Welcome, Friend!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Veritas-Health LLC has recently released patient forums to our Arthritis-Health web site.

Please visit http://www.arthritis-health.com/forum

There are several patient story videos on Spine-Health that talk about Arthritis. Search on Patient stories
Protect anonymity
We strongly suggest that members do not include their email addresses. Once that is published , your email address is available to anyone on the internet , including hackers.

All discussions and comments that contain an external URL will be automatically moved to the spam queue. No external URL pointing to a medical web site is permitted. Forum rules also indicate that you need prior moderator approval. If you are going to post an external URL, contact one of the moderators to get their approval.
Attention New Members
Your initial discussion or comment automatically is sent to a moderator's approval queue before it can be published.
There are no medical professionals on this forum side of the site. Therefore, no one is capable or permitted to provide any type of medical advice.
This includes any analysis, interpretation, or advice based on any diagnostic test

Career ideas after 3 level fusion, looking to give up aviation maintenance

edited 06/11/2012 - 9:03 AM in Lower Back Pain
Sadly but gladly went through with fusion. It isn't anything I wish to go through again in the near future, and therefore am looking at different career opportunities. I had L3-S1 fused in Jan and being only 31 years old, I've been thinking of "what career can I do now" ever since surgery. I am doing a lot better, 3 weeks into PT, and seeing some pain shift around, but all in all improving. My pre-surgery pain is gone, but my surgeon straightened my back accidentally, and upset every joint below my waist, but I'm getting better. In the end, I think it has been a great sucess, excpet for the fact I do not want to have another one in 5-10 years. I've always been a naturally great at mechanic/wood worker/sheet metal. If I keep my current occupation of being an aircraft mechanic, my surgeon thinks 10 years will be a stretch between my next surgery for my L2-L3 failing me. We are constantly stooping, bending, kneeling, twisting, laying down, climbing ladders, and not to mention riveting not being good on joints. My tool box weights 800 pounds, and moves around easily, but its the other every day stuff I'm worried about.

I'm qualified through the VA for Voc Rehab, but having a difficult time finding jobs that they will allow me to retrain for. Non destructive testing(NDT) in the aviation industry is mostly light duty style of employment. However, being in Alaska, most of the NDT jobs are on the north slope, and the University of Anchorage, piggy backs the NDT program with their welding program. Trying to explain to the VA, that these are two completely different industries is like trying to get the VA to respond in a timely manor for our needs, they have a 6 month to year time frame in their opinion it seems they have to work with.

Has anyone else returned to a labor intensive job, and not screwed up their back? I love my career, but don't want to wear my body down, to where I am not enjoying life anymore.The last 3 years have been a medicated intense painful life on a roller coaster, that I do not care to ride again. I get extremely bored with any desk type position, so grasping at straws here. I've talked with 2 different counselors, one at the VA and one at the local college. Both do not understand why I would not enjoy doing a desk type position. I've thought about engineering, but I am not looking forward to returning to school as it is. Facing my mid life crisis this early in life, is becoming an extreme challenge. My mind is young, but my body has no way to keep up. I'm trying to figure out what to use my mind for that will allow my body to catch up with it again.

Thanks, and best of luck to everyone out there. I am extremely happy with how things are progressing. If this is my new pain level, its more tolerable than before, and at least, livable.


  • ymob,
    I have worked in construction trade since high school and have been told that my back is the age of a 60 year old. I am 34. I worked as a cement finisher during the summer in high school. Then joined the cement finishers union worked thier for a couple years until my knees started bothering me. Then I got into installing industrial window systems (curtainwall). Most of the lifting was done by crane but others were lifted by hand. I enjoy working hard and the thought of having to start a new career is not something I want to think about. But I have a family to care for.

    I am not facing a serious surgery like you had, but I was told that if I was to continue in the same labor intensive field, I will be back to the surgeon within five years with greater issues.

