Resilience on the Road to Recovery Managing Years of Herniated Disc Pain

Dr. Rita Roy: Hi everyone. I’m Dr. Rita Roy, CEO at the National Spine Health Foundation. And I’m your host for the Get Back to It podcast, where we tell real stories of healing and recovery. What does it mean to get back to it? It means overcoming spine conditions through treatments that work in order to return to the people and activities.

You love whatever that looks like for you. It means getting back to your life. We’re here to share the success stories of those who did just that. And some of these stories, you’re not going to believe

at the get back to it podcast. Our goal is to tell stories of spinal champions who’ve been able to achieve a better quality of life through spinal health care. In today’s episode, I’m delighted to be speaking with Monteclair Greer, currently the senior director of a young health tech company who’s experienced some discomfort in her low back since her college days and throughout her early thirties.

While packing for a trip in 2011, she unexpectedly injured her back just as she headed out with some friends for a road trip to Florida. She later found out she had a ruptured disc. Now that you know what to expect, let’s get back to it and dive right into Monteclair’s story.

Monteclair was about to leave her house for a drive to Florida when she decided to check the house one more time.

Monte Clair Greer: I was finished packing and had all the suitcases by the door. I walked back through the house and closed one of the doors behind me and I took two steps and heard a pop in my back. I went right down to the floor.

I knew something bad happened, but I had no idea what it was other than I was in severe pain.

Dr. Rita Roy: Monteclair was ultimately able to get up and convince everyone in the car she was fine and began the grueling drive to Florida.

Monte Clair Greer: The ride down was incredibly uncomfortable and I spent the entire week in Florida flat on my back in bed with two trips to the local clinic for injections and medication.

The ride home was probably the most miserable eight hours of my life with tears rolling down my face the majority of the way. My poor friends.

Dr. Rita Roy: Monteclair made an appointment with a doctor. with her sports medicine doctor the next day after returning home.

Monte Clair Greer: I’d seen my sports med doctor several times over the previous two years for lower back and sciatic nerve problems.

I’d steroid injections that usually remedied all the past issues.

Dr. Rita Roy: During her appointment, the doctor told her that her injury was much worse this time. And he was convinced that she had ruptured a disc in her back. And so he ordered an MRI to be sure.

Monte Clair Greer: The MRI confirmed I had ruptured a disc. between L4 and L5 when surgery was needed.

Dr. Rita Roy: Monteclair booked an appointment with a neurosurgeon that week and upon review of the MRI, she was scheduled for surgery within two days.

Monte Clair Greer: That all came to a screeching halt, when I requested the surgery be done in a hospital rather than a clinic. My family has a history of malignant hypothermia and although I have never experienced an issue, I always share it with doctors just so they can be prepared.

My surgery was moved to the hospital two months later.

Dr. Rita Roy: While waiting for her surgery, she was having trouble walking, sleeping, basically doing anything normal on her own, and could not go to work.

Monte Clair Greer: Working from home was not common during this time, and I was very concerned about the time frame, not to mention the severe pain I had endured for almost three weeks.

I went back to my sports medicine doctor for advice, and she suggested I try a different surgeon who worked exclusively in the hospital.

Dr. Rita Roy: After meeting with the second surgeon, Monteclair had a discectomy two weeks later, five weeks after the initial injury, on September 30th, 2011.

Monteclair, your story is Actually incredible. Um, it, it’s so important because it shows what success can happen with taking quick action to figure out what’s going on with you. Now though, that eight hour drive sounded like it probably felt like it took forever. It wasn’t quick action, but you know, you got back to your doctor right away and you looked into what was going on and it sounds like you really just had to do that.

Tell me what it was like and how it felt knowing that this situation was. Was different than what you had had before. You talked about, you had a sports medicine doctor, you had a relationship with, and you were, you had sort of recurring pain that you were treating with injections and over the counter pain medicines, but this was different.

Describe to me why you knew this was different.

