MRI of herniated disc between L4-L5 lumbar spine. Nerve
bundle is nearly split into two regions.
In 2012, while moving a heavy safe down
some stairs (using a hand truck), something snapped in my lower back that resulted
in debilitating lower back and leg pain for many months.
Hydrocodone (5 mg)
was required to enable normal locomotion around the house, and I couldn't lift anything.
After about three months, things returned to normal, with occasional relapses. Since
that time, I have tried to be careful to not overexert myself, and kept up a regular
regime of isometric and low weight, low impact exercise. Maintaining muscle tone
is essential for keeping the skeleton in proper alignment.
As time went on, I became a little bolder in terms of lifting, pushing, and pulling
heavy objects, and got away with it until early March of this year when I foolishly
used a long pry bar to tip over a huge tree stump. The stump finally broke loose,
and so did my back. This time, the pain was so bad that I couldn't walk more than
a couple feet without needing to recover, and finding a comfortable position to
relieve the hurt was nearly impossible. Even the 5 mg hydrocodone barely touched
it; at least two were required. I have always avoided taking any sort of medicine,
even ibuprofen or acetaminophen, so a trip to a back surgeon† ensued. An
x-ray showed a few bone spurs on some of the vertebrae impinging on my spinal cord,
but nothing deemed severe enough to cause the level of pain I was experiencing.
My doctor likely thought I was exaggerating, so I requested that he order an MRI.
Keep in mind I have no insurance (self-employed and self-pay), so the cost would
be all out of my pocket‡. That probably convinced him I wasn't kidding.
Microdiscectomy Procedure (not mine)
The MRI image above is what was revealed: a severely ruptured disc between the
L4 and L5 vertebrae. Deformed cartilage was literally splitting my spinal cord
into two sections. As Ricky might say to Lucy, "That 'splains it." After
seeing the MRI images, Doc had a new perspective on my dilemma. It is amazing that
I was even able to walk. After discussing options, which included potentially a
lifetime of pain medicine and/or steroid shots into my spine, we settled on a
minimally invasive microdiscectomy to remove the offending material. Watching
the video to the right makes you wonder what "invasive" surgery might look like
After two changes in surgery dates due to obligations I had, the procedure was
finally done last Friday morning. From the moment I awoke after surgery, all traces
of the nerve pain were gone! All I could feel (and still do) is some soreness in
the back muscles where the tube was inserted for access. Now, five days later, I
find it necessary to constantly remind myself not to lift more than five pounds,
drive the car, or do any kind of twisting or bending (including no exercise of any
sort). That limitation will be in place until after the post-op visit with the doctor,
which is scheduled for early August. I hope he has a photo of the extracted cartilage.
The change is nothing short of miraculous and I never would have believed
such dramatic, instantaneous relief possible had I not experienced it.
Hopefully, the status will not change and I will definitely be much more
cautious in the future. BTW, my doctor says keeping myself in such a healthy
condition (other than engaging in stupid maneuvers) with regular exercise, a good diet (eating
whatever I like, but in limited quantities), no drinking, smoking or drug use, mental
stimulation through reading and doing rather than watching TV, and positive overall
attitude, had a lot to do with the recovery.
† Joseph D. Stern,
MD, FACS, Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates. I highly recommend Dr. Stern.
‡ My out-of-pocket costs for office visits, x-rays, MRI, anesthesiologist,
surgical facility, doctor fees, etc., will probably end up in the $18k to $20k realm.
That includes a discounted rate for most services due to being self-pay, for which
to qualify I had to submit the full amount up front. Ouch! Insurance coverage for
over-50-year-olds has been outrageously expensive since the Obamacare (aka Affordable
Care Act, ACA) usurpation of health care in 2010. At age 64, the cost is even worse.
Prior to the gift of ACA, we had a very reasonable premium cost with a $1,000 deductible
and an 80-20 split (80% Blue Cross pays, 20% we pay). That option disappeared instantly
with the new law (remember "If you like your plan, you can
keep your plan?"). The promised
reduction of $2,500 per family (on average) did not apply to us after monthly
premiums and out-of-pocket expenses were tallied, even with a yearly household income
of under $80k. The deductible for the lowest cost ACA plan (Bronze - I call it Rust)
is around $17k, and copay on medical expenses AFTER the entire deductible amount
has been paid is only 50%. If anyone out there who voted for the people that saddled
Melanie and me with this financial burden would care to donate money toward my surgery,
I welcome your assistance. Maybe you could set up a GoFundMe account to help pay
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