    So now I am exploring my options of what to do. I really do not want a desk job but that may be my only option. Sorry I can't anwser your question just letting you know thier are others in your situation.
  • Hi and welcome to Spine Health. I too am an aircraft mechanic and my college degree is in Aviation Science. Fortunately I had retired from the military before I had any back surgery, so I didn't face the problem you are right away. However in this economy everyone has to work to support their family.

    What I did was while I was recovering from surgery I decided to do what I always thought was foolish and became a volunteer. I volunteered for the Red Cross and got a position working in a physical and occupational therapy clinic in the Naval hospital where I lived. It allowed me to stay active, make contacts and learn about other things I might like to do. I found I loved the interaction with people and somehow it led me to working in customer service.

    If you think about it, every where we go there's customer service. Someone behind a counter or a desk or a phone assisting us most every day. I found I have a knack for it and now work 4 days a week, 8 hours a day on my feet, but able to manage.

    The management, troubleshooting and problem solving skills I learn as an aircraft mechanic have served me well. I bet you can find something that will tap skills you have that you don't even realize.

    Don't think about starting BIG. Start small, and work your way into something. Let your body and mind heal and then you can reclaim your life and stride ahead.

    Kindest Regards,

  • Well, you're addressing the problem I'm now facing. A year after my lumbar fusion, I got a job that's very physical, having to lug boxes around, bending, lifting and twisting. Now that I've been doing this for 1-1/2 years now, I just found out that I have no disc at L1/2 and spondylolisthesis at L3/4, right above my fusion. My x-ray last June was fine so I have to believe that my job has done this to me.

    Anyway, I have no answers, just wanted to say I totally know where you're coming from.

  • Well, you're addressing the problem I'm now facing. A year after my lumbar fusion, I got a job that's very physical, having to lug boxes around, bending, lifting and twisting. Now that I've been doing this for 1-1/2 years now, I just found out that I have no disc at L1/2 and spondylolisthesis at L3/4, right above my fusion. My x-ray last June was fine so I have to believe that my job has done this to me.

    Anyway, I have no answers, just wanted to say I totally know where you're coming from.

  • i wish i knew what to tell you. When i was through my neck surgery and went back for the follow ups i was told that i couldn't do my job anymore that it was too physical for me. Since then i've had problem after problem and now its been almost four years and i still have no idea what i can do.The more doctors i see the more i get told to be careful with everything that i do.
  • and my first operation was when i was 30 {i was working for ADT the security company at the time .i found that the main problem was not so much what job can i do .but who will employ me ..because i have back problems .}fear of litigation !!]should i injure myself again ..so i was well enough to do a light duty job after about 8 months but no one wanted me .so there i was married a baby and wife to support and no job ...money got scares and within a few months divorce was on the table things when from bad to worse ..so did my back .and after then next operation there was no chance of work and then after then NEXT operation the ALIF i will never work again ..i am now 46 married and very happy with my wife and home .sadly i am still in pain and have to rely on my wife for money ..i hope your life turns out better {job wise]maybe you could work from home via the PC {that opportunity wasn't an option when i first had my back surgery }
    tony {UK}
    1997 laminectomy
    2007 repeat laminectomy and discectomy L4/L5
    2011 ALIF {L4/L5/S1}
    2012 ? bowel problems .still under investigation
    2014 bladder operation may 19th 2014
  • Hi youngmind, first a question, from your post...

    My pre-surgery pain is gone, but my surgeon straightened my back accidentally,

    I don't follow, is your back suppose to be straight or not or was there a slight error or ???

    I share the exact same fears as you, though I have not had a surgery yet. Without making this my thread, basically you can see what is wrong with my back in my sig, and the fix is a TLIF fusion, I think just the L5-S1 but that was last sept, I would need more updated films to see if the L4 has been degrading too or not.

    I also work aviation maint. Do you work for a commercial carrier? I do, and even if you don't, I know the job and what's physically required. My biggest problem is low back strength, I just don't have it, my muscles are fighting 24/7 just to keep my spine together with the fracture let alone much else. So pulling a wheel off the axle shaft is where the pain and muscles flare/ball up.

