Posted 8/29/2007 9:58 AM (GMT -7)
Pain - I think the best decision you can make is to decide whether or not you are willing without having TRIED the surgery.
I woke up the morning of Oct 22, 2000 feeling like someone had taken a sledgehammer to my lower back. I (then) laid on my back to sleep, at the time, everytime I tried to move my legs, toes, anything below my bellybutton, had sharp shooting pain down both of my legs to about mid-thigh. At the time, I did what I'd done with every other little injury, I tried to walk it off. I went to work, came home in tears at night, not knowing what the heck was going on. Finally, my husband (who I'd married 5 days before the pain started) said either I went in willingly, or he was dragging me in with his platoon (he was in the army) kicking and screaming.
I go in, and they have me move certain ways the PA could feel my back spasming, and me jerking from trying to do things that caused extreme pain. By then the pain was regularly down into my ankle on the left, and knee area on the right. The PA leaves, comes back with a doctor who has me do a few more things. He leaves and comes back with that area of the militarys clinic's head doctor, he has 4 or 5 people with him. HE has me do stuff, the chat in whispers I'm thinking omg I'm dying. He tells me it appears I have done something to my spine, and there is redicalapathy on both sides. (not sure how to spell that). Again, my thoughts are I'm dying. So I look him in the face, and ask him to explain that in english, so one of the students (the 4 or 5 of his entourage) leave and come back with a little spine statue and who me, that he thinks somehow something in my back has moved and is putting pressure on the nerves.
I get sent to physical therapy every day for awhile, then this, then that, finally (the military has it's hoops you have to jump through) I get an MRI done, and it comes back I've ruptured my L4-L5-S1 and show signs of degenerative disc disease. The neuro that I saw that told this too me explained that, there are many treatments availible, to try this and that and this first. So I went to pain management and was on 10 different medications one was a muscle relaxer, the other a skeletal muscle relaxer, a pain pill, a nerve pain pill, an anti-inflammitory, and so on. Hubby gets out of the military... and due to (IMO) civillian doctors being so afraid of treating you, the pain got worse. Eventually it got so bad I had to quit working, my life sucked. I was in pain 24/7. My husband ended up in Iraq, and I made the decision I at least needed to fight to get my life back.
I went to my PCP who at the time was giving me 1 percocet 3x a day for pain. Without issue. Told him I NEEDED a fix. He sent me to Dr. Robert Allen in Raleigh NC. Dr. Allen ran a ton of tests before he'd even consider the surgery. He said he always prefers to avoid the surgery if possible. Because without surgery you always have another option, with surgery, you become limited in what can be done. There's also the risk of infection, stuff coming undone, it not working at all, things being made worse, paralysis, blood clots, stuff like that. So we tried specific PT and some other meds, nothing worked, so I made the decision that if I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life, or die, at least I was going to die trying.
My surgery was on Oct 20, 2003. I woke up with nerve damage in my left thigh, basically an area about as big as a hand I couldn't feel a darn thing. BUT I was laying on my back AND the pain wasn't shooting everywhere. That afternoon their physical therapist comes in to show me how to sit up, and I demand to walk. I took about a step before I couldn't do it anymore. BUT something felt different. I had a low grade fever they couldn't get to stay down for 2 days, then finally it went away for 3, and I was released. I DID develop and infection at the incision site the day they took my staples out of my back. I was in the hospital 5 days extra for that.
Life after surgery for me was rough for awhile. I HATED car rides as they were horrible pain wise. Not being able to bend at all was a problem. I went from wanna be superwoman to just plain dependant on others for about a month. That Christmas I was at my moms, and she mentioned to me how I was running up and down the stairs, moving all over. To me, and my family the surgery was a success.
In Nov. 2005 the pain started coming back. They do xrays, MRI's, everything and can't figure out whats going on. The pain is steadly getting worse, I'm now using a cane to walk. I can't find a decent pain doctor to save my life. The one I was referred to first, loaded me up with drugs, I objected to taking then a year later wants me to do suboxone treatment for the drugs he told me to take. I'd already hated the meds so much I had stopped taking them, so I told him where he could go. I find a new doctor who sends me to a very nice, understanding pain doctor, who ONLY specializes in treating pain with injections, which didn't work. This pain doc feels that my problems are scar tissue related, and he warned me if they suggest surgery to realize that all another one will do is create more scar tissue. So I'm heading back to my primary care doctor to be referred to another pain doctor. Hopefully one who will realize PT, shots, injections, chiropractic dont work.
That should show some of the good, the bad, and the ugly. First thing I would do is try alternative methods of treatment, anything other than just surgery. See if you can live without it, and if not, then when you've exhausted other options try for surgery.
Do I consider my surgery a success? YES. For 2 years I had my life back. I went back to work. Do regret the surgery? NO. If I had to go back would I do it again? YES.
BUT it's not without it's risks, or it's complications. It's a very personal decision.
IF You decide to opt for surgery, I would look long and hard at your doctor. Call the BBB ask if he has any complaints. Ask to speak to prior patients. Ask for HIS stats on doing this operation, compare them to the national average. Ask about the mortality rate. Ask what your alternatives are. Ask how he knows that fusion WILL help your pain? Ask him how many patients in your situation end up with the pain coming back. How many have the pins/screws coming undone? Develop infection? Have complications during surgery? End up full/partially paralyzed. If he refuses to answer any of these questions, find another doctor. Also find out how quickly he will respond if you have to call him in the middle of the night (like I did when my wound started dripping fluid, my doc was up at 2 am calling me back, and at the hospital less than hour later). Make sure this is whats right for YOU. Some people tell me the surgery couldn't have been worth it. for me, it was.
I hope some of this helps, sorry it's so long.