The Never-Ending Back Story – Chapter 3

Chapter 1 ———————– Chapter 2
I have written a lot about my personal life lately, how happy I am with Mr. Wonderful, how I feel more complete and happy than I have in an awfully long time, if not ever, but I have neglected to even touch on what has been happening with my back, workman’s comp and my future health wise. The news is not any where near as positive as it was in my romantic life.

For new readers, I will give a quick recap of what I mean when I say my back and health. In February 2010 I put down a box, herniated two discs and compressed three nerves. Over the course of eight months or so of physio therapy and treatment, I lost the weight bearing capabilities in my left leg due to nerve damage. I consulted with an orthopedic surgeon and decided that to save my leg, and prevent permanent nerve damage, I would undergo a two level spinal fusion with lamenectomy. Basically, I had two discs removed, six screws and two rods put in my spine and my bones shaved. The goal of the surgery was to make my three vertebrae from L4 – S1 one solid column of bone, so a mixture of coral and donor bone was grafted in the spaces where the discs used to be. I went in for the twelve hour operation in March 2011. I was 25 years old.

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the grafts didn’t take and I re-compressed my left side resulting in nerve pain all the way down my left leg again. So, eighteen months after my first fusion I went in for my second operation in September 2012. This time, they only had to replace the hardware on the left side, harvest bone from my pelvis to graft in the spaces – in the hopes that my bone would take better than the donor bone mix – and cauterize my sciatic nerve, as there was a tear in the nerve root. Oh, the surgeon also added PILF spacers which are essentially tiny titanium pieces that give some support to my vertebraes. I should mention that I have been in physio pretty much the whole time, except for the three months post surgery where I had to stay in bed.

Coming out of surgery number two I was actually hopeful. That is until I left my parents three weeks post surgery to go to the city, which was four hours away, I had moved to six days before surgery. I was expecting a warm reception from my partner at the time, but I got nothing from him. He wouldn’t help me shop, cook, clean or anything really. And every single one of my boxes were still packed. Now, after a spinal fusion you aren’t supposed to do anything really. So I was stuck in my apartment eating whatever happened to be there, with none of my stuff around me in an alien environment and wallowing in my misery. After two weeks I went back to my parents for another two weeks.

To make the following six months, in which I languished but surprisinly a lot happened, shorter, I will try to summarize it in a nutshell. From September to March I got increaingly depressed. I fell further than I have ever been before. At one point I would go a week or more without showering, wearing the same clothes and not leaving the house for days at a time. And C. just made it worse by making me feel guilty for needing his help in any way. He was so self absorbed that he didn’t even take the time to ask me how I was doing. It was horrible to feel like I was worthless and uninteresting. Like I was sub-human and less than whole. And in SO. MUCH. PAIN.

And then… Well… I started talking to Mr. Wonderful in February, it became a full blown affair in March and I had left C. and moved back to my hometown, where Mr. Wonderful lives, by April. And then, surprisingly, parts of me healed, even if my back didn’t.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Around December I started physio again and worked hard to gain muscle and build my core. For as long as I can remember I have been told that as long as I am not putting stress on my back, it is ok if it hurts to excercise, I should push and still build my core. Which is right to a certain extent, especially if you have a run of the mill injury that you recover from normally. I unfortunately have not. Which brings me to the latest developments.

At my appointment in October, after attending a month long Chronic Pain Clinic (I am only going to touch on this now. It really deserves a whole post.) and getting a CT scan, my surgeon informed me that there is no growth to be seen and that I am to continue with physio and not do anything that increases my pain. So I informed workman’s comp that I wouldn’t be able to return to work, providing them with a note from my surgeon saying that he doesn’t want me working for three months. They said that there is no change in my condition, there are no clinical findings to support my inability to work and that, after they review his report and if there is no new clinical findings, I will be put on an eight week return to work plan. If I am unable to maintain the plan as indicated, without any clinical data, I will be weaned off benifits and left to fend for myself financially. I can appeal this decision, but in the meantime I am stuck living without an income. So yeah, they totally suck. Putting it mildly.

As for the prognosis with my back… More of the same. There is no growth, but I also haven’t recompressed – everything is where is should be – so I basically have another nine months to wait and see what happens…. Another nine months of controlled excercise, lots of walking and fighting tooth and nail with workman’s comp for what is rightfully mine.