    Anyway, I asked if you work for a carrier because you could look into other aspects of aircraft maint, like a supervisor, maint controller, tech writer, QC inspector, tech records, records analysts, data entry clerk.

    The top few I mention require an A&P and experience. NDT would be experience and some schooling. The bottom ones wouldn't require an A&P but would be data entry of aircraft maintenance.

    There are other postions like Powerplant/Airframe/Structural/Avionics Engineering but those all require specific degrees, being lots more school.

    Those might be some choices for you that way you could at least stay at the same company and still be involved somewhat in aircraft maintenance.

    I am in the same boat, when I have this fusion, I hope it's only one level but still, even though I am told I could return to this type work, I don't want to for long term because of the reasons you mention, and domino effect on my upper disks.
    I am also a fix it guy, home projects, electronics, yard equipment, my auto's you name it. The thought of taking some desk position, flat out disgusts me and pisses me off, when I should be able to do what a typical 40 year old should be doing. However, I don't want to be ignorant and compound the problem further and have more fusions later..

    I will seek out a desk position if it could keep me in maintenance and with the company I work for, as my first priority. Some positions would be a mentally stressful position while being airconditioned/heated and no inclement weather. Some positions are pay raises and some are less pay, like data entry, I would still do it to remain in the field I have worked 20 years.

    I will not go to do something, starting over that I have no interest in doing, a cashier at a grocery store or some call center phone person, if it comes to that, I will give in to the back and seek social security disability, hell I've paid into it for 25 years.

    Hopefully I gave you some ideas to consider, I know I am given them a lot of consideration. In fact I put in for a maint controller position this last Jan, but I didn't get it, a couple small reasons but mainly because I missed 6 weeks last year for sick time, and it was all because of my back. It pisses me off, it's ironic, I'm trying to get a position that would be better for my back, but I can't get this position because my attendance due to my back.
  • Hi Cath,
    Thanks for the response, sorry to hear that you are having backwards progress. Im trying to be proactive, and not make myself worse off. I would rather be homeless, than have to do a job that would cause me to have to have another fusion in 5 years. I'm being completely honest. I have an extremely short attention span, and just have not had any PT jobs that have not been physical that I have enjoyed. I am being picky, because to an extent I have to be, and the VA won't allow me to do anything that will injure myself any further. At 31, with 3 levels fused, I was the first 3 level fusion for my surgeon in several years. In good humor, I've become to be know as the oldest person around the office when I'm in for appointments. It is nice however, because my condition was a head scratcher until the CT/myelogram and discogram after countless epidurals and nerve blocks. My symptoms were borderline in some area's, but I am grateful that my surgeon knew that I wasn't faking anything. I don't know why people would fake this stuff, but makes the rest of us non-textbook cases more difficult to explain our case. He has also told me I have short legs for a tall person, and need to guard my back as much as possible when I do reach the point of being healed. I am seeking a job that will keep my mind occupied and busy. Being an aircraft mechanic, we can have 2-3 planes with issues, and working on another, and the entire time I'm thinking about how all those other systems work, and the high fail portions of the system, all the while fixing what I'm working on to the best of my ability and in accordance with the manuals. I've never been tested for ADHD, but being able to concentrate and focus on something I do not find interesting, is extremely boring. I know there are all jobs out there, and that to make companies run, each and everyone is important as a whole. I'm a mechanic, always have been, a great trouble shooter, and the problem I think I'm facing really is looking at a tool box that I'll never use again. I've always been one of those sick minded people who loves work, because it has always been fun, and where I am at, top 5% in wages being stateside.
    Hope this helps more than just myself. I hadn't seen much of a topic like this, but I honestly cant remember when I posted. :( Medication is not my friend at all.
  • Hi tammyc,
    sorry to hear. I've been pleading my case for 2.5 years with my doctor, and was off and on over the past 10. My doctor has only advised me to seek a different career, its in my best interest. He is a pilot, and understands it also takes a different breed to be a mechanic, and he's told me himself, that he wouldn't know what he would do, if he was in the same position as his patients like myself, having to go through this midlife crisis early in life, due to mechanical failure of our bodies.
  • Hi cactusred,
    I am sorry for confusing you. I have 2 abnormal curves in my back as well. I never knew of any issue until 10 years ago. throwing x rays then over ones now, its scary how much my spine has changed. My spine doesn't come straight up, it starts off heading to my left shoulder, and then back, which also helped in my backs deterioration.My presurgery nerve pain, shooters, and tingling toes are all but gone. I still have some mild nerve discomfort in my thigh after PT, but I'm pushing myself as much as I can, because I'm tired of doing nothing. As far as the straightening, my standing x ray vs laying on my stomach, it is extremely different how the skeletal system moves. When lying down, my back is more normal, and during surgery on my stomach, therefore my abnormal curve was straightened out a bit. Not much, but its enough, that my surgeon said that if it wasn't for my sacral joints being irritated and feeling like my hips and tailbone were a "bruise heel" feeling, that he wouldn't have noticed. He is hoping that things will settle in, if not, get me some injections to by some time for my next round of PT, to strengthen everything up more and help settle these joints into their new normal.
    As far as reading your signature, I can assure you, I will be doing nothing in medical coding, or dictating!!!!!! I have my associates, but I sure like small words! :)

