November 9, 2015

Shades of Pain

About a month has passed since my last blog post, and whereas before I was taking only 2 types of medicine daily for my (sciatica) leg pain, I am now taking 3, sometimes 5. New levels of pain = new thresholds for pain.

The pain meds allow me to continue on with the majority of daily activities, I still go to work, can still bathe and dress myself, but that's about it. I haven't been able to pick up any of the slack at home, can't cook for myself, can't drive, no exercising or stretching, and sleeping through the night without having to top up my meds has become a rare occasion.

I also had an EMG taken of my legs, which revealed that I have nerve damage in the right leg. This led my rehabilitation doctor I'd been seeing for 6 weeks to finally give up and tell me that he thinks that surgery is the only route to solve this problem now.

By the time he told me that, it wasn't a shock. I wasn't as closed off to the idea of surgery as I was in early September. It'd been almost 2 months of treatment with no effect (in fact, only worsening). I had become worried I might occasion permanent damage to my leg, even if I could wipe out all the pain in my leg (which even with the 3-5 meds is still rare).

Both surgeons I saw subsequently (for yet another set of opinions) agreed, that surgery is my only remaining option. And also, fortunately, I am a candidate for endoscopic surgery, which is relatively less invasive than open back surgery, with less recuperation time as well.

The hope is that surgery, by removing the herniated portion of the disk, will relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve and allow it an opportunity to heal. Both surgeons predict that I will be able to recuperate 95-100% of lost function (which luckily is not that great- some strength in my right leg and some range of motion in my shin and toes).

I definitely still have trepidations about this, as I realize it has its risks and I would have preferred to avoid the surgery route. On the other hand, I am eager to give my body a chance to continue on its way with healing from this, and regain a lot of the quality of life and independence that I've lost in the last 3 months. I'm trying to look at it as just an example of something that can easily happen to any active individual and that any person or athlete, etc. would want to obtain the care that best allows them to recover in the least possible amount of time.

Getting off the meds will be another important effect of the surgery, I hope. Even if it weren't for the EMG results showing nerve damage, I am concerned about the long term effects of so much medication for months.

Another good thing is I happen to be insured doubly- both private insurance through work as well as the state-sponsored insurance which ostensibly will provide the "temporary disability" status to allow me leave from work for the weeks I'm in recovery. Thus, in terms of timing, it really does help that I have a way to get this done without incurring significant costs that, if uninsured, might have been cost prohibitive.

A side benefit of this issue is that I decided to take my health by the reins in terms of my weight, and have lost 5 kg/11 lbs in the last 5 weeks. I am not sure if this has helped with improving my symptoms, if it has, I haven't noticed, but it will be helpful in the recovery period and long-term in my quest to reduce the likelihood of this occurring again in the future.

There are a number of administrative hurdles I have yet to clear in the coming weeks, and I hope that my instincts in navigating this unchartered medical territory will serve me well. If all goes well, next time I write I will be in recovery from what was a wildly successful intervention to get me back in the saddle again. I am pining for days where my threshold for pain can come down from "sky high" and go back to "normal." Wish me luck. 

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