My first spinal surgery--a discectomy was when I was 14 years old. The sensation and muscle loss in my left leg caused doctors to recommend surgery to my parents. That summer had been very painful(radiating pain/sciatica) and now the pain was gone, but apparently that was a bad sign. I remember looking at the MRI of my spine and thinking it looked like a dragon, which at 14, I decided was pretty cool.
Over the next 16 years, I had two more discectomies of my two favorite lumbar discs, L4/L5 and L5/S1 and I tried everything to avoid those surgeries--yoga, acupuncture, a personal trainer, physical therapy, tens unit, painkillers, traction, chiro, massage. I even tried to ignore my radiating pain. Over the years, I got pretty good at pretending it was not there. I would reason with my dragon, talk to it gently, try to pamper and baby it until I found a position (if any possible) to wade through the pain waves until the painkiller started to work, or the heating pad calmed the spasming muscles. It was the loss of sensation and consequently muscle weakness that I could never ignore.
At age 30, my right leg threw in the towel and stopped functioning properly at all. I developed something called Foot Drop--and it was profound. I could no longer lift my foot off the ground. I went to my Neuro and asked his opinion, he said the F-word, Fusion. Something I had desperately tried to avoid. In denial, I sought out another even more highly regarded Neurosurgeon, and he also said the F-word. And that was it, it was time. I got a fusion of those two pesky discs in the hopes that my right leg would regain its strength.
It took me 10 months to recover my life--I moved home after not living near my family for 12 years--which was a blast...but I am grateful Resigned from my job(which I loved and had worked through most of my twenties). To recover as fast as possible and keep my sanity, I swam every day after the first month post op. I completed 6 months of PT(much to my insurance's chagrin). I learned 115 riddles from the college lifeguards at the pool--they were very motivating and supportive.
My leg did recover. Well, mostly--like 80-90%. I take very conscious steps now, which has let me appreciate life all the more. I still struggle with some pain, my back will inflame from time to time, but no more radiating pain--which is awesome!
The one thing that has helped me most, walking through most of my life with DDD, is my sense of humor, even in the darkest moments of struggling with that biting, radiating pain, I would pull myself up with any spark of humor I could find, and sometimes there wasn't any humor, it just sucked. For those moments, I turned to external reminders. I put on a funny hat, looked at myself in the mirror--I did anything to remind myself that the pain would pass eventually and I would be able breathe again.
Now I am thriving, I live life right out in front. I moved back to the city, got a new job, and another chance at living my life. I don't wait to do exciting things and I like to take chances, because I never know if and when the pain will return.
I write this for others like me, people like you. I am right there with you. You, me and our dragons.