    As far as work... I quit right before my surgery, due to other reasons. My $10K plus tool box is still sitting locked up and wrapped up in the hangar. It is a family owned company, flying 2 1900D's, 2 king airs, 2 casa 212's, 3 r-44's, 7 208B grand carvans 4 with tpe331 garrett conversions, 6 piper 31-1020, 2 207's and 170. Last I remember only 15 mechanics at the one base I was working at. When I quit, the door was left open to return after my surgery, and they have been extremely well at working around me, because I'm a fire and forget missile and rarely needing to do warranty work. We have only one lead, there is no separation, where I could get into QC,or become a shift supervisor/lead. I've had my A&P for 7 years, plus the extra 4 experience from 68G in the Army. The university that offers the NDT program, combines it with welding. Its good for the pipeline industry here in AK, but the VA looks at the physical demands of the entire thing. I know some x ray tubes are heavy etc, but other than becoming a training instructor(position performed by DOM), there really isn't much. I am still not sure that I have my job back, but I keep in touch once every other month or so, and I've not been told to fly my box back home yet, so we are keeping our word on the agreement whenever had my wits end with pain and a few other minor issues. And as far as the salary issue goes, I'm not living beyond my means. My only bills are the house payment and utilities, unless the VA doesn't expedite my temp 100%, and then I'll be down a house payment. That is another story in itself. But the VA also tries to place me in a career field near where I am now. It isn't possible. Working where I did, pays extremely well. Its a nice company to work for, just a few coworkers, ruin it for the rest of us. That is everywhere I know, but at my physical condition, and lack of sleep and the pain medication I was on, I wanted out! So, I do not need a job that pays minimum wage,I am intelligent enough to do something constructive, but I've been pedaling this in my head for 3 years, and the closer I get to being as healthy as I will be, its making me sick. Depressed? You bet! It is difficult to explain to someone how fixing planes is different. To me its a rush! I love it, and will miss it, but rather than the metal splinters that only show up when you feel them against the bed sheets, I'll be getting paper cuts, and I'm so dreading this move at my age. Like I stated in another response, trying to troubleshoot 3 or 4 different MEL's, while working, throwing ideas out and around the guys, and having the out of the box way of approaching how the system works, and finding the failure, not many people can say they get that feeling at work each day. I've worked for a regional carrier before, and not that I would return to that company for a job, the pay isn't there, I would try to figure something interesting out and run with it, figuratively speaking of course.

