There are many terms used to describe spinal disc pain, such as “herniated disc,” “impinged nerve,” and “bulging disc.” After viewing my MRI and seeing the large, blobby intrusion that was stomping on spinal column, radiating pain down my sciatic nerve, I came up with my own term. Little Back Nugget. Let me tell you our love story.
I’ve had a herniated disc in my S-something to the L-something part of my lower spine for about eight years. I didn’t have any trauma or sports-related injury (unless you call years of watching myself in the mirror at the gym while lifting heavy weights a sport) and I certainly wasn’t old yet. It was painful enough to send me the ER, then to have an MRI done and eventually to see an orthopedic surgeon. He spoke of physical therapy, chiropractry, (I made that word up) epidural shots and eventually surgery. At the age of thirty-four, I was feeling, well, old.
For some weird reason, that MRI seemed to magically heal me. I did a little bit of physical therapy and over time did a lot of yoga, but the pain never came back to that excrutiating level. I never had an epidural and certainly didn’t need surgery. It was like my little back nugget was letting me know he was stepping out on my spine and if I misbehaved, he was going to jump
And he did. He got on my last nerve. My sciatic nerve. First came pain along my lower back, then screaming pain down my left leg and then came the finale of numbness and tingling in my left foot and calf. That’s a pretty scary moment when that happens. You start thinking you might end up paralyzed with a wheelchair in your future. So we made another rush to the ER to just sit and wait, in pain, for hours. Oh, and we had to drive from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side in Manhattan in a snow storm. If you don’t live here, you cannot fully appreciate how difficult this is to do on a regular day let alone in the middle of a blizzard.
After watching four hours of Top Chef in the waiting room and starving, (my husband had just started cooking dinner when I decided I could no longer live without a shot of Demerol in my arm) we were told the MRI was not an option for the evening. Because of the storm, they were short staffed. Soooo. They gave me some Percocet and told me to go get an MRI the next day. Cha-Ching. I am in the wrong business. Although, a man in his paper gown on a stretcher moved his legs in such a manner that I got to see all his business, so maybe not.
Now we move on to the proud display my back nugget has been waiting for. He (It has to be male. No woman would put me through this) has grown over the years to be the size of a ping pong ball just hanging out over the edge of my spine. He’s like an infant you tell not to touch something. He sees my sciatic nerve and he just giggles and steps on it with his little nugget feet and says “Or what?”
It was time to see a surgeon.
Let me introduce Dr. Kim. He is a badass. He is a neurosurgeon, which means he puts his hands in people’s brains. He assured me that my silly little surgery was a piece of cake. But he wanted me to try the epidural shot first. Be conservative, we’ll cut you open later.
Here’s the main problem I have with all of this. I am not allowed to do anything physical. It all started on February 13th when I was at the gym and the coach sent me home after I awkwardly tried to do wall balls and squats and it ended up looking more like I had to poop. That was my last day doing anything physical. And it is killing me. I can’t run, do yoga, lift weights, pilates, nothing. I can walk, but that doesn’t give you killer arms or a six-pack.
Enter my Pain Management Team. Aww. They are so cute. They like to hand out bottles of medication (not saying that’s worst thing, thank you Percocet) and talk you out of surgery. There’s always a slight risk of infection and bleeding, blah, blah. Their idea is to give me epidural shots and pain meds. Which, I guess could work for a lot of people. But, the restrictions remain the same. They weren’t even crazy about yoga. Come on. What’s the alternative for that? I become a fat, lazy slug who’s pain-free? Not on my watch. I am young and healthy and needed my life back.
I had one epidural shot and I can tell you- it was amazing. My back and leg pain were gone immediately. I jumped out of the bed the next morning after weeks of having to gently roll like a doughnut to get to vertical. It was awesome. And many, many people can have the shots and go on with their life and be happy and pain-free. But the only way I was going to back to sweating at the gym and taking long runs with my hubby was to have Dr. Kim’s masterful hands in my back. Exercise is very important to me and I wasn’t going to let some nasty little back nugget control my life.
So, yes, what I am saying is that I was pretty much pain-free and I still decided to go ahead with surgery. It’s called a Microdiscectomy. One little vertical incision down the back and badass (Dr. Kim) goes in and laser’s that little jerk hanging off my spine. That’s about it. I mean, I’m sure there’s more too it, but I really don’t want the gory details. I never asked, but I wonder what they do with leftover herniated spine pieces? Back nugget hell I hope.
I had the best staff in the hospital. They were funny and nice and I couldn’t believe how great they were. I did have a pain-in-the-ass roommate though. Granted she had been hit by a car, but man, did she complain and ask a lot of questions that didn’t need to be asked. Why do I need that drug? What’s that one going to do? Girl, take your meds and be happy to be high and not screaming in pain. And they came in like every two hours to check on her. Which is horrible when you are trying to sleep. They also decided to test the fire alarm the next morning. Relentlessly. Hospitals think it’s amazing that you’re actually trying to rest.
And now we are at the land of meds, food and lots of television. I am seriously enjoying the fact that someone is here today cleaning my house for me while I watch Million Dollar Listing. I have watched endless hours of Law & Order, Dateline, Criminal Minds and every junk reality show you can name. It’s exactly what I want when I’m put in a home and left to drool. Give me some Jello and Olivia Bensen and I’m a happy camper.
I am getting bored though and I go back to work soon. I get exhausted pretty easily so I’m going to take it slow and try not to overdo it. My husband has been amazing throughout all of this and can’t wait for the old me to be ready to go for a run. Okay, it’s more of a complaining-the whole- time kind of run, but he still misses it. And so do I.
Well, little back nugget, we have shared ten years together and have had a lot of bad times together. I hope none of your friends come to visit and stay in my spinal lodge.
I will not miss you.
Photo: Getty Images