I always wanted to be a nurse. I had been told that I should have my back x-rayed before I start training so that I wouldn't have to worry about being turned down for a job due to a back problem. The x-rays were done and were normal. After working for several years as a floor nurse, I bid on a surgery position so that I could get on the 7-3 shift and be home at night with my family. It turned out to be the best job I ever had. I loved surgery and I was good at my job.
I was chosen to be part of the first open heart surgery team at our local hospital after less than a year on the job. Those days were long and involved many hours of standing, lifting heavy trays of surgical instruments and being on-call several nights a week.
After a few years, I started having back aches and 2 months after I turned 40, I had a ruptured disc at L5-S1. In 1987, an orthopedic surgeon that I worked with did my laminectomy and sent me to physical therapy to strengthen my left leg that had been affected by the nerve root compression. Six weeks after my surgery, while in therapy, I ruptured the same disc again! I was using a Cybex machine next to a 27 year old hockey player and we were doing the same exercises. My surgeon wasn't convinced that I had ruptured the disc and convinced me to try a conservative, medical approach to managing my pain. I tried for 9 months but it was obvious to me that it wasn't working and the doctor didn't think I needed surgery.
I had a cousin that was a patient at Abbott Northwester Hospital spine unit in Minneapolis, so I flew out to see her and see if I could get a referral to a neurosurgeon. I was seen by immediately due to my obvious foot drop. X-rays and a myelogram were done and I was scheduled for surgery within two weeks. When the laminectomy was done, it was found that I had indeed re-ruptured the disc and a bone chip was found that had been left during the first surgery.
I did really well for about 18 months and was able to work in surgery again. However, I was only able to do short cases. I was put through every physical therapy modality available to help strengthen my back, but nothing seemed to work and I went back to Abbott Northwestern in 1990 for an anterior/posterior lumbar fusion of L4-S1. Because I was a non-smoker, a cadaver bone was used to replace the disc and no hardware was used. My recovery involved more PT, but my job as a surgical scrub tech was over and I was put on limited duty.
At that time, I applied for and was awarded Workman's Compensation. Again, I did really well after the surgery, but over time my back pain returned and I started taking pain pills to tolerate the pain. I didn't like taking the pills and in 1994, I asked for a referral to a pain clinic to get off the pills and learn new techniques to deal with the pain. While at the clinic, during a PT session in the pool, I got distracted and swam into the end of the pool head first while on my back. I had a serious headache for several days. I tried for almost two years to manage the head and neck pain, but eventually I ended up having a cervical fusion of C4-5 in 1996.
At least the neck pain made it easier to tolerate the back pain. I have always had a very high pain tolerance, so I put up with pain that most people wouldn't. I was determined not to have any more surgery. However, in 2001 the return of neck pain got bad enough that my hand was numb. I had my second cervical fusion done at C5-6 and C6-7. I was able to continue working part-time until 2005 when I retired on disability.
In 2010, I fell and had a non-displaced femoral head fracture. I had surgery and 2 screws were placed through a tiny incision. 12 weeks after surgery, I was allowed to do full weight bearing, but was not able to walk without severe pain in the hip. I asked for PT, but didn't make any progress, so the therapist suggested I go back to the surgeon for evaluation. He was sure that the hip was healed and really didn't understand why I had pain only with ambulation, but he agreed to do a CT scan. He looked at the images and said it clearly showed that my hip was healed.
I asked for a second opinion, so he took the CD to one of his partners who agreed with my doctor’s opinion. So I asked if there was anything else we could do and he said he could order a SPEC scan, but he thought it was a waste of time. I just wanted the pain to be gone so I could get on with my life.
While I waited for the results, I researched on the internet for orthopedic surgeons that dealt with non-healing hip fractures. I found one in a city 40 miles away. When I went back for the scan results, my surgeon read the report that said I had a non-union of my right hip. He was shocked and he said "It's not anything I did!" I told him I wasn't placing blame. I just wanted the pain to go away. He suggested taking the screws out and putting a plate in, but I said I wanted a referral to the surgeon I found in Grand Rapids.
I was able to get into the new doctor within a couple of weeks and after several procedures and tests to make sure the blood supply to my femoral head was not a problem, I had surgery in 2012. I was up walking without pain within 30 minutes after getting out of recovery. I continued seeing this doctor and eventually complained enough about my back pain that he did x-rays which showed my lumbar back was a mess. He told me that it looked like I had a couple of compression fractures of my thoracic spine that explained the pain that I had been having for several years. My PCP had told me the pain was arthritis of my spine. I finally decided that if I could get rid of my lower back pain I would be able to tolerate the upper back pain.
Six months ago, I had a decompression laminectomy and fusion of L3-L5 with hardware. It was a tough recovery and the post-op pain was not managed well, but I am happy to say the pain is gone. Recently, my doctor moved away and my new orthopedic doctor did a thoracic MRI to see whether I do have compression fractures, because it didn't look like it on the office x-ray. I was glad to find out that I don't have fractures. However, what I do have is a syrinx that extends from T3-T11. It doesn't extend into my head which is a good thing and I see the neurosurgeon tomorrow to discuss these findings. So here I am, almost 69 years old and still dealing with back problems.