That spine thing, revisited
Posted by tim in I Feel Sick on July 22, 2009

A lot of people seem to be slightly confused by my Facebook status updates today, mentioning a sudden MRI and visit with a neurosurgeon. Well, let me back up a bit and give you all the full picture so that you can walk away with a clear understanding of everything; a complete picture.

Sometime about 10 years ago, I was working at a body shop just down the road from my parents' house. At that shop, it was a common occurance to do some heavy lifting. I kept in pretty decent shape when I worked there, and I felt good about myself.

One day, we had a truck that needed some work done to the bed. Prepping for this work, we had to remove the toolbox that sat across the front of the truck bed. I was working with the boss on this little venture, and we tried to find the best way to lift the box and take it out of the truck. I watched as he put his hands under the box and pushed upward. However, it felt much more natural for me to open the box and grasp it from the inside with an extended arm... Or so I thought...

As we were working with this box, one of the guys that did paint and body work was standing about 20 feet away, cleaning his paint gun. When the boss and I took the first step towards the back of the truck, something happened. I don't remember making a sound, but I do remember seeing the other guy turn around quickly and look at me like I had just dropped my liver. The boss looked at me as well and asked, "Are you okay?" Since we had this mildly heavy metal box in the air already, I responded with one of the dumbest things I could have: "No, but let's get this box out of here and get it over with."

After we set the box on the ground, I stretched a bit and seemed to feel somewhat okay. I went about the rest of the day, but as it went on it got much more difficult to function. By mid-afternoon I remember I was working on re-assembling the door of a car. I had to walk from the one building to another, and I remember doing so with a severe lean to one side as to lose some of the tension on my back.

About an hour before quitting time, I called home to ask my mom to make an appointment with the chiropractor for me. When she answered though, I realized that it wasn't Mom; it was Grandma. Apparently I had dialed the wrong number because I was in so much pain. She went ahead and made the appointment for me, and I went straight there after work.

The drive across town was painful. I remember approaching the railroad tracks thinking, "This is really going to hurt." I made it to the doctor's office though, and as I hobbled in the door he looked at me and said, "What did you do?" I ended up having to leave and come back in a couple of days because there was swelling around my spine, which prevented him from diagnosing it. He told me to go home and lay flat on my back with a folded towel placed in my lumbar region to releive the pressure. I was also ordered to stay home from work until further notice, so I did as I was instructed.

About 2 days later, I went back to the chiropractor's office for a follow-up, which turned into X-rays. After sitting there for what seemed like hours, I went in to the exam room to see what was going on. It was then that I saw what happened and what would plague me for the rest of my life: A compression fracture. No, none of the vertebrae were completely crushed, I just had one that had a corner broken off of it.

I spent the better part of that next month just laying on a folded towel. I would occasionally get up to use the restroom or to shower and change my clothes, but since moving caused pain anyhow, I did this as little as possible. I don't really remember much of that time, I think I probably slept through most of it. I do remember the one guy that was cleaning his gun when this happened did stop by to check on me at one point, but I don't recall much of that.

So I finally got back to living and eased back into the things I was doing before. Occasionally I would do something to remind me I now had limits, and I would pay the price. Like the one time I was helping my dad gather firewood. I decided to move a 150 pound chunk of wood by myself, then followed it up with splitting firewood by hand with an axe. The morning after that I couldn't get out of bed because I was in so much pain.

As time has passed, I've had incidents where I aggravated this injury again and paid the price. But that only lasted for a couple of days at most. Usually these incidents were accompanied by sleepless nights and some digestive issues, but it never lasted more than a couple of days before getting back to normal. That all changed last week.

I don't recall what started it, but sometime around Wednesday of last week I noticed my back wasn't feeling 100%. I had an appointment with the trainer at the gym on Thursday evening, and when I went in for that I told him that I needed to take it easy because my back was hurting. He agreed and told me that if I started hurting at all to let him know and we would end the session right there.

