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.
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?
What’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.