In September 1992, at the age of 23, I was injured while lifting on the job. Initially it was diagnosed as a back sprain by the local physician but after 2 weeks, I still wasn't any better. I requested to see a specialist and went to one in Wichita Falls, TX who gave me an ink injection in my spine. The results failed to show any damage. As a result, the worker's comp insurance company, ITT Hartford, stopped paying workers comp benefits to me until a doctor of their choice could see me. For 3 months, I had no income and being recently married, it was very hard on us. I couldn't get meds to help me with the pain and my wife's salary wasn't enough to keep the bill collectors at bay. Finally, I was seen by Dr. xyz, TX at the request of the insurance company. He took an x-ray and immediately ordered an EMG and MRI. Subsequently, it was discovered that I had bulging discs in my lower back. He also gave me a 23% impairment rating which was disputed, as were the results, by ITT Hartford. In those days, fake workers comp claims were the topic of the day. Many tv shows like 60 minutes and 20/20 did spots on false workers comp claims. For those of us who were legitimately hurt on the job, workers comp became a witch hunt. My employer had another employee sit in front of my house with a camera taking pictures of any and all activity at my house. It was very tough mentally to cope with and it made me feel like I was worthless.
Anyway, after Dr. xyz gave his prognosis, the insurance company disputed it and requested that I be seen by another Doctor of their choice. His recommendations came back the same as Dr. xyz but he gave me an impairment rating of 25%. In the meantime, our financial woes had forced me to try to seek employment despite my injury. For 2 years, I went from one employer to another working anywhere from a matter of days to several weeks before I would go down in my back again. Eventually, I would either quit or lose each job. Finally, in August of 94, the injury finally caught up to me. While stepping from the shower, I heard and FELT several pops. That was the last thing I remembered until I woke up in the hospital in Muleshoe, TX. I was then informed that the insurance company was denying my claim and unless I had the money to pay for treatment and admission, they were going to send me home. Normally under workers comp claims, the insurance company has to approve the initial treatment but as it turned out, the company I had been injured working for had an assigned risk status. This meant that the insurance company could deny, deny, DENY.
After two weeks of unbearable pain, my wife finally went and saw an attorney who came to the house. I was out of it completely and my memories of this time are little more than a haze. Apparently though, he was so concerned about my condition at the time that he personally had an ambulance come to our house, pick me up and drive me to St. Mary's in Lubbock, TX. He agreed to cover any medical expenses himself so I could be admitted. I was there for almost 2 weeks before they were able to control the infection that non-treatment for such a long period had caused. Finally, I was operated upon and had a 360 degree fusion and nerve decompression. When I awoke after the surgery, it was the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. When I was released from the hospital 10 days later, the total bill was $238,000. Over 30k of that was Morphine and Demerol alone.
The next 3 years were very hard times. The workers comp company continued to make my life a living hell. Try as I may, I couldn't keep from re-injuring myself. I would have a number of "good days" and then all of a sudden, my back mechanics would go on the fritz and muscle spasms would leave me incapacitated. Often I had to go to the ER and get an injection of Demerol to get me back on track. Eventually, I learned how to cope with the injury and what I could and couldn't do. I had to accept that pain was just a part of my daily life and always would be. I became so beat down by the system and workers comp that I just quit going to emergency rooms and filling prescriptions. Instead, I found my meds on the street i.e. marijuana and naproxen sodium (OTC) and spent the next 15 some odd years handling my back pain that way.
From roughly 1998 until 2009, I managed to enjoy a pretty normal life. Granted, I hurt every single day but mentally all of the tough times workers comp had put me through had toughened me up. Anything is better than worker's comp! Initially, the Dr told me when I had the 360, there was a good chance I might never have kids again, couldn't lift over 25 lbs., couldn't run, couldn't water ski, couldn't play basketball and I sure wasn't supposed to do manual labor. Much less spend the next 18 years working manual labor positions in construction, agriculture and the oil field. All of which I did do and continued to do so until 1 evening in 2009 when I felt a pull while exercising on my Bowflex. From there it was all downhill.
