May 20, 2016

an old man



     You can barely see them.  The four little dots of a band aids on my lower right back.  They represent yet another round of poking needles into my spine all in a desperate attempt to bring some modicum of relief from pain.  Most people can't tell I am in pain nearly every day.  I have become very good at hiding it. 
     When I check in at the front desk of the doctor's office, everyone has to fill out a form saying they will not drive and that someone can drive them home after the procedure.  But me?  I don't drive.  I walk.  I go back to work.  Besides who wants to know their doc is human?  We are supposed to be Superman, after all.  But my doc, who is incredibly talented with an amazing staff, can see the pain and the exhaustion it brings with it in my eyes today.  We both know we are reaching the end of what procedures are available to me. 
     "Am I even helping?  I want to make sure that I am actually helping you."
     "Well, since ablating the nerves on the left side, I can check my left blind spot a lot easier.  That's something.  But my pain?  The worst is deep down in that joints of that extra vertebra and with all this rain....it's bad....and I know there's nothing you can do about that......and I know there is nothing a surgeon can do about it."
     "I'm not going to lie to you or feed you a line.  Besides, I'm sure you've done your homework as always,"
     I interrupted and chuckle, "Yeah, I've done my homework.  I know that surgery realistically has very little to offer me."
     The sadness in her eyes told me everything I needed to know, "I know.  I could send you to one if you want but you already know the answer....you're one of my youngest patients....on the outside you look great, but on the inside...your spine looks like an old man."
     I remembered back to when I first started down this road of pain with my family doc.  He took an x-ray and we counted an extra vertebra.  I recounted it to her, "I asked him if I am like this now, what am I going to look like when I'm in my 60s?  He said, let's not think about that right now."  She chuckled in agreement.  And we went so she could stick more needles into my spine.

4 comments:

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Have you heard of a book, "Healing Back Pain," by Dr. John Sarno? He's a physiatrist, I think.
Blogger Stefan Guyenet wrote about it recently:https://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2015/12/healing-back-pain.html
I left a brief comment there.

Good luck.

-Steve

Isaac van Sligtenhorst, MD said...

No, I haven't read his book but I am well acquainted with the physical manifestations of stress on the back. My back, however, is a zebra with a definite organic, structural cause. Three congenital anomalies, to be exact.

Robert said...

Isaac, I understand all too well. Personally, I finally went the surgery route. My level of functionality is improving all the time (over the last 3 years) I had spondylolisthesis (sp?) and severe degen disc disease. (I was a paramedic) I also needed narcotics (everything from Codine to fentanyl) and like you, I am still affected by weather. But the best thing I have done to help with the pain is to have a different relationship with it.

Where before it pretty well defined me (to others as well as myself) now, I don't let that happen. Giving it less of a valence has helped with the emotional and mental aspect of pain. Truth be told - I still need the occasional vicodin. But I no longer look at taking my meds as either a defeat or a weakness.

I am happier and less anxious about having pain since I changed my relationship to it.

I am really pulling for you man! I love reading your blog.

joyfulhermit said...

Noticed you'd visited my blog site, probably for my own trials with intractable back pain. Drunk teen driver (not arrested!) nearly 32 years ago and major back surgery 29 years ago. Constant pain ever since. I've been reading some of your recent blog posts and will keep you in my prayers. Dear God in Heaven, I do grasp your suffering and how such pain affects our lives. My "call to suffer" took a path of the spiritual realm, grasping eventually that this path for me is how I'm to live out my life as a consecrated Catholic hermit with my "work" being prayer and praise, and also much writing. I had started a Psych D program, got half through it, before my pain levels precluded being able to consistently be available to clients in crisis.... Prior to that I finished up a doctorate in Ed Admin, but I never really was intended for all that. My desire was to help people cope with pain, but "my plan" was not exactly God's plan for me. Yes, it is our "old life" that we sometimes miss. My pain is such that I never know when I wake up if it will be a day up or a day reclining, yet there is a peace and a purpose that evolves and makes life fascinating. Weather certainly affects my pain, too. Rain and chill, but mostly I think it has to do with storm fronts and barometric pressure shifts. The body adapts after awhile, then another storm front.... Or heat! Heat causes the body's tissues to swell and press on the damaged nerves. The pain radiates to different body areas, most recently affecting the stomach and intestines. So I do very much relate and empathize with what you are enduring, and I will keep you now personally in my heart of prayers. Your suffering is integral to your work as a medical doctor and healer of others, with now a tremendous grasp of suffering in ways you never dreamed (nor probably wanted!) to be possible! God bless you, and keep on, simply keeping going.