I was diagnosed with a herniated L5-S1 disk 20 years ago. The odds of recuperation through surgery was 50/50 so I opted to live with the pain. When I hit 50, I noticed either tremendous lower back pain accompanied by pain in my left buttock down the left side of my leg. Two MRI's later, I went to visit a neurosurgeon and same story. I am now 56 and decided to start the conservative route starting with 3 epidural steroid injections. #1 was almost a miracle, #2 put me in pain worse than before the injections and #3 put me at a pain level between #2 and no shots. On the "pain scale", I was at an "8". I went 4 months and the pain returned to its original state so the surgeon recommended a micro-discectomy. I was very hesitant but read many articles about those who experienced less pain. 3 months ago I opted for the disk surgery which went well but the post-op recovery was unbelievably painful for a week. Slowly I began the physical therapy route and for a few weeks, I would say my pain level was at about a "6". To make matters worse, my career dictates I sit for long periods of time and on top of that, I travel via air several times a month. The dilemma I am now in is my pain is back up to about an "8". The surgeon prescribed hyrdocodone 7.5/325 which if I take as prescribed (1-2 every 4-6 hours) , it appears to bring the pain threshold down to around a "3-4". I am able to function normally on the prescribed amount but have heard all the "additive" horror stories surrounding the pain killer. I meet with my surgeon again this week for follow-up #3 and the last time when I spoke of the pain; he mentioned the possibility of a fusion type of procedure. I work with quite a few people who went through similar surgery - one now has some sort of patch she wears for pain management after 8 years, another had fusion which led to a 2nd and 3rd fusion including an artificial disk which later cracked and required a rod and screws to stabilize the disks above and below. I have yet to find someone who has had fusion and hear them say they were pain free. I’m not a pill freak at all but I’m at the point I would rather take a lower dosage of hydrocodone (5/325) on a fairly frequent basis. I plan on retiring in 10 years and can't afford this pain to worsen to the point where the lack of mobility affects my job security. Now is not a time to even consider surgery because the unemployment rate and current state of economy is working against me. My question is, how do surgeons feel about pain medications when there are few options available? I've been told by the folks I mentioned above that they been aware of how bad the pain became post-fusion, they would have stuck to some sort of pain medication. Let's face it, life is too short and I don't want to spend my "golden" years in constant pain.
I do not abuse or take more pain medication than prescribed and I do not drink alcohol or smoke. Has anyone out there with a similar pain threshold been able to reach a happy medium with your doctor(s) where they accepted your decision to choose pain medication over the unknowns of a disk fusion? I looked through this forum for similarities but run into the "you don't want to take pain meds all your life - you'll become addicted" and I attribute those comments to those who "might" have abused their prescribed dosages. I am quite disciplined and now that I have been taking hydrocodone for 4-5 months, there is and never was a "high" I felt other than feeling great not to have pain all the time. Any suggestions on how to approach my surgeon do they all push for surgical procedures? I realize they will make pretty decent $$$ if I elect surgery but I come from the old school of; "it's my body and I know how I feel". Right now, all I want is to keep my pain level around a 4 or 5. These 8-9's of pain without pain meds makes sitting and walking unbearable. By the way - I stopped pain meds for around 2 weeks to measure the pain level and I was pretty close to being back to square one. Any suggestions? As an FYI, the surgeon also prescribed Valium for muscle spasms post op for 2 weeks and Valium just about knocked me out and I lost time from work. Maybe I am one of those few individuals that all hyrocodone does for me is what it's supposed to. Dull or stop the pain.
Thanks for any advice - I am at a loss and very frustrated about the thought of questionable fusion surgery which could lead to stronger pain meds that could affect my on the job abilities.