Monte Clair Greer: The pain was relentless. It wasn’t something that came and left. It was constant in my back and down both of my legs. Um, I had to have help doing everything. I, I was completely miserable. It was miserable for everyone. I knew I couldn’t live with the pain and I needed relief.

Immediately, I was helpless without my husband, James, and we both were at the mercy of the doctors and their time.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. When you went to get the MRI, were you pretty not surprised with the, with the finding that that MRI came back with?

Monte Clair Greer: The sports med doctor did share with me that she felt like surgery was in my future.

So I felt, I knew that news was coming. Um, I didn’t know exactly what had happened or the extent, but I knew she wouldn’t have told me that had it not been necessary.

Dr. Rita Roy: So, so you feel like in those previous sort of months and years that you were managing this lower back pain, that there was something talking to you there and your sports medicine doctor.

Yeah. Said probably someday this is going to need something more.

Monte Clair Greer: I think she, she had told me throughout the years that this wasn’t something that was going to go away and that I, you know, I was doing as best I could to manage it and we didn’t know what the end results or when it would come. And this was the day.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, you know, I’m asking that question because I myself have experienced that, and I think a lot of other people experience that. We get a lot of questions, you know, a ruptured disc, a herniated disc is something that is fairly common, unfortunately, as you know, there are lots of different reasons for that to happen.

They can be treated non operatively for a long time. And the question is, how long? And the answer to that is, it depends, right, on genetics and various factors. So, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting because myself, with the herniated disc that I have, treated non operatively. My doctor has said to me, you know, someday that’s going to rear itself again.

And you probably need surgery for it. So I’ve, I empathize with you. I think a lot of people empathize with that. So not surprising for you to feel like, This is the day, the time has come.

Monte Clair Greer: Yes, it was definitely my, my card was drawn at that day. So I knew surgery, surgery was ahead.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. So Monty, I want to explore that decision to have surgery.

You are currently working in the healthcare space. Were you working in healthcare at the time that this happened?

Monte Clair Greer: I

Dr. Rita Roy: was.

Monte Clair Greer: I was working in medical device for orthopedics.

Dr. Rita Roy: So did you have some inside knowledge from work about the kinds of procedures or the sort of things that the surgeon would be talking about with you?

Monte Clair Greer: A little bit. I, I focused more on hips and knees. Okay. But I had several, I had several friends that worked in the spine industry. And so I immediately picked up the phone and called them, uh, and spoke to them about this type of surgery. And. You know, pros and cons for having the surgery or not. And all signs pointed to have the surgery, put this pain behind you and move on.

Otherwise you’re going to be dealing with this forever. Um, I even had a friend that I worked with at the time who we, we compared bad backstories often at work and He went to have nerve blocks every year, sometimes twice a year, and I absolutely knew that was not the path I wanted to take. He was completely limited and, uh, and I didn’t want to be limited anymore.

I had suffered long enough with limiting my, uh, Exercise and being nervous about what I could and couldn’t do that. It was time for it to be fixed. And behind me.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. And I think, you know, for all of us making that decision on what treatment path to choose is the toughest decision, you know, and I think, you know, For, for some of us who are in healthcare, you know, we feel like we have resources.

We, we know people to call and we’ve got informed folks around us. And that’s kind of what this podcast is all about is helping everyone else out there to, to have a voice of, of a trusted source that can help them. In that decision making process, like what are the things I should think about? What are my choices?

What is that going to look like if I do or don’t choose, you know, one treatment path versus the other? And so, you know, for you helping to explain to our audience how you arrived at the decision to have the surgery, I think is really helpful for people to know. So let’s talk about your, your choice of surgeon.

How’d you, so you, that you went to one surgeon, First, how’d you choose that particular surgeon? Was it a referral from your doctor, or did you call around, or how do you find a doctor?

Monte Clair Greer: A little bit of both. The sports medicine doctor was the one I knew the best, of course. I had seen her for many years, and she was a referral to me from my GP, so that’s how I got to her.

