In 2006, I was an infantry officer at Fort Campbell, KY in the 101st Airborne Division. I considered myself in pretty good physical shape without any health issues. One day everything was as it should be, waking up early, doing physical training (PT) and working. The next day I woke up in excruciating pain in my back. It was completely unexpected. I went to work but was not able to conduct PT. Instead, I had a sergeant drive me to the emergency room where I had X-Rays and MRIs and was assigned a doctor who dealt only with spine issues. I was given pain killers and muscle relaxers just to survive and was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease.
After this day, everything changed in my life. After I first went to the emergency room, there was never a moment in my life that I wasn’t in pain until after my spinal fusion. I never did PT again in the Army and I spent lots of time at the hospital trying different treatments. I couldn’t run anymore and stairs became very difficult because I couldn’t lift my feet high enough. The toes of my boots were also scuffed because I would drag my feet a lot. I received a medical discharge from the Army because of my inability to do anything physical. Over the next seven years I was constantly in pain varying from a 7-10 on the pain scale.
On a good day, I was taking ibuprofen around the clock and suffered through my work and chores at home. On a bad day I was on the floor, relying on pain killers and muscle relaxers. I thought the only time I would be pain free would be after I died.
I still continued to work outside on our property as much as possible. One day, after cutting some locust trees down, I was taking a shower and noticed the cloth kept catching something on my right thigh. I discovered a locust tree thorn had broken off in my thigh. I didn’t even know it was there! I gave my wife my deer skinning knife and some tweezers and had her remove the thorn. I sat and watched as she cut my skin without flinching. My wife prompted me to do something about my back because I was losing all sensation in my leg. It was on this day I decided I would try surgery.
Prior to trying surgery, I had undergone every kind of treatment imaginable. I had tried every kind of pain killer and muscle relaxer out there, which only masked the pain. I tried physical therapy which just seemed to make things worse. I had multiple steroid injections at several levels on the spine and SI joints. The only treatment that helped at all was traction, but the pain relief was only temporary, returning as soon as the weights were removed and my spine re-compressed.
Finally, I sought out Dr. Good. I knew several patients of his that had made dramatic recoveries. He believed a spinal fusion would work for me. I was in so much pain I was ready to give it a try. I was afraid that the surgery would limit me on the very physical lifestyle I like to live. I was still deer hunting, cutting wood, hiking, and planting a garden, but at very high pain level and on a very limited scale. I had the surgery in January 2014. I remember the wake up test in the operating room after surgery when I was asked to move my feet. I could not believe how easily they moved! I did not realize it had become a chore just to wiggle my feet. The recovery process was slow. I had surgery in January and wasn’t completely healed until May. I followed all of Dr. Good’s instructions precisely and attended physical therapy. My pain level went from a constant level of 7-10 to 0!
The feeling has also come back in my leg and I can lift my feet high again. I take the stairs instead of the elevator because I can. I still cannot believe how my life has changed. My back is back to the day before I went to the emergency room in 2006. In May, after physical therapy was complete, my wife and I flew to Bulgaria and picked up our two adopted sons. I could not imagine having a six and five year old with a bad back. I was able to carry them around the city and play games with them. Since then, we have had another son. I am now able to do all of things I enjoy with my sons – hunting, hiking, gardening, and cutting and splitting firewood.
I suffered for seven long years before seeking help. I wish I had done it sooner. I was scared of surgery and it seems so silly now. I have my life back now. If spinal fusion is what is recommended by your medical team, I would trust them and go into it eagerly. I hope this helps others decide to do it sooner rather than later. There is no sense in suffering.