Thanksgiving of 1981 brought family to visit and another visitor I didn’t invite. Only a month earlier, I’d pushed our bed away from the wall to clean and something popped in my lower back. Hot, searing pain down my left leg showed up the next morning. The sciatic nerve was inflamed when the herniated disc pushed against it. I coped as well as I could and it did get better, little by little, with rest and medications.
By Thanksgiving, I felt much better, although not 100%. I bent over to lift the 18 pound turkey from the oven, and as I grasped the roaster handles, two thoughts crossed my mind. One was that the turkey smelled and looked wonderful, and the other thought was that I should have called Ken to lift it. The turkey finished what had started weeks earlier.
Misery moved into our house that day.
Seven months later, I had surgery for the herniated disc I’d tried to live with. My family suffered along with me during those months and in recovery. Not with the kind of pain I had but because of all the things I could no longer do. I had to say no to many invitations, missed games the kids had, couldn’t make a lot of the special dishes they loved and needed more help in the house than I ever had. They were willing workers at first, but it got old fast.
To make matters worse, I experienced a rare set of complications after surgery and stayed in the hospital eleven days. I came home with worse pain than I’d had before. My progress moved at a turtle’s pace, and my family soon lost sympathy. My husband wondered if I’d ever be normal again. And so did I.
One afternoon, I sipped a cup of steaming tea. I knew I had to do something to get my life back the way it once was. I wanted my children to love me again, not resent me because of the things I could no longer do. I wanted a husband who wasn’t afraid to touch me for fear of hurting me all over again.
So, I began to read and listen. I used my library as my resource for books about back pain. I read incessantly. I listened to a couple other friends who had gone through much the same thing. Networking wasn’t a common term in the ‘80’s, but I definitely did it in my own way.
At a dinner party one evening, our host placed his hand on mine as I moved my chair back from the table. “Don’t try to stand up that way,” he said. “Place your hands on the table and push yourself up. It’s much easier on your back.” It did help.
“Sleep with a pillow between your knees,” a nurse had told me some time earlier, so I tried it. I didn’t moan when I got out of bed the next morning. I wasn’t ready to do cartwheels, but I did stand up straight instead of being hunched over like an old crone.
The years sped by, and I put all the things I’d learned about sciatica and herniated discs into practice. I wasn’t without pain, but it wasn’t constant. The discomfort became something that I learned to live and deal with.
And then, in 1997, I shifted to the left while sitting in a chair. Pop! I felt it happen. And soon I was back to the searing pain in my leg and lower back pain. I did all the things I had learned, but nothing helped. One day, my left leg collapsed as I stepped down from the porch. It happened so fast, I just lay in a heap wondering how I ended up on the sidewalk.
Only days later, I started down the basement stairway when the leg collapsed again, but this time I grabbed a railing and kept myself from tumbling to the bottom. It was time to see a neurosurgeon. After an MRI and other tests, he confirmed what I already knew—another disc had herniated. Surgery would be necessary. Otherwise, the muscles in my left leg would keep deteriorating. It took little to convince me, but the well-known doctor could not fit me into is schedule for another month.
Each day found me worse than the day before until I finally had to give up and stay in bed. Then, my widowed mother broke her arm and my brother called and said he’d be bringing her to my house as she couldn’t cope alone. I tried to tell him that I didn’t think I’d be much help, but the next day, he brought Mom to our house.
I managed to get out of bed to fix breakfast and lunch and Ken helped with dinner. Mon really was helpless with only one arm and other problems she had. The worst day came when I could not even walk down the hall to go to the kitchen to make lunch. I crawled on hands and knees, tears brimming from the pain.
When Mom saw me, she said, “I’m going home. You can’t do this.” She called my brother and he came to get her the next day.
The surgery went well this time, and I was home on the third day. My recovery period moved along with steady improvement. I went to therapy three days a week, and I walked daily as instructed by the doctor. I took three ten-minute walks a day, increasing the time as the days went by until I walked 30 minutes two to three times daily. I persisted because of what my doctor told me. The walking, he said, brings oxygen to the surgical site and aids in healing. That knowledge kept me walking.
Two months after the surgery, we flew to
where we spent three weeks touring with friends. I climbed flight upon flight of stairs in the tube stations in England , and I walked miles around palaces and museums. I continued to do the exercises the therapist had given me. I went to bed tired every night, but I didn’t have to deal with major pain any longer. London
I still do all the little things I learned over the years. Sometimes, I forget and lift something heavier than I should or I twist the wrong way, and then I have mild sciatic pain in my left leg for a couple days. But I take an anti-inflammatory medicine, sleep with a pillow between my knees and before long, I’m fine again. And whenever I have a flare-up, I make sure I get outside and walk. It helps so much. I try to walk on a regular basis, because if I slack off, that’s when I’m apt to have a couple miserable days.
I’ve learned to live with a bad back, and I keep all the helpful things in mind. I ask my husband or my son to lift the turkey roaster now.
One doctor said it best, “We can do a lot with surgery, but we can’t give you a new back. It’s up to you to take care of it the best you can.” Smart man!