Um, speaking with her, she gave me the option to go to this, um, clinic that did surgery in clinic. In and out, super quick. You were back home, you recovered at home, which I really was looking forward to. And I went straight to them and they, uh, actually. Booked the appointment and then called a few other friends who had, who had been to this clinic and they shared their wonderful stories and so I was very excited about going and the appointment was quick and they immediately booked the surgery and I thought all was going well until I mentioned the malignant hypothermia and then it was Record screech stop.

And you know, it was, that was where clinics don’t work out for people versus a hospital. And so I didn’t know that until I was there and it asked those questions. And so I’m, you know, I’m thankful for some people saying no, because that means they’re not prepared for that particular problem and you need to go elsewhere.

So, that was a good reason for me to go back to the sports medicine doctor. She then gave me a second name.

Dr. Rita Roy: and Monteclair, this is so huge. I mean, we talk about patients advocating for themselves and, you know, had you not shared that family history or your history, you don’t know what, what might’ve happened.

So that, that is just so huge, um, to remind people to advocate for themselves, share your history, talk about your family history, your personal health history, things that you think may not be related at all and share that with your provider. And. Good for that provider to say. Yep. We don’t want to treat that in an outpatient out out of hospital setting Um, you’re going to need more monitoring and we’re not the right practice for you.

I think that is just huge um, and so wonderful that you’re sharing that with people so that that you know, like oh shoot here You are about to get your answer and your problem solved and back to your life and like nope Got to take another delay another diversion and i’m sure that must have been You Frustrating because you’re still in pain at this point, right?

Monte Clair Greer: Severe pain. It was terrible and getting worse. So I knew I had to do something and I, you know, putting a surgery out for two months was absolutely not an option. So I was very motivated to find another doctor and said, go speak with him immediately so I could get something done. And there’s so much online now that you can read about doctors as well.

So as soon as I was recommended a doctor and got an appointment. I started looking online and, of course, talking to friends and they, you know, it led me to the doctor that, that actually performed the surgery and I’m so glad it did because it worked out so well.

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s great. That’s great. And, and a big part of that also is that when you meet that surgeon, you have to feel comfortable as well.

Um, so, you know, you sort of read those reviews, they’re out there, talk to people. Um, Find out, you know, what other people’s experiences are. If you can do that, those are, these are all the right steps. These are all the right things to do to make sure that you are in the right place for you. And it’s so important to remind everyone to do that because that can take some time.

And the problem is when you are in pain, you just want the pain to end. You just want to say, get me to somebody and get this taken care of. But it really behooves us to just take a little extra time to make sure you’re in the right place for you. And that can mean that it might take a little bit longer, a few days longer, but then you’re going to have an amazing result.

So, explain to us how the, you know, day of surgery was and, and, and what it was like, um, you know, immediately after and the days following surgery.

Monte Clair Greer: It was funny the day of surgery, I actually had felt better than I had in weeks prior. I think it was just the relief of this is going to be over soon. Yeah.

And I was able to walk into the hospital on my own. And, um. Were you not walking? Were you not walking alone? Not, not without assistance, I needed assistance to help to move any length of time. I needed assistance to move. I had a walker in my house and then my husband helped me anytime I went anywhere further than that.

But the, I was able to walk into the hospital on my own, got dressed. The surgery was a bit delayed just as surgeries, surgeries are delayed. I was fine and they wheeled me in. The surgery was really long. It was about four and a half. Ish hours with another hour of recovery. So I was, I was back there, as I say, back there for a really long time.

And I remember when I woke up from surgery, that it is a completely different pain that was terrible, but it was a new pain. That was surgery pain, and I could feel my legs being normal, even though I was still laying flat and hadn’t gotten up yet, I knew my legs were already better, and that was a massive relief that previous pain had, had gone, and now I was dealing with surgical pain that I was going to recover from.