    Wish you luck in your surgery. I was always a yes man when the doctor asked, what do you think about this test? It will tell us, this or that. I was always wanting the appointment the next day, sometimes my injections would be same day! The place where I was getting them allowed to only have local and it wasn't bad. I like giving feedback with a clear mind. The last L3/4/5 nerve blocks, my heart rate didn't increase more than 5 beats per min above what it was... but the epidurals, and nerve blocks that didn't, and the painful ct/myelogram and mildly uncomfortable discogram where all worth it to where I am today. I just have to be smart and not put myself back to where I was. Have a great day.
  • Hi Tony,
    Well, I do see your point as far as a liability to a company. It is also discrimination, at least in the states! I am service connected for my back, so I do have the benefit of being a disabled veteran. Sorry about your personal life. I've been through 2 gf's in 4 years. I gave up and will remain single until I get this thing figured out, due to the fact the last one ended up with my ex-roommate. The emotional strain, mental exhaustion, and joy of life has been sucked out of me. Its a huge change to deal with, but like you relying on your wife for income, its a humbling circumstance to be in. It takes baby steps to recover. I'm overwhelmed when looking at the big picture, and only deal with a few things at a time, not caring about the other stuff until absolutely necessary. I remember a friend gave me a book one time, "Don't sweat the small stuff, it's only small stuff". I'm a simple person in life. I'm not materialistic, and even with that, since being home for 7 months now, day in day out, I'm trying to even downsize more! For me also, I've found out who my true friends really are. Until someone has had a back condition, they do not understand the mechanics of what actually goes through our lower back to perform each and every day tasks. At my worse, I could barely hold a half gallon of milk without having major nerve pain in my thighs and spasms in my back. To explain that to others, even the weakest office lady, looked at me funny as if I was making things up. Breathing without pain, I will say, has been the most noticeable difference. I can take deep breaths again, its amazing.
    I use to like computers, but where my house is located, I barely get 1 bar of non-3G service, and my dsl is slow...probably late 1990's slow to the rest of the world. I am going through a stage in life, where I am evaluating things. Technology is one of them. I'm using tv and the computer and books to get me through my recovery time, but after this, I can do without them for a while. Living off grid would be easily done where I am, but then again, needing a good back to do everything, is the show stopper there. I'm not trying to be a no to everything out there, but I would be good at computers,but the interest just isn't there anymore. :( I am not a big people person, groups of more than 10 people cause me anxiety. I hide it well, but mainly just remove myself from the situation, and fade into the background.

    About your surgeries, I had a L3-S1 laminectomy for my stenosis in Oct of 2010. I had small retrolisthesis on L3 level and spondylisthesis in L5, and my L4 had grown almost completely around my spinal cord. So, after surgery it was like trying to stack marbles. We had approached the first surgery with the possibility of fusing one level, but my surgeon tried to help me with my age by not doing so. He is glad he didn't fuse the one level, but with my facet joints being so worn out, my chances of a disc replacement where shot for my second surgery. So he kinda had a look around prior to fusion. After 8 months of not getting better, and plateaued as far as recovery, he informed me to by my time, the only help was fusion. We didn't know 3 levels until the discogram, and after that, he realized how my pain was stemming from them more than what should have been. I do not wish to go through the pain of another fusion surgery, but my nerves were so inflamed, maybe one level isn't bad. All I know was the first month and a half, when sitting up after being horizontal, it felt like someone was pushing down on my shoulders with force and twisting my shoulders. It would take me sometimes up to 5 minutes to allow everything to settle into place, and I would be able to stand without spasms from my nerves being irritated. I hope that your symptoms get better, and that you can slowly start isolating something to help get yourself patched back up. Have a good day.
  • I took a skills test through the VA prior to my surgery in 2010. I placed into surveyor, wildlife biologist, game warden, police officer, fire fighter, crane operator, and a few others. After reviewing these with the VA voc rehab counselor, he took his pencil and circled jobs that my body could do, and they all made me go HUH?, seriously? The one job I wanted, I'm too old for, that is air traffic controller, cut off age for OK school is 31.