You see, I have returned to work three times during the course of this injury. I have fully cooperative and have tried my absolute best. The last time I was at work, before the chronic pain program, I was working three, three hour shifts a week. My home town is an hour outside of the city I lived in when I injured myself so I am expected to work in the city. The normally hour long drive turns into an hour and forty minutes because I have to stop twice to stretch. Usually when I pull in, or shortly after starting work, I would throw up from pain. Because I was driving, I couldn’t take breakthrough pain meds and my pain level sits pretty high to begin with. I balance my opioid use between pain control and brain fuzziness – meaning I take just enough of the former to make my pain just bearable, otherwise my brain is too fuzzy to function like a normal person. Things like driving become dangerous.

Anyway, I would drive for an hour and forty minutes, throw up, work for three hours taking two fifteen to twenty minute breaks, and drive the hour and forty minutes home, usually throwing up in the driveway. Finally, I could take breakthrough meds and basically take them for the next day and a half until I had to do it all over again. It was horrible. My pain level was so out of control I was in tears most nights. I tried really hard to tolerate work, I tried every modification possible, took breaks and did everything else everyone told me to try. And still my pain skyrocketed. Workman’s comp has this appalling and archaic working model of hurt vs harm. Basically they think that if you aren’t harming yourself, if I am not causing injury to my body, then my hurt doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how much pain I am in because pain is subjective and unmeasurable. This is what I am told when I express that my  pain level gets pushed so high I vomit and shake from pain.

But I digress, in short I am getting screwed by them. Over and over and over again. It is emotionally taxing to have the possibility of no income hanging over my head. What will I do? I still spend a good 75% of my time lying down.

But I am learning that even thought the life I had planned and hoped for pre-injury might be impossible, I can still live a fulfilling life. It is just going to look a bit different than I thought it would. Pain control, my limits and ablities and my tolerence level are things that are always going to have to be considered, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do what I dream of. [There’s a really negative part of me screaming that that isn’t true. – Remember Jon from Lost? He wanted so badly to go on a walk about in Australia. He saves, and plans and eventually gets himself there only to be told that because of his special needs he is unable to participate in the walk about. Jon is in a wheel chair. He can’t do it. What if something like that becomes an issue for me?? But then I tell that voice to shut up and move on…. Because really there are so many things I can do and that is what I should focus on.] I need to focus on the things I can do instead of lamenting the things I am no longer able to. It sounds like a simple shift, but it is really oh so challenging.

You see, it is always easier to catalogue your loses than count your blessings. Maybe because in a way it seems like losses are so damned real and the blessings are abstract and somewhat transparent.

But, as it is now 3:01A.M., that is a question to pick apart another night. – Why are the things we mourn so much more tangible than, more real, the blessings we have or create?

As always, thanks for reading! – S.

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2 thoughts on “The Never-Ending Back Story – Chapter 3

  1. backonmyown says:

    Hi S. I’m sorry you’re still having to deal with the pain. I hoped you would be through the worst of it by now. I’m puzzled about work benefits. Will you still have insured medical care if the company phases you out? I thought Canada had some remarkable medical coverage for all citizens.

    I’m happy for your new relationship.

    • S. says:

      Hi BOMO.
      You’re right, Canada does have great public health care. My surgery and hospital stay didn’t cost me a cent but as for income supplements… Especially for someone who isn’t necessarily disabled for life… Well they are hard to get approved for. Now if I had of gone on welfare and had three babies by the time I was 21 I would be making $50000 a year… But instead I went $45000 in debt for my education. Sorry, that was a rant. Yes, our welfare and health care systems are good, but there is always room for improvement.
      My issues aren’t really with the healthcare perse… Rather they arise from the workman’s compensation insurance board and their ridiculous one size fits all policy . Because I hurt myself at work, I am currently being paid by them. As such, if they think I can go back to work, against medical advice or not, and I refuse, they will phase out my benefits over eight weeks. Only once they stop paying me can I apply for government disability. My insurance from work won’t cover me under the longterm disability because it was a workman’s comp claim. I can appeal the decision to send me back to work but that could take up to a year to go through and might be denied in the end. What do I do in the meantime?
      So you see, it’s not really an issue with the healthcare – I have a top notch surgeon and healthcare team – its the stress from never being sure my next paycheck will be what I expect it to be. In my condition it is impossible to go out and get a job so if they cut me off I really don’t know what I will do financially.
      Mr. Wonderful is aware of all this, and is completely supportive if me standing up for my health and refusing to return to work against medical advice, and has offered to get a second job if he needs to but I don’t want him to have to.
      Anyway… This turned into a much longer reply than I intended. Thanks for still reading my diatribes… I love seeing your name in the notifications.
      All my love,
      Xo – S.

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