I got to see some really great x-rays of my spine yesterday. Garry got to see them too and I gave him a short course in why Marilyn’s back hurts. And how come what hurts also keeps my spine in one piece.

FYI, I'm a level 4 -- or was at the time of my surgery.

I was level 4 at the time of my surgery.

When I was 20 years old (1967), my vertebrae L3 through L5 were surgically fused. Not the way they do it today using hardware, but by taking a piece of my hip bone, pounding it into paste, and thence into glue. They first removed (to the extent they could back then, before micro instrumentation) the discs which were herniated and ruptured. Not doing me any good anyhow. They did their best to wrap the nerves to protect them from additional damage. Then, they  doped me up, wrapped me in plaster from armpit to knees, and told me not to move for a year.

I was in the hospital for four months. Flat on my back. Then I was at home for a long time. As soon as I felt better, I got pregnant.

They don’t do the surgery like that anymore. Nowadays, the surgery is entirely different. Plus, they get you out of bed and on your feet the day after surgery. But, this was 1967.

Treatment had begun to change even then, but change hadn’t made it to Oceanside, Long Island where I had my surgery. I should have gone to a more up-to-date hospital. I would have saved myself some pain and misery, though I think, in the end, the results would have been pretty much the same.

Fast forward 49 years. The fusion disintegrated decades ago, but nature is creative. My body provided its own version of fusion using calcium. That calcification is called arthritis, but it has effectively stabilized my spine. It hurts, but I’m not falling apart. This back won’t easily break.

There’s also nothing to be done about it. No surgery. My hips are terribly painful, but my hips are fine. The pain is reflected (deflected?) pain from my spine. So how come my back hurts too? If the pain is going to make something else hurt, shouldn’t it not hurt there too?

Spondylolisthesis-1What’s an aging lady to do? I can’t do MRI because I have a pacemaker and it isn’t one of the fancy ones that are immune to magnetism. I should have a warning label that says “Keep away from magnets.” An MRI is all about magnetism, so I’ll have to settle for a simple CAT scan.

Then, off to the spine folks and see if they are able and willing to try injecting cortisone and lidocaine to at least give me a few months of relative comfort. They might not be willing to do it. My back has scared some pretty impressive medical professionals. And if they can and will do it, there’s no guarantee it would help.

The good news? That ugly mass of calcification that has formed a solid sheath around my lower spine also guarantees that I can stand on my own feet. I may not walk well or stand straight, but I’m also not falling apart. It won’t get better, but it seems likely that it won’t get a lot worse, either. It’s pretty much as bad as it can get.


Who knew falling off horses when I was a teenager would disable me as a senior. They don’t warn you about that … and I wouldn’t have listened anyway. When you’re 15, you don’t see yourself old and broken. Probably, that’s a good thing.

The good news? My back is close to the same as it was seven years ago. It isn’t noticeably worse, though the CAT scan will paint a clearer picture. For me, not worse is good. Great, even. There are worse things than pain.

Categories: Health, Humor, Medical, Personal

Tags: , , , , ,

28 replies

  1. When I hurt my knee on the ski slope and didn’t go to the doc right away, when i did go he said, ‘You’ll be sorry later.” I was 28 or 29 and I had NO idea what he meant. It’s probably better that way, as you said.


  2. I did gymnastics as a teenager – an am now suffering from the affects. I have a corset which I wear when the pain is too bad – that helps with the muscles spasms. Not to mention giving me a great waist. Hope you are both getting the meds you need.


  3. That sounds so painful, Marilyn.


    • It is, but there are good days and bad. It always hurts a little, but a little is pretty good for me. You do get used to pain. Chronic pain. It doesn’t go away, but you learn to manage it. There are only so many pills you can take. After that, you have to find other ways of coping. Given enough years, you work it out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There has to be a break through in pain management.


        • I keep waiting,but so far, it’s just new versions of existing stuff. The problem is, I can’t take whole families of medication because of the heart stuff and other previous surgeries. I’m allergic to morphine based stuff, which leaves Tylenol (generic and otherwise) … and Demerol. Kind of a short list. There’s also Neurontin, which doesn’t do anything against pain, though it’s not ineffective. It effectively makes me stupid AND makes my hair fall out.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Bad but not too bad. Not worse is a good thing. I liked this, Marilyn, only because you sound so positive about this. Gosh, I hurt for you. But I got up to get us some more chocolate….