So that was a massive relief, and I was so glad that, Even though it was still painful and I still had a ways to go that I was at that step. That’s,

Dr. Rita Roy: that’s incredible. You wake up from surgery and you know that that nerve pain is gone. And people describe that and it’s just so hard to even imagine what that’s like.

But it is life changing, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing to be at that point. And yeah, there’s incision pain, there’s, you know, discomfort from the operation, but it’s amazing how the brain is able to differentiate that from what it was before. I just think that’s just a miracle. I mean, that’s really just, just a miracle.

I’m so excited for you. Um, so how, so how long were you in the hospital? Did you stay overnight? Yeah.

Monte Clair Greer: I did have to stay overnight. Um, and I think that was due to the malignant hypothermia. And then of course, because the surgeries were delayed, everything was pushed back a little further. So I stayed in the hospital overnight and I had to wear the, the compression garments on my legs, the whole nine yards.

But it was fun. Every, the nurses were lovely. I was able to. With assistance get up and move around a little bit and went home the next day. So it was it was a quick Solution to a really long. I felt like grueling long problem And I was back home within you know, 24 hours and so On to recovery at my house.

Dr. Rita Roy: That’s just, again, the miracles of modern spinal health care as we talk about. Like, it’s just, it’s really just amazing that you can just get in there, be taken care of, get on with your life. Just, congratulations on that. It’s amazing.

Monte Clair Greer: Yes, it was a drastic difference for sure.

Dr. Rita Roy: I’m looking at you smiling from ear to ear as we’re saying this.

It’s just, uh, I can just, just, uh, see and, and, and it’s palpable, um, you know, what, what you’ve been through and, and what you’ve been able to, uh, overcome. How was the pain when you were in the hospital? Did you, were you on any pain medicine?

Monte Clair Greer: I think yes, plenty of pain medicine in the hospital. Um, I slept the majority of time I was there.

Um, but it was, it was fine whenever I needed to get through that evening and then get on home. And when I got home, I remember thinking, this, this does hurt. This is not fun. But I had my legs back, so that was. That was a drastic difference that made all everything better because I could move my legs on my own and, and walk much better.

Even though I was slow, I was still walking without assistance. And the pain medicine, you know, was expected. It was there, but it was easy to trail off. I knew there was going to be an end date. I’m not a fan of pain medication. And so I was super excited to get it. Out of my system.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah. Amazing. And how was recovery?

So did you start physical therapy and went through that?

Monte Clair Greer: I did not go to physical therapy. I, um, Was able to just stay home, move slowly. I rested, although I got a little frustrated now and then I followed doctor’s orders and did what I was supposed to do and on my first week checkup, so I went in one week after surgery to check in with the doctor.

And he told me at that time. It’ll be three months before I felt normal again. It’ll be six months before I could exercise regularly without limitations. And a year before I didn’t think about surgery every day. And I have to tell you, he was pretty spot on. Like I said, I felt immediately better after surgery, even though I had that surgical pain.

It was just different. But it was expected. It was something I knew. That I needed to recover from and I had to remind myself most days that I was still recovering to give myself the grace and the time needed to move a little slower. I still had to have help with my shoes and then I needed to rest more often than I really wanted to.

I couldn’t just jump back into things and. Because I minded the rules, everything went smoothly.

Dr. Rita Roy: That is so awesome. And so Monteclair, what are some of the things that you enjoy doing now physically?

Monte Clair Greer: Well, I don’t, I don’t have any limitations now whatsoever. I don’t even think about it. Actually, when we were discussing this podcast, I had to remember that I had back surgery, you know, so many years ago.

I don’t think about it. Um, I have the tiniest little scar on my back and occasionally if I go get a massage or. Something like that. Somebody will see it and immediately hands off. Are you okay? You have a scar. Oh my gosh, I completely forgot. I should have told you. I’m fine. So no limitations. I wow. My gosh, that’s awesome.

I think the hardest part to get over the whole The whole process of having back surgery is your head. So even though you go through the process and you go through the recovery, you do all the things the doctors say and you’re back to normal. Your head is the hardest thing to get to get over the hump because I was, I’m sure everyone is.

