I suppose I should give a quick summary of my neck pain before I ask questions. First off, I'm in my mid-20s, married, I just graduated pharmacy school, and I teach ballet in my spare time. I had hip surgery for a ballet injury about a year ago. Even still, I look like the picture of perfect health. I'm a six foot tall female, thin, and attractive. Perhaps this contributes to doctors not believing me about my pain. . .
About a month after hip surgery my neck started hurting. I actually thought it might have something to do with the hip surgery. It wasn't just my neck though, it was also the area surrounding it. It hurt to swallow and I was getting massive headaches radiating from the base of my skull. I'm not fond of doctors, so I avoided seeing anyone for several months, but the pain got worse. I tried a chiropractor and acupuncturist and I think it helped, but the pain in my neck was still severe. Then the pain started to radiate into my right arm. It felt like electricity. It was painful and extremely uncomfortable. Like someone hitting your funny bone
So after a year of trying to convince the doctor that my pain in my neck was REAL he wrote me a referral to my mom's spinal surgeon.
A bit about my family history. My poor mother has degenerative disc disease. She's had multiple surgeries on her back and neck. Her mother, my grandma, also had degenerative disc disease. The severity of my mother's DDD is less than her mother's.
My mom's spinal surgeon is a really nice guy and an extremely good surgeon. He immediately believed me and ordered an MRI of my cervical spine and lower back. My primary care doctor, who has to authorize everything for insurance purposes, refused to authorize the lower back MRI. But after much convincing he authorized the C-spine MRI that the spinal surgeon originally ordered.
Anyway, the MRI showed that I have bulging discs at C5, C6, C7 with lots of osteophytes. Given my family history he gave me a presumptive diagnosis of DDD. I didn't ask too many questions at the time because it was a hard blow. He told me that it wasn't bad enough for surgery yet and I agreed. He recommended a lower back MRI to look for signs of degeneration and a cortisone injection. He left the room shortly after because I think he didn't want to get upset. How do you tell an attractive 26 year old with their whole life in front of them that they have DDD? I don't blame him. . .
He made a recording for my primary care doctor so that he would authorize the lower back MRI. I'm kind of scared to see the results. My left toe is numb actually, which I assumed had something to do with my hip surgery.
So after I got out of his office I cried. I called my husband and cried. For the next couple of days I was depressed. I talked to lots of friends and my own mother and that did help. She's such a strong woman. Even still, she teaches ballet 5 days a week. I want to be like her and try to live a full life despite my pain.
1. How do you deal with the emotional impact of this pain and the grim prognosis? Due to my hip injury, I've been living with chronic pain for 2 years now. The thought of having pain for the rest of my life is extremely depressing. Would it be helpful to see a psychologist? Any advice on how to cope with this diagnosis?
2. How does your spouse deal with this? My husband has been so sweet and extremely accommodating, but I can't help but feel sorry for him. I mean when he married me I was healthy. He didn't sign up for this.
3. At what age did your neck pain start? I feel kind of alone in this. I mean DDD is depressing enough, but I'm 26. The pain makes me very tired. It's hard to explain to my friends because they have no concept of what it's like to live with chronic pain.
4. The other thing I was thinking about was pregnancy. I'm not pregnant yet, but I hope to try soon. Right now I'm taking Synthroid (hypothyroidism), Tylenol, Naproxen, Gabapentin, Lidocaine patches, Cymbalta, Tramadol, along with birth control pills. I'm a soon to be pharmacist, so I'm fairly educated about medicine. I realize I'm going to have to quit everything but the Tylenol and Lidocaine patches in order to get pregnant. Everything else is Pregnancy Category C or D, which can be detrimental to the baby. Anybody have any advice on this? I'm going to get a cortisone shot in my neck so I'm hoping that works and eliminates most of the pain so I can get off of most of that medicine. I've wanted to have little babies for so long, but I was waiting to finish school. . . Now I wish I hadn't waited
5. When I injured my hip I lost 20 pounds and I'm already thin, so I currently have an anorexic BMI. Pain makes me lose my appetite. Has this happened to anyone else?
6. Does your pain come in cycles? As a kid, I remember my mom would wear her neck brace when the pain got really bad, which was about a week every few months. She hardly ever complained about it.
7. How do you deal with the stigma of pain killers? It's really horrible how doctors treat patients in pain. It was hard enough for me to get the Tramadol, which is a partial opiate agonist. It sort of does the job. It's like Vicodin's weak little sister :P I talked to my mom and she told me since I was so young it would be best to hold off on the opiate pain killers. I was on 1.5 tabs of Vicodin (5/500 mg) daily for a while after my hip surgery. My hip surgeon cut me off about 8 months after the surgery because he didn't feel it was necessary and there were other alternatives.
My dad criticized me for it and told me that I shouldn't live my life like that. He made it sound like I was a drug addict! Also, my primary care doctor made me feel so guilty about it. He kept talking about drug addiction and how hard it is to get off pain killers. I agree, but I was at a point where I couldn't even sleep at night! I sleep with a heating pad, which helps both my neck pain and hip pain. Even still some nights I can't sleep because the pain keeps me awake. *sigh* I wouldn't mind it soooo much if I didn't have to go to work, you know? Working on 4-5 hours of sleep every day is exhausting.
Okay, I think that's enough for now. Thank you so much for your help and advice ^_^