Hey everybody, I'm new on the forums and am glad to have found this website and all of it's resources.
I'm currently in a bit of a jam and really don't know who or what to turn to. I apologize in advance for this huge wall of text but I feel it's necessary to explain my background before I get into my current situation. I really appreciate any replies and advice!
28 years old, from New York. I've had debilitating lower back problems since I was 20, with brief 'flare ups' that I would tough my way through during my teenage years. When I was 20, a flare-up I had made me immobile for a few days, which is when I saw someone about it. My MRI 8 years showed problems at the L3-L4 and the L4-L5. L3-L4 was herniated and both discs were degenerating. So I was marked with DDD and a herniated disc. During the next few years I went through chiropractor (didn't help), physical therapy (did help), steroid injections (didn't help), and prescribed narcotic pain medication daily.
During the next 3 years I was on meds every day and continued physical therapy. Eventually I weaned myself off of the pain meds (I was prescribed 60 mg of Oxycodone a day) and the back pain lingered but it was manageable and I was able to live my life and deal with the flare-ups. The pain meds became a real problem for me, becoming physically and mentally dependent on them so I am glad I was able to break away from that.
Fast forward another 3 years, which puts me at 26 years old, and I had a serious flare-up. The L3-L4 herniated and left me walking with a serious limp and tilted over to the right side like I was leaning. Eventually I had to go to the emergency room, and then made an appointment for a consultation with a surgeon. On the day of my consultation I literally couldn't walk and had to take a cab ride to the appointment and be wheeled in on a wheel chair. Worst pain I have ever experienced. The surgeon operated on me that night, I needed emergency surgery just to be able to walk again. I had a discectomy on the L3-L4.
My surgeon said that L3-L4 and L4-L5 were seriously degenerated. My DDD had gotten worse and I was also 'diagnosed' with spinal stenosis.
The discectomy went well and after my quick recovery I started taking my health seriously. I lost 60 lbs of body fat, put on tons of muscle, started living a very healthy and active lifestyle and am currently in the best shape of my life. Started working on my posture, quit smoking, and started treating my issue as something that can be fixed or managed with lifestyle changes instead of doctors visits and medication.
I had the discectomy a little over 3 years ago in February 2010. I am aware that both mentioned discs are not in good shape and while I'm active I still do my PT routines, take advil when needed and generally take it easy. Any flare-ups I have last about 4-5 days and go away. However, I've had a big flareup which feels like it is at the L4-L5 for 3 weeks now that is not getting better. I think, from my past experience, that the L4-L5 is in some stage of herniation and is causing sciatica. Tons of shooting leg pain, cold left foot, pain in my butt, my hamstrings and quads are constantly tight (I have to stretch them for at least 30 minutes when I get out of bed or I'm immobile). What scares me is that while it's not as bad as the L3-L4 herniation I had that led me to a discectomy, I am familiar with the feeling and can tell it might be getting there. The PT exercises (like 'cobra extensions') that helped on the L3-L4 actually hurt when I do them now. I'm hunched over and leaning to the right side naturally, and eventually straighten out a little bit as the day progresses.
I need to get this taken care of, but I do not have health insurance. I do not know what to do, or who to see. I've tried to shop around for some out-of-pocket insurance quotes, but most places won't treat this for upwards of 11 months, because of it being a pre-existing condition. I am currently unemployed and have a very very modest income. Currently I do not think I'd be able to physically work if an opportunity presented itself. However I do not feel like I qualify for disability (I don't want to go on disability, either).
Anyone know of any programs/services in New York State that can help me? Or any suggestions on what I should do? I was thinking of maybe seeing my Surgeon again, paying out of pocket for the appointment ($80) but I don't think there's anything he can tell me that'd be worth the $80 again. I feel like he'd want to get me another MRI to see what's going on, and that's going to be at least $500 out of pocket. I was also thinking paying out of pocket for physical therapy but I'd need someone, like my surgeon, to write me a prescription. While I definitely do not want to be on narcotic pain meds every day, I've been taking a ton of Advil daily for the past 3 weeks, which does not seem sustainable or healthy. So there's that too; it's getting to a point where I need something to help with the pain.
So in brief summary: 28 years old, DDD, Stenosis, herniation at (my best guess) L4-L5, sciatica... no general practitioner, no insurance... any suggestions?