Get Back

Fifteen years ago in California, I went to my doctor about some low back pain that had begun to bother me. It wasn't extreme pain, but enough that I thought it warranted a visit. He took some x-rays. When he brought them into the examination room to discuss (imagine that! No radiologist, no separate visit, no waiting for results!), he said, "I have news that I hate having to tell anyone who's so young." (I was in my 40s back then.) He showed me where two discs had begun to deteriorate, and a large, hook-like bone spur on one vertebra. "This is Degenerative Disc Disease," he explained, "and I'm afraid it's not going to get any better. In fact, you could be in a wheelchair by the time you're 60 if it's not taken care of."...

Of course I didn't like hearing this, so I asked him what I could do to slow it down. He showed me some gentle stretching exercises and gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory. Within a week I began to feel better and that progressed for about three months before it stopped working altogether. Around that same time I moved back to Denver and lost my health insurance, but I was able to manage the pain a bit with over-the-counter meds.

Within a year, however, in 2001, it came back with a vengeance, sometimes landing me in bed for a week. It was excruciating; I couldn't stand for very long, or sit at the dinner table for more than thirty minutes. I couldn't sit on a bar stool! I'd moved here to Stillwater by then, so I went to my new doctor as a self-pay patient. She confirmed my previous doctor's diagnosis and told me to use hot and cold packs. That's it. Nothing else. Not having medical insurance and no money for "luxuries" like prescriptions, I dealt with the pain with OTCs and all kinds of smelly lotions and oils that Nettl massaged into my back. Not to mention my ongoing struggle with Hashimoto's Disease and fibromyalgia.

Years passed and the pain slowly got worse. Over the past year it became intolerable and I've spent most of my daily life sitting on my bed, looking out the bay windows at a world I used to be a part of. I became a semi-invalid. Finally, I went to my doctor a few months ago and she said that unless I got x-rays, she couldn't really treat me. Fair enough, but I couldn't afford x-rays. She gave me a prescription for some pain relievers, but only enough to get me through the first half of every month; the second half was misery. I dealt with it though, as I had been, until Nettl could no longer take seeing me in so much pain. She vented about it in Fb one day and one of the authors we do work for (and who also has the same back issues that I have) sent us a check to cover the cost of x-rays. I had them done on Thursday.

Yesterday I got a phone call from my doctor's nurse, who told me that I have Degenerative Spine Disease and that I need surgery. "HA! Right!" thought I. "Where do you think I live? In Mexico?" (In Mexico, the yearly, all-inclusive premium for excellent health care is a whopping $250!) She then told me that they'd called some prescriptions in to my pharmacy and we went to pick them up. Pain relievers AND anti-inflammatories. Real relief at last!

I have now started the process of applying for Disability and early Medicare, which a friend of ours who is a professional Social Security advocate says I can get right away. She is so certain of this that she has taken on my case gratis.

So sometime soon I'll be having back surgery, and I welcome it! Fifteen years is too long for anyone to have to live with chronic pain. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Needless to say, we're dancing for joy around here. Well, I'm not dancing, but you know what I mean. Still, the meds I'm on have already started to work and I feel human again. Get Back to where you once belonged, indeed!

Art by Sam Carter