    The skills I've had in life:
    1.High school: #1 my junior and senior year of high school in VICA (now Skills USA) for cabinet making. Placing 17th and 14th in the National finals in Kansas City KS out of 58-60 secondary and post secondary state/territory competitors.
    2. TIG and MIG welding, fabrication 2 and 4 place snow machine trailers, flatbeds for pickup trucks. My senior year our VICA class made a portable saw mill with a 18HP Kohler engine, jack screw adjustable height ride along 20 long carriage.
    3. Took my 1980 2 wd diesel chevy truck, rebuilt a chevy 350 engine complete at my job, rebuilt front and rear axles, swapped entire body over onto the 4wd frame.

    1. Worked at automotive machine shop in high school
    2. Construction 2 red iron buildings, 3 homes in high school, plus 6 portable classrooms for the school district
    3. Military helicopter mechanic
    4. Lowes Home Improvement, Order puller and delivery, cashier
    5. Work study, Veteran Service office, helping veterans file and appeal claims with the VA.

    Honestly becoming a service officer to help fellow struggling veterans would be a job I could do. However, me being service connected, having back surgery and now one month away from going into foreclosure on my house due to the VA taking 1 year to pay out on a claim when they paid $275K for my fusion, I would be unprofessional at times when dealing with the larger entities of the VA in the process of helping a veteran and lose my position quickly.
    Reasons for me having PTSD, I would not mind becoming a social worker/counselor to help people with similar struggles that I grew up with and learned to over come. But dealing with people, and always being around a negative environment, when I have difficulties of my own staying positive at times.

    I am good at woodworking, and finish/trim work as well. I like tedious work, and take extreme pride in being precise. Sheet metal in aviation is to the 1/32" tolerance for repairs. I enjoy scroll sawing, but the vibrations and pressure needed to cut, is still to much for my back, plus it doesn't pay well if I was to have a home business. On medication, my straight lines look as crooked as a local river right now.

    As mentioned above, the customer service... I had to deal with those while at Lowes. I do not deal with rude inconsiderate people well at all. My mode of operation is, once a bridge is burnt, there is no use in attempting to rebuild it, there is only one chance. I do have a short temper, and I've been able to control it more over the years, and having been requested to take back to back anger management classes with the VA y years ago really has helped. I've been attempting my best to apply the skills shown to me by my counselor and I no longer have road rage. I am the person in the right lane driving speed limit or below. I'm never in a hurry to get anywhere. If I show up late, I apologize and tell the truth, being a late start, traffic, mother nature. Usually I am always early though. I'm a very simple person, and like working in a small group of 2, maybe 3 at times depending on the task at hand and if there is enough work for all individuals to stay busy.
    I do have PTSD, arthritis in both ankles due to a bad fracture in one, L3-S1 fusion, tinnitus and 5K-7,500K hertz hearing loss in both ears. I'm doing the best I can to brainstorm, but as you can see, I've always worked with my hands, and been able to think outside the box and fix things or come up with ways to fix things. For instance in 200 miles away from Ft Nelson BC, Uhaul trailer blows a tire on car hauler, in Jan, -20 and snowing. having 2 20' 3,000 lb ratchet straps, and some fire wood, strapped up the axle, pulled the tire and drove on into town. To me this didn't take but a few minutes to think up, driving the flat up onto the firewood, strapped the axle to the frame of the car hauler, and then when backed off the firewood, the trailer would disperse the weight across the frame. Sometimes at work fixing airplanes, there are scenarios that come up where you think the engineers built the plane starting with this one part. At this point it becomes rocket science, because using fuel lube or super glue to get hardware installed again blindly, it has to be done, and there are times where it takes 45 min to an hour to get one nut and washer on. I do have patience to do tedious things, but dealing with people in larger groups, I'll call the person out who is skating by doing nothing. Its who I am.

    Thanks again for everyone's idea or input. Its tough going through this change in life period, no matter what our ages may be. I do know that the older one gets, the more relaxed and easy going we get, so it goes side by side with the body that is beat up, bruised and patched back together. I'm not wanting to be as physically healthy as I can be, and then have a job that makes me depressed.

This discussion has been closed.
Sign In or Register to comment.