An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

I'm Back....

I’ve got my spine
I’ve got my Orange Crush
REM, “Orange Crush”

“Get back,
Get back to where you once belonged.”
The Beatles, “Get Back”

A sneeze changed the course of history.

Well, I guess it didn’t quite change everything, but it changed a lot, related to my spine. Buckle up, this might get long…

So let’s back up (see what I did there?) to last year, winter, February 2019. It was a cold day, but not so cold… It had not rained, or snowed, but the driveway had iced up overnight, and the area in front of my garage, being in shade all day, remained icy through the day. When I came home from work, stepping out of the F-150, my left foot slid out from under me. I caught myself before the hard landing, but my left hamstring felt… off. Like I’d pulled a muscle.

That persisted throughout the spring, slowly getting worse through the summer. I tried stretching, some roller-work, self massage… It kept getting slowly worse. I just wanted to get through some cycling events in late summer, and then I was going to give it some rest and maybe seek professional intervention if it didn’t respond. So that gets me to August, where I aced my main event on the 12th, chopping a good 35 minutes from my previous best time on the ride up Windy Ridge (Mt St Helens). And then I started some tae kwon do classes with my young daughter. In the second class, it came to a head during some sprint warm-ups. Chiro, then PT, a MRI, and it was confirmed – herniated disc at L5-S1 (the bottom-most lumbar vertebra where it causes the most frequent complaint of “sciatica”).
The 9-30-2019 MRI revealed a significant
L5-S1 Herniation.

There was more following, a lengthy process to get a cortisone injection that lasted all of 2 days before all the pain came right back. I returned to the pain management clinic (who did the cortisone injection), and they suggested two courses of treatment: another cortisone injection involving the L5-S1 AND the L4-L5 discs, or going with a microdiscectomy. For those not familiar with that procedure, basically they open up access to the spinal column and use a slurpee spoon to suck out the offending portion of the gelatinous disc material, with the idea that the fibrous outer perimeter can heal. I decided I wasn’t going to mess around with another very likely ineffective injection and go straight to the surgery route.

And that was right as the COVID-19 lock-down hit. No non-essential procedures at the hospital. I was in a holding pattern.

Finally, near the middle of May I got a surgery date of June 29th. There was light at the end of the tunnel.

All this time I’ve been working from home. The company I work for has (wisely, I think) kept those who can work from home doing so. But the desk chair I’d been using was pretty miserable (it has since been replaced). One early morning while sitting in from of the computer, I happened to sneeze. That was about May 20th. I immediately felt like I’d pulled a muscle in my back. Rather uncomfortable, but not debilitating. But it persisted, and on the night of May 30th it was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep most of the night because of the pain.

Sunday morning, sitting at my dining room table next to my young daughter, as she was finishing breakfast, I stood up. As I side-stepped to exit from my chair, my left leg moved as normal, but my right leg felt like it was caught on something. I pulled harder, and it slowly came out… And there was nothing there. Hmm… As I stepped away, I almost fell over because my right leg kept kicking out to the side. I shambled around for a little bit, then finally went to lie down. Along the way, I discovered that the pain in my back was gone…

In many ways, having the pains down the back of my left leg, but the muscles for the most part are functioning well, is much less disconcerting than no pain with muscles not functioning properly.

My mind was thinking of the possibilities – stroke? MS? Or…?? I went through my own little F.A.S.T. test, and while it was encouraging I knew it wasn’t definitive that I hadn’t suffered a stroke. But still… My wife made a quick appointment with the local Urgent Care doctor’s office, but they couldn’t do much in the way of testing, so they sent me to the local ER. Still no definitive answers, but they eliminated stroke as a possibility, and felt that likely I had another disc issue.


I had my pre-op appointment with the surgeon (the PA, actually, but he’s the proxy for the surgeon in the pre- and post-op meetings) on the 16th, but I didn’t want to wait that long. I scheduled another appointment to talk about this new development. We met on the 2nd, the outcome being that it was likely true I had another disc issue, but that the normal course of action would be the “conservative” approach which had landed me in a now-9-month-plus ordeal with my left leg. I kind of insisted on at least an MRI, which they agreed to order. On the 12th I got the MRI, and the results arrived to me the morning of my pre-op: significant herniation of the L3-L4 disc, causing displacement of the nerve.
The 6-12-2020 MRI showed a severe
L3-L4 Herniation.

At my pre-op appointment, I basically just asked the question of “if surgery is a suggested course of action, wouldn’t it make sense to do it at the same time as the L5-S1 discectomy? Even on the insurance end?” The PA wanted to talk with the surgeon… Within 5 minutes it was decided that, yes, this would be a good course of action, and it was all put in place. Assuming my insurance agrees, I’ll be having both locations sucked out on the 29th.

But the L3-L4 discectomy is a little more involved, because of how it has herniated – it might well entail removing part of the vertebra, the “fin” portion that protrudes backwards and shows as that ridge in the back when flexed forward. And recovery will likely be a bit longer.

So, a sneeze. Kind of ridiculous.