About 10 minutes into the session, I was doing a shoulder press with 15 pound free weights. I was still feeling marginally okay after the first set of 15 reps, so we continued. After the second set, I told the trainer that I needed to stop because I was hurting and started feeling light-headed. He had me take a walk across the gym and back to see if it got any better, but since it didn't he got me started on cardio. I was planning to do 20 minutes of cardio, but just barely made it through 10 minutes before I finally hobbled home.

The next few days were pretty painful. I haven't had a good night of sleep since early last week because the pain has been either keeping me awake or waking me up in the middle of the night. I went to dinner with Emily Friday evening, followed by bible study at the church. She knew my back was hurting but told me that the chairs were fairly comfortable at the church, so I went along. After about 20 minutes of sitting in the chairs, the pain started in. She made a comment on the way home from the church about my fidgeting and asked if it was because I was hurting. I told her it was, but also that my legs started to go numb as I was sitting there.

Saturday evening we ended up going to dinner again then came back to my place to hang out together for a few hours. I wasn't feeling too bad as long as I was sitting on the couch, but any time I would move or sit somewhere else like the dining room chair, the pain and numbness started in again.

Sunday morning at church, I didn't really hurt as bad, but the numbness was still there. I told Emily that if I was still hurting Monday I would call the doctor about it. Monday was a weird enough day at the office that I didn't get it done, but Tuesday morning I was still hurting and called the doctor first thing.

This morning I went in for a 9:00 appointment. After explaining it to the doctor, along with all the symptoms, she ordered an MRI and follow-up with a neurologist. The things that really concerned her were the numbness and stomach issues that accompanied the pain, but she also noticed I was shaking pretty bad. I waited patiently as she called in the order for the MRI, then received the appointment from the nurse just before I left. It was now about 9:45, and the appointment was for 11:15 today. I made a quick dash back to the office and explained everything to my boss. He told me to just keep him posted on everything and to get myself taken care of.

I got to the imaging facility just a little before 11:00, so I went on in and filled out all the paperwork. I was expecting it to be a lengthy process, but not more than an hour or so. I was wrong. It took about 3 hours to get everything done and to get me out of there. While I was in the machine, I noticed that it was getting quite a bit warmer. After it was over I found out from the technician why: He said that the MRI machine actually raises the body temperature by 1-2°C, leading to a slight fever. Another thing I noticed while I was in there was that I kept twitching and shaking anytime the machine was actually on. After doing a little research, I found out that this was a somewhat common issue called "Peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS)". Regardless, I was downright exhausted after it was all done, and had nothing left in me to finish the day at the office.

Now I have a copy of the images from the scan and I need to call the doctor's office first thing tomorrow to find out what I do about seeing the neurologist. I know I have blogged before about my back pain and how surgery is probably the only option, but I still stand by what I have said in response to that: No surgery. If the neurosurgeon pushes for it, I'll just tell him that I appreciate the concern but so long as my life isn't in danger I will just live with the pain. Out of the people I have talked to who have had back surgery, maybe 3% of them have actually had a positive experience from it. I don't like those odds, and I'm far too young to be doomed to "light duty" for the rest of my life.

So after those 37 paragraphs, I hope you know what all the status updates are about. I really appreciate the support and prayers that have been offered so far.


Dang it Tim ...

If there is anything ya need, lemme know. Regarding the request for a new spine ... I've already started building you one out of paper maché and tooth picks.

  • Posted by Chris (Guest) on July 23, 2009 at 12:50:38AM

You know, you people named Chris need to identify yourselves better. There are over 20 of you who work at The Planet, and I know several outside of there.

  • Posted by tim (Guest) on July 23, 2009 at 07:48:37PM

You say the very same thing about US Seans... Oh yeah, your still fired!

  • Posted by Sean (Guest) on July 24, 2009 at 05:45:11AM
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