In 2011, I was working as a Supervisor. I had been experiencing so much pain that I often woke my family during the night with my moans. Finally, I went to see a physician in Lubbock, TX about it but was denied treatment even though I had Blue Cross Blue Shield because it was a "preexisting condition". Subsequently, my condition continued to worsen until I was forced to leave. I sought medical coverage thru Medicaid but because I had an almost brand new vehicle and received $250/month in child support (raised three kids by myself for 10 years), I was denied coverage. The next option was to file for SSI but to do so, I had to pay for a number of tests including an MRI and a visit to a Specialist for diagnosis and treatment options. Luckily, the same surgeon I had in 94 was still in business. I sent results of the tests to him and scheduled an appointment. As it turned out, I require another fusion above the original and I also have a bone spur in my spinal column roughly halfway up my spine. My spine was in such bad shape that instead of SSI, it was decided that I would need SSDI instead.
Although another surgery is definitely on the docket, I have decided to explore alternative measures such as acupuncture, a strict exercise regimen, proper dieting etc. I know without a doubt that once I have the surgery, I will never be the same again. I've already hurt every day for 21 years without fail. It was one thing to be 25 years old when I had the first surgery but it is another being 44. The worst part is the mental stress it has put upon me and my family. Undoubtedly, dealing with the system and the injury itself led to my divorce.
In short, here's a few things I've learned about living with a bad back.
a. When doing anything, you must think out every move you make. The moment you don't, you will throw your back out and be face down in no time.
b. Heat works, ice doesn't. I know some people recommend using ice but for me, it causes my back muscles to stiffen up and spasm. Not good!
Pain: Demerol injections/pills help take the edge off of back pain so you can turn the corner and begin to heal. However, I don't care what Doctors may or may not say, Demerol screws up your organs. I've felt like I've been kidney punched ever since the surgery in 94 even in moments when I wasn't having spasms or mechanical problems. Hydrocodone and Morphine work alright but seem to have a lot of side effects including making my skin crawl and incessant itching. I found that Aleve was just as effective as any of them and 1 in the morning/1 @ night helps my problems with sciatica more than anything.
Muscle relaxers: Soma worked pretty good for me. I took 2 250mg tablets at night for several years until it began to cause mood swings. Since then, I have tried Flexeril, Skelaxin and Zanaflex with mixed results. Only Soma would completely relax me though and allow me to get some rest. The others mostly seem like a good way to spend hard earned money and never get anywhere.
Marijuana: I would recommend it above all other medications hands down. I don't know what it is about it but it works. I know several people who suffer chronic back pain and all of them use Marijuana. Yes, it is illegal, but if I had to choose between prescribed medicines with side effects anywhere from organ damage to any number of things AND a simple regimen of Aleve, Marijuana and an OTC sleep aid, I'll take the Aleve/MJ/Sominex route anytime. The fact is, if you require back surgery, you'd better get used to the idea of living with pain. Any specialist that tells you otherwise is full of baloney.
Steroid injections: DON'T DO IT!!!!! It's just a short term fix with very little benefit and a lot of long term health risk. I know it's a requirement after the surgery but I wouldn't do it any more times than the bare minimum. Try anything else but that.
d. Alternative treatments
Acupuncture: It does help to some extent. If I had to say if I've ever had at least one moment without discomfort, it would be thanks to acupuncture. Granted it's just a short term fix and if your back is really bad, it's probably not gonna help too much but anything you can do to avoid surgery, I would recommend giving it a try.
Exercises: Probably the most important thing you can do to help your back is stretch well in the morning when you first awaken. Swimming and walking in waist deep water really helps me a lot. Also sitting in a hot tub if available.
Massages: Of course. Massages are awesome. Who doesn't feel the benefit of a good deep tissue massage?
Active or Inactive?: Stay as active as possible. Inactivity only makes the symptoms worse.
So anyway, that's been my experience with over 20 years of back problems. I don't know if this helps anybody but if it does, then it made writing this "book" worthwhile. One of the worst things about a back injury is the toll it takes on a person mentally. For me, it has often made me feel isolated as if I was the only person who had ever been through it. Not true! There's a lot of us out there. So many that Social Security tends to deny back claims. Personally, I think that is because they know half the country would be on Social Security benefits otherwise. But that is a subject for another thread.
God bless and fair thee well!
Post edited to remove specific doctor's name. Please read the Forum rules