Thursday, January 3, 2008

Life with a Glass Back

I'm not sure where or when I first heard the expression "glass back," but when I Googled it, the only real hit was to a dictionary of British slang. Two definitions were given: (1) A person with a consistently bad back, and (2) A fragile back or spinal area, prone to injury. That pretty much sums it up for me and most of my siblings!

This is on my mind this morning, so bear with me. As I was easing myself to a sitting position on the side of my bed, I thought, "Will I ever have a morning in which I don't wake up in this kind of pain?" I pretty much know the answer to that. Even the meds they give me don't take it away completely. I did what I usually do. I popped my heat pack in the microwave and made my coffee. I sat down with a warm cup of Joe and a nice hot heat pack. It will be better now.

In my family we do tend to have glass backs. My brothers were daredevils when they were young. One of them went off to Germany with the USAF and ended up being in a horrible car crash in which the car he was in went over the side of a mountain. He was in the back seat, passenger side. The front seat passenger went through the windshield on the first roll. My brother removed his seat belt after the first roll of the car and pulled his friend back in, holding him there while they rolled to the bottom. He said that he remembers his back getting slammed over and over into the roof of the car as they rolled. His friend pulled him out of the car when it caught fire.

He survived the crash, but barely. He had two vertebrae in his neck that had to be fused with bone from his hip. His spinal cord was nicked. Stuff was broken all inside his neck. He spent 6 months in a hospital in Germany. My parents got the visit from the uniformed men in the limo, telling them that their oldest son was alive but not expected to survive. My other brother and I were called home from school. A black cloud hung over the house. My parents did not fly to Germany for a couple of reasons. My mom refused to ever get on a plane. Her whole life. That amazes me still. How can you live without ever getting on an airplane? Dad ran a construction business. Maybe he couldn't get away from work. Maybe he couldn't go back to Germany because of his own leftover PTSD from fighting the Germans in WWII. I don't know. I do know that at some point, my brother came home.

My sisters have lupus. Both of them live with pain but in different ways. Lupus is like a million diseases together. No two cases are identical, but they have common markers. It's a hard one to diagnose, to be sure. It takes years. My other brother had many, many motorcycle accidents. He also has Crohn's disease and Gulf War Syndrome from fighting for his country in the USAF during the first Gulf War. He is in pain pretty much every day.

And then there's me. I wasn't always unhealthy. During my 30s, whenever I had a physical, the doctors actually used the old adage "healthy as a horse." But it was then that the fun began. starting in 1994, I began to get those little illnesses that will take you down. Fatigue and all over pain while living in Seattle. I moved back to the sunny side of the continent and was working as a hardware specialist. I hurt my back the first time in 1996, while lifting a large piece of equipment to put it on a cart. I felt a pop. By the next day I couldn't get out of bed. Six weeks of physical therapy had me back, almost as good as new, but the area in my back (L4-L5) was never the same.

I've had three neck surgeries. First in 2002 because of persistent problems in my neck that led to weakness and numbness in my arms. An MRI showed impingement on the nerves at C5-C6-C7. So they drilled the little holes larger to let the nerves have some room (a cervical foraminotomy). In late 2005, I felt some weakness and pain while working out with weights at the gym. When I say working out with weights, suffice it to say that I never held back. Women's gyms didn't have enough weight for me, because I prided myself on being especially strong. When I was young, I actually wanted to be a female weightlifter. HAH! Not with the old inherited glass back.

So, on the tails of the problems at the gym, I saw my doctor. He examined me, ordered an MRI. I figured I might have to go through another foraminotomy. That surgery wasn't too bad. Nope. This time I had 2 herniated disks that required hardware. I went through the fusion surgery in February 2006. Three weeks later, I was in Georgia at my mom's bedside while she slowly died in a Macon hospital.

During the summer, I developed problems swallowing. I constantly felt like something was caught in my throat. Another trip to the doctor. I didn't need M.D. after my name to be able to read that X-ray. I had a screw loose. HA! True! Not many people have radiographic proof of having a screw loose. I did. Back to the old OR. They took out the screw and evaluated the fusion. It was healing alright. I didn't need another screw.

But the pain came back. The surgery stabilized my neck but it didn't fix the pain.

So here I am. I've had multiple procedures since them, trying to dampen the pain from my neck. The last procedure seemed to do it, but it was horrible and the recovery was even worse. I don't know that I could agree to go through that again. It is supposed to keep the pain at bay for a couple of years. Basically they fried the facet nerve with electricity. As the nerves shriveled up and died, the pain crescendoed in my shoulder and neck. Whoa. It was so bad the first night, I thought I would have to go to the ER. But I survived.

Now the old injury in the lower back is nagging me. Not sure what to do. The disk is herniated, but I don't know that it's bad enough to consider back surgery again. I don't know if my old glass back could take it.

Not sure my old glass heart could take it either.

I sure hope this little foray into my world didn't bore you or make you want to run screaming from this blog. Ask me again in an hour and I might tell you, "Really, I'm fine." But I might say it from a reclining position with a heat pack and a grimace. Don't mind me. I'll be just fine. Good thing I'm a writer now and not out there hoisting network equipment into racks. At least I can still work. Yay!

And it's off to work I go.

Peace and Happy Thursday! D


Heather said...

My husband and his father both have glass backs. For them, it's a matter of being too tall and not having enough abdominal strength. So, their backs take all the weight. Frequent chiropractor visits and daily morning exercises help Tyler keep the status-quo. Most days, I don't know how he does it!

ed said...



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