By Christopher Green
Or, my back went out and took most of last and probably this week with it…
I could not decide which pithy (irony alert) headline to use so I just put them both up. It kind of reminds me of those long movie titles from back in the 60’s and 70’s that denoted an artsy, edgy movie was waiting for you inside the theater.
Example 1: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Example 2: Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me (1971)
I was suppose to go to the Cleveland Clinic this Wednesday for the big test, the one I have been aiming for since the end of June. It is a walking test to see how well my lungs function after walking for six minutes.
What they do is attach me to a Pulse Ox device, a bottle of air and a foot operated distance-measuring tool. The idea is to start out walking at 0% Oxygen and the respiratory therapist walks behind keeping an eye on the distance travels, the O2 level to keep walking and the pace.
The last time I did the test, back on June 30th, I showed a marked improvement over the test I took back in March. So well did I perform that Dr. Budev, the doctor in charge of the Lung transplant program at the Cleveland Clinic, was so sure I was off the endangered list that she allowed me to cancel the scheduled colonoscopy.
Now the colonoscopy is one of the tests needed in order to qualify for a transplant. It was the last of the ten or so tests I scheduled since the results are only good, for transplant purposes, for one year.
Dr. Budev was cautious in her assessment and wanted me back in three months In order to take that, what I have referred to as, my perp walk.
Since then I have been exercising most every day. At one point last week, I was able to ride the bike comfortably for over 20 minutes four straight days. I have a little battery operated Pulse Ox device that we tested against the high falluton one I was attached to at the clinic.
It turns out that my Pulse Ox was dead on with the one at the Clinic.
So the big day, the day I was going to wow them with my new found physical prowess was all I was working toward. I even lost about ten pounds since the last trip to the Clinic.
Last Tuesday, I was walking down the hallway in the house, sneezed and suddenly I was writhing in pain on the floor. (Okay, it was not that dramatic, but it surely hurt like hell.)
My lower back was suddenly seized by spasms so sharp and so painful that I barely made it to the bedroom.
A little background is needed here.
Over the years, I have injured my back four times, each affecting a different area of my back. From the worst to the least painful, here are all my back related injuries.
The worst was when I was in a traffic accident out by Findlay, Ohio. I was traveling from Lakewood to Fort Wayne, Indiana. At the time, I was splitting my time between a radio station in Fort Wayne and my clients back here in the Cleveland area.
It was in February, late in the afternoon and for some reason I decided to travel along the back roads. I guess driving back and forth on the interstate three times a month was starting to wreak havoc on my psyche.
Anyway, there I was in this wild ass intersection that the locals knew all about but people just traveling through didn’t know how to navigate safely across. I think it was one of those junctions that three or four roads cross each other. Before I could make up my mind which way to go, I was slammed at 50 mph right in the driver’s side door.
I guess I was in the wrong place at the right time.
It was my fault. As the judge said a month later, ignorance is not an excuse. He found me guilty but waived my fine.
My hip was shattered. The good news was I was life flighted in a helicopter. I don’t care what condition I was in, it was way cool in spite of the pain, which was almost unbelievable. They couldn’t give me painkillers since my heartbeat was running erratic. It only took about 40 minutes to fly over 100 miles.
I have to relay this to you. The people who pulled me out of the car were wonderful. Just down home folks who stopped to lend a hand to a person in time of need. They smelled gas and though the car was going to explode so they risked their own lives to come to the aid of a stranger.
Of course, I crapped my pants. The impact alone, well…
One of the good Samaritans mentioned that I had soiled myself. I replied, “Well, shit happens.” Still cracking wise even though I was in excruciating, mind numbing pain.
It did break the tension.
After the operation, I ended up with a left leg that is about a half inch shorter than the right. Of course, that led to pain. They repaired the hip because they felt I was too young to get a replacement. I was only 32. At that time, hip replacements usually lasted less than a decade so I could very well have needed, over the decades, at least four or five new hips.
You should see the X-Rays. It looks like one of those drawers out in the garage that is the dumping ground for screws, and bolts and pins. I think the last time I looked, there were about 18 different fasteners keeping my hip together.
This has caused me almost constant pain since the accident. It hurts when I walk, hurts when the weather changes. It hurts all the time, only the intensity of the pain changes. But since I am recovering alcoholic, I have always decline pain meds.
But now that I am 26 years in, I talked with Dr. Sharma and we came up with Vicadin, two times a day. It has been since last December and I feel as if I am in control of my pain meds.
The second worse back injury occurred back in 1989. I was painting our first house. I was up on the scaffold, painting the front windows on the second floor when one of the rungs holding up the scaffold snapped.
I went straight down.
The good news was that I was over a flowerbed that was still a little gushy after the good, soaking rain that fell over night. The landing was not as bad as it could have been.
The bad news was that I still ended up with a compression fracture in my spine right between my shoulder blades. Not serious as far as back injuries are concerned but still, when there is an air pressure change, I feel it, boy do I feel it.
Next up is the disc problem. I was blind-sided by a car back in 2007. Turned right into me while I was going through an intersection. I went to the hospital but they did not find anything wrong. Since I was always “aware” of my hip, I only told the ER doctor about the pain in my neck.
I should have asked for a lower back X-ray because it would have shown the disc trouble sooner.
The fourth and last back based malady is soft tissue related. This pain is what is giving me the most trouble right now. The worse part of this pain is that there is nothing I can point to that directly causes my lower back spasms.
Perhaps it is due to walking around for ten years not knowing my one leg was ½ inch shorter than the other. That may have taken a toll on my lower back. But what probably happened was my back finally rebelled against the cavalier way I treated it when I was younger. Who knows?
This time, a sneeze got me.
So how does this all play into my Lung Transplant situation?
Starting last year, I finally found a doctor who could address my pain. He suggested pain-blocking treatment. What they do is inject steroids and pain blockers right into my disc, four weeks in a row, and then they shoot the pain meds into another area to address the soft tissue pain.
This proved to be the most effective method of pain relief. I could actually walk around pain free for the better part of 2009.
Unfortunately, each shot cost over $ 3,000.00. The fact that I had two areas that needed the shots meant I was getting six series of injections, three for each problem area. The yearly total for treating my back pain was over $ 54,000.00.
The price tag became even more of a concern after my 18-day stay in the hospital last November. That little vacation racked up over $ 100,000.00 in medical bills. It also what sent me back to the Clinic to be reevaluated for the Cleveland Clinic Transplant program.
What with the lifetime caps that were in place, I felt I would be eating into the pool of money that was available for my lung transplant. That’s when I nixed the shots.
So, that is what made me have that talk about Vicadin with Dr. Sharma.
Until I get an okay from my insurance company that my cap has vanished because of the recently passed and enacted National Health Care program, I will continue to take the Vicadin. I want it in writing before I go back to getting the shots.
One more thing about this latest flair up, it really hurts to cough and since I cough a lot, I am in almost a constant state of pain.
The good thing is that I know that this back pain shall pass. I will, as always, try to just soldier right through it all.
The silver lining in all of this is that I do not usually have to be anywhere at any given time. That makes it a lot easier. I really feel for people who have to deal with chronic pain and still have to work full time. I do not know how they do it. My heart goes out to them.
But it does take a toll on my personal relationships. How many times would you invite someone if they kept declining your offer? I say this only because if you have a friend or relative in the kind of situation I find myself now; keep trying to stay in touch.
You will never really know how great a loyal friend can be nor how disappointed you are when people just give up on you.