that I cannot do, just things that a 57 yr old shouldn't do unless he wants to suffer. I do those things anyway and use the ice pack. I went horseback riding about six months after the surgery.

My suggestions?
Wait no more as the longer one delays this type of surgery, the more damage you do to the nerves. The bone will almost always heal, nerves not so much.
Find a doctor who does at least five of these operations a week and gets good results. Practice may not make perfect but it does improve the odds.
Have the "split-back" operation, not the arthroscopic one.
In the first type of fusion, they open up your back, clean up the mess, drive in the screws and align everything before they close you back up. Bigger scar and longer initial healing but the implants and bone grafts are in a better position mechanically. There is more and stronger bone to fasten to along the dorsal ridge of the spine and the screws can be driven into the solid bone.
In the arthroscopic version of the fusion, they go through the abdomen and put plates on the front of your spine. The front of the disk is spongier and more brittle (more chance of the screws splitting the bone or working loose) and the leverage of the joint works against this part of the fusion.

Good luck with whatever you decide. I know there are few things worse than that feeling of fire, electric shock and pins stuck into your leg that is sciatica.

I have no back horror stori... (Below threshold)
fustian:

I have no back horror stories to share, but I do want to wish you good luck.

I feel very blessed having ... (Below threshold)
scmommy:

I feel very blessed having just scoliosis after reading this post and the comments! Good Luck Shawn and know that you are in my prayers.

T&P to ya Shawn - life isn'... (Below threshold)
Prairie:

T&P to ya Shawn - life isn't tied with a bow it is however, still a gift.

MikeS has good advice.... (Below threshold)
epador:

MikeS has good advice.

Problem with fusions is that the torque that used to be handled by each level now gets transferred to the ones just above and below the fusion, effectively doubling the stress on these disks per level fused. Means you REALLY have to take care of your back and use proper ergonomics or you will blow out the disks above and below. Its hard to know if replacements will eventually replace fusions - a good replacement that's definitely bug-free has yet to be demonstrated with long term follow up.

Shawn, my wife had a fusion... (Below threshold)
Hank:

Shawn, my wife had a fusion done many years ago. She was bedridden for quite a while. In those days, they didn't get you on your feet so fast. Anyhow, best thing she ever did and she's been fine since.

Whatever you decide, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Take care.

Shawn, I've never commented... (Below threshold)
friend of a lumbar fusion success:

Shawn, I've never commented here (just discovered the blog)but a friend (64) just had a lumbar fusion. She is pain free, her recovery was excellent and she only now has difficulty turning her neck.

I will pray for you :)

Close friend had spinal fus... (Below threshold)
dustbowl:

Close friend had spinal fusion. He's making improvements..small and slow but steady. Doesn't regret it at all. As to medical info on the internet...sometimes those personal case stories are full of hooey. I went through similar searching before a hysterectomy. Every single story said it is a piece of cake...will be back at work within a few days..never knew they had an operation. Well I was different...had complications and set backs and was not able to work again for 6 months and did not get back to myself for almost two years. So, don't believe the stories good or bad. Every body is different. Keep positive thoughts in your head and don't be afraid. Will be praying for you.

Thank you all for your resp... (Below threshold)
Shawn:

Thank you all for your responses and best wishes!

-Shawn




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