  5. 19 was a bad year for my back too. That’s when I got hit at a stop sign. I stopped, the other guy didn’t and pushed me under an 18 wheeler. Broke my back in two places. T 11 and T12. The ones that stabilize the ribs and help make breathing oh so painful. I was in the hospital for weeks and had to learn to walk again. I hate hospitals now. I did pretty good for many years actually. I was cautious but still could do most things. Not so much now. Being a wedding photographer has been so much fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sadly, I am now realizing that 12 hours chasing a bride around on her wedding day just isn’t in the cards any more. After a wedding shoot it’s 3 days in bed to recover. Something bad happened at Matt’s wedding. Something let go. Breathing is painful and moving is near impossible. Took up residence at the ER after the wedding day. Couldn’t lie flat for an MRI. Who knew 30 minutes could actually be an eternity. Even the tech couldn’t make me comfy. X-rays show a train wreck. CAT scan showed other bad things about a kidney and liver issue. Not bad for someone who never drank, smoked or took any illegal drugs. Hell, I could have been having fun if I’d known it was all for nothing! Anyway, that’s my tale of woah. Thank God for my family and friends who tolerate my moans and groans. Now I am praying for injections such as you’ve had. Hopefully, it keeps me going a bit longer. By the way? BACKS SUCK! Thanks for listening. Hope you are as good as you can get. Hope Garry feels better with his shoulder too. Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life isn’t fair. And we don’t even understand youthful injuries will be crippling injuries later in life. Can you get an assistant to help you with the wedding photography? Most of the pros I’ve known had an intern or associate to deal with the bending, lifting, hauling … and sometimes, the shooting. It sounds to me like you need help … preferably someone young and spry! Which clearly you and me aren’t.

      I know it doesn’t seem like it, but you’ll get this sorted out. Whatever you did to your back, like Garry and his shoulder, it will ease off and you can address it and whatever is going on in those other critical organs. The back you know about, but the kidney and liver — that’s important life-and-death stuff.

      It’ll get better. It always does. Just meanwhile, it hurts. You’re miserable. It takes way too long. But it will get better. Auntie Marilyn promises.


  6. I was introduced to the great Scrabble word spondylo…whatever when I hurt my back during my second year at Mecca, and they used that “diagnosis” as the basis to deny my workman’s comp claim… saying my back problems were genetic. Whatever. It was only a few hundred dollars of medical bills back then (Man, I loved it when my insurance actually used to pay for stuff rather than just get me “discounts), so I let it go. My back’s still a bit creaky, though 18 years of manual labor will do that to you. I’d rather avoid the horses… I’ve only been on one twice in my life, and am more than done with them. Well, maybe I’d ride a unicorn….

    Liked by 1 person

    • How could they claim it’s genetic? It isn’t. It’s virtually ALWAYS work or sports related. What a bunch of bastards. Remarkably, Medicare is much better about this stuff. They may charge a co-pay, but they cover pretty much everything. 18 years of manual labor will definitely do a nice job.

      I bet a unicorn would give you a very comfy ride. I think I’ll join you. We’ll go rainbow unicorn riding together 🙂


  7. I absolutely love the attitude you have about all this, and the transparency you have is almost daunting in a way. It’s inspiring and encouraging to read it.

    You are definitely in my thoughts and prayers! Your strength both mentally and physically is admirable, and for that you should be applauded!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The silver lining is always present! I’m happy to hear at least it can’t get any worse, but I’m so sorry you have to deal with that pain. I can’t begin to imagine what you have to go through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You do learn to manage your life to match your problems. The hardest step is admitting you HAVE a problem that isn’t going away. Acknowledging that “mind over matter” no longer applies. Getting comfortable furniture. Finding things you can do. The pain is background noise, but it’s intrusive and unrelenting and it’s hard finding doctors who get it. I can still walk. Not easily and not for long periods or distance, but it’s no small miracle that I’m still on two legs. I think we all go through periods of feeling sorry for ourselves …and angry, too. But it could be a lot worse. I could be dead. No matter how bad things are, there’s someone who has it worse.

      Liked by 2 people

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