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We are the 10%

LA_runner_chickLLA_runner_chick Posts: 91
edited 06/11/2012 - 9:01 AM in Depression and Coping
The statistic that's pretty generally thrown around is that about 90% of people who have back surgery end up satisfied with their results -- and that leaves 10% of people who end up either no better off, or with more pain, more frustration, less hope.
Like a lot of the people who post here.
In full disclosure, I'm not a 10 percenter. Or a 90 percenter. I haven't had surgery…yet.
I have a long meandering odyssey that started with me, as recently as a year and a half ago, being a passionate runner who was logging as many as 90 miles a week. I kept having a problem with my calf muscles and the outside of my left foot that I just couldn't put my finger on…
Fast forward to today, when I've finally been diagnosed with a pinched nerve at L5/S1, caused by stenosis.
I am so humbled by the stories I read here about people who've endured so much -- so much pain, so many treatments, and they keep going.
I've been lucky, sort of. No pain, but the weakness and numbness is to the point that I can't run, and it's slowly making another back condition worse. I'm still fairly active -- gym and hiking and even swimming, but it's not running. The grief from losing running has been as intense for me as losing my parents.
I've had a couple of cortisone epidurals, and they work remarkably well. I get a lot of strength and feeling back, it's just that they don't last. (often times because I feel so good, I overdo it)
I just had another one yesterday, and it is remarkable how close to feeling whole I am.
I also have an consultation with a surgeon in three weeks. Because I'm relatively young and healthy -- and since the epidurals work so well, it means I don't have nerve damage -- it means I'm probably a pretty good candidate for surgery.
However, I'm scared to death. I read so many stories on these boards about how hellish post-op life can be.
This is where the 10% comes back in. I'm hoping for every one of these stories I read, there are nine people who think, "My life is so much better, I feel great and I'm glad I had the procedure."
Because to me, it looks like I can continue to get the epidurals (which have horrible side effects, like periods that last 18 days) and drastically curtail my athletic pursuits, the things that have been a driving force in my life for 20 years.
Or I can roll the dice and have surgery -- possibly, eventually getting my life back, possibly staying the same, possibly having problems so bad, I'll have wised I'd never thought of it.
Honestly, I feel like such an ungrateful a-hole when I write these words, since there are people out there who are truly suffering.
Maybe the surgeon will tell me something unexpected. I don't know if I can go through life waiting for the other shoe to drop -- ie., not having surgery, always wondering if I'll get worse, if new symptoms will develop.
But then, if I do opt for surgery, I wonder which side of the fence I'll come out on: the 10% or the 90%.

Thanks for letting me vent. It's been an emotional week.


  • LA_runner_chick (retired):

    What you are feeling emotionally is 100% normal. You are grieving the loss of a lifestyle and agonizing over an unknown. That's normal.

    But there is yet another defining of the 10% who did not experience good outcome from spine surgery. How many of them felt the same as you prior to submitting to surgery - not the physical pain, but the emotional/mental confusion?

    This surgery decision is extremely difficult for most of us, as we will gut it out and try all modalities prior to surgery even though they screw up our lives. Some of us proceed this way for decades living with steadily and incrementally increasing levels of chronic pain. Our lives are so slowly modified that we don't realize it, until we recall a past event and say to ourselves - wow, that WAS me; I DID that; or I LOOKED so healthy?

    Here's my point. I have often thought of how lucky the unlucky back pain sufferer is who has to immediately submit to surgery. They did not have to endure these months, years and decades of chronic pain and mental confusion regarding surgery. The decision was made for them, no question. And that portion of the spiney population is probably a very small percentage of the 10% who submitted and did not improve.

    So here's my point. This morning chronic pain and medication has warped my thinking. I don't know what my point is. Just kidding. I wanted you to know that there are several of us who are where you are or have been where you are. My recommendation is to continue to seek advice; remain as physically active as possible; and keep an open mind regarding all medical interventions for back pain.

    I am a retired runner. When my surgeon told me to never do it again I almost cried. Now that's really odd - a 60 year old man crying in public because he can't run anymore. I have replaced my base mileage, personal records, long runs, tapers, etc. with accepting the fact that LIFE is a marathon for a spiney.

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