I was terrified that it was going to come back or that it was going to happen again, or that I was going to, do something and mess up the surgery and then have to live with that pain the rest of my life. I was terrified of that. And that took the longest to go away. I just knew if I, if I didn’t do every step perfectly that it was going to return and thank goodness it never did.

And so I really focus on staying strong now because I want to prevent any other future issues that I might have. If they’re lurking somewhere, I want to prevent them. And so I try to stay as strong and active and mobile as I can. So I don’t have to go back to that.

Dr. Rita Roy: Yeah, I, I am looking at a beautiful, vibrant.

healthy, gorgeous woman on the screen. And I would say, whatever you’re doing appears to be working. So, so what, what, what are, what are, what are the secrets just to your, your fitness and wellness? What are, what are some of those things that you could share with us?

Monte Clair Greer: Just try to keep moving. Yeah. I love a fitness class.

I love the camaraderie and I love the accountability of going to a class where people are used to seeing you. And if you don’t show up, they call you out. I love challenging myself. Um, I’m a big spin class girl and sometimes I may be the, uh, sitting next to a 20 year old on a spin bike and I love trying to beat the 20 year old and you know, that’s, that’s really fun to me is to challenge yourself, even though no one else is participating in this race, just me, but I’m the one that’s gonna, to push myself to, to go hard and to get there.

That’s where I like to go. I think that’s why the fitness classes are so exciting to me because there’s other people to, to kind of bounce. Yeah. The, the competition off of, but healthy competition. Yes. Yes. And I enjoyed now, you know, as you get older, I want to lift heavy and I realize that lifting weights is a really good way to also stay, uh, to not gain weight.

And so I’ve gotten into that

Dr. Rita Roy: weight bearing activity for your bones is really good for osteoporosis prevention. So that’s

Monte Clair Greer: where I’ve gotten into that a little bit too here recently. I have a couple of friends who are, uh, have gotten into bodybuilding in their late forties and so they’re, they’re such a inspiration to me.

I’m like, I, I’m not going to be a bodybuilder, but heck, I can lift weights. So let’s go get it. So

Dr. Rita Roy: that’s great. That’s awesome. That is so awesome. Well, this has just been so awesome talking with you. I think, thank you for sharing a little bit of that sort of the head game, right? The sort of mental health component of overcoming a back challenge.

It’s actually a very big issue, uh, for many people who have to overcome a spine condition and that you’ve described it so beautifully. Just that, that, that just being so frightened of, Hurting myself again. I don’t want to hurt myself again. I don’t want to get back to that I don’t want to go back there.

I don’t you know, and once you realize your body is strong and resilient and not fragile And you can get strong and move on and you’ve done all those things Monty and Thank you for sharing that so honestly with us. It’s just Absolutely awesome. Um,

Monte Clair Greer: well, thanks so much for the National Spine Health Foundation to interview patients and to really hear the stories and share the stories because this is what helps other people make decisions.

Being in the healthcare industry for so long, patients need patient advocates. And so I’m happy to be one.

Dr. Rita Roy: Thank you for that. Thank you, Monty. I appreciate that so much. We will share your message far and wide for sure. I appreciate that. It was such a delight to meet you and to hear your story. Sharing it with the community is no doubt going to help someone here who’s listening help make the decision they need to make.

And I Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.

Monte Clair Greer: Thank you so much.

Dr. Rita Roy: At the National Spine Health Foundation, something we believe in most is providing hope for recovery through sharing stories of success and expertise. It isn’t always easy to find someone to relate to, even though 100 million adults suffer from neck or low back pain each year. To hear more stories of spinal champion recovery and access educational materials about spine health, visit us at SpineHealth.

org. If you’re interested in supporting our show financially, you can contribute at the link provided. Thank you for listening.


Monte Clair, experienced discomfort in her low back since her college days and throughout her early 30s. She managed her chronic pain through non-operative treