Monday, August 27, 2012

My Lower Back is an Asshole (And Other Tangentially Related Crap)

(Miracle Man thinks people might see this title and think I’ve had some sort of unfortunate rerouting of my internal workings. Rest assured I have not. Carry on.)
I’ve had on-again, off-again back pain for most of my adult life. I’ve usually been able to write it off – maybe I bent wrong or picked up something that was too heavy or not been careful enough in a recent workout. But lately the pain has been more on-again than off-again, seriously putting a crimp in my lifestyle. So I finally broke down and saw my doctor.
This might be a good time to mention that unhealthy spines are a bit of a family tradition for me. Good Ol’ Pops has had back problems since before I existed, with two lumbar surgeries under his belt. (No pun was intended there, but HA!!) He has always had to be careful in his bending and lifting and sleeping positions, at least in my memory. So it was not a complete shock when I started having sporadic back pain in my early 20s. Nor was it entirely shocking when Sweet Little Sister began having back pain in her early 20s. It was, however, shocking that her pain quickly became severe and she needed major spinal surgery (including hardware, vertebrae fusion, and complete career/lifestyle change) when she was in her mid 20s.
Poor Sweet Little Sister, I thought, shaking my head sadly. She inherited Dad’s wonky back. I'm so glad I dodged that bullet!  
On a side note, never, ever, EVER say you're happy to have dodged a bullet where healthcare is concerned. It’s like your body says, “Oh yeah, muddaphucka? You think you got off easy? Things is about to get real up in here!
Oh, it's ON now, Girl!
Anyhoo, a few years ago Dear Mama started having serious back issues. She finally broke down this past May and had surgery. The way it was explained to me, the docs went in there with a Dremel tool and some spackle, then added some hardware that vaguely resembles a complete set of bookshelves in the x-rays and soldered a bunch of bones together.
Yeah. Ow.

And for those of you keeping score at home: My family of origin has six members. Three of them have had back problems so severe they needed major spinal surgery. That's like... half-ish, or something. Which means my odds are not good for escaping the wonkybackism (scientific term) that runs rampant in my family. 
The good news is that Dear Mama is feeling much better now. The bad news is she had to go through a lot of pain to get to feeling better. That said, Dear Mama ain’t no wimp when it comes to pain. Not only did she birth three of her four babies without the use of any pain medication (on purpose, even!), but she has had Rheumatoid Arthritis as far back as I can remember. I learned when I was little that Mommy was fragile; I could not jump and climb on her the same way I jumped and climbed on Daddy. She did not talk about her pain much, but I knew it was there more often than it was not.
When I was 11 yrs old I went through what I now recognize as my first bout with depression. (Stay with me here. It ties into the pain thing.) The depression manifested as intense stomach pains, probably because at that age I was neither self-aware nor eloquent enough to express my general melancholy with life. Dear Mama took me to doctor after doctor after doctor to figure out why I was too sick to go to school. After all kinds of doctors ruled out all kinds of medical issues, I remember Dear Mama telling me I was going to have to make a choice between letting pain ruin my life or pushing through the pain long enough to get stuff done. She said it with a lot of love, in that motherly heart-to-heart kinda way, and she kindly refrained from using the exact words “Suck it up” - but that was the spirit of the message. Even at that young age, I knew she was speaking from experience. When you have four kids to raise, you don’t have the luxury of time necessary to wallow around in whatever malady is trying to take over your life. You get up and get going whether you like it or not. As a child I thought Dear Mama was invincible. As an adult, and as a mother, I now know better. Invincible? No. Unbelievably badass? Hellz yeah!  
Anyway, back to my lower back. So I finally went to the doctor only to learn that the lower half of my spine is totally messed the frick up. (The only thing that would have made that news pleasant is if the doctor had actually said "messed the frick up" or "wonkybackism." But I digress.) Not only are my back bones shifting around without my express permission (Hellloooooo, Scoliosis!), but the spine is also narrowing (I finally have a narrow body part and you need an x-ray to see it), has arthritis, and is home to three mildly compressed disks. There is exactly one word to summarize this diagnosis:
OW!!!!! OW-OW-OW-OW-OW!!!!!
(Yes, I wrote it six times. Still counts as one word.)
Now that I have an actual diagnosis and I’m being more mindfully careful of my bending, lifting, and sleeping positions, it seems to hurt even more than it did when I was living in denial and crashing around my living spaces willy nilly. I can’t work out like I did a month ago because it HURTS! I can’t ignore the pain and mindlessly go about my business like I did for so many months because it HURTS! And I can’t concentrate on anything beyond the pain some days because it really freakin' HURTS!!!
On the bright side, I do have a course of action. First step, physical therapy. If that doesn’t give me any relief, then I go to a pain management specialist. All along the way there will be Tylenol, Biofreeze, and ice packs. I do not want surgery - scares the crap out of me. I do not want heavy-duty pain meds or muscle relaxers - they'd impede my ability to suck it up and actively live my life. I only have half as many kids as Dear Mama did, but still. They're pretty time-consuming. And energetic. And they need a mom who can function in her daily life. 
My primary goal of physical therapy is to get back to the point where I can confidently raise my fist and belt out the self-directed battle cry of the women in my family: “Quitchyer bitchin’ and getchyer shit done!!” Then I shall gingerly limp off into the sunset on a continued quest for a pain-free existence. And what a glorious day of triumph that shall be.
A girl can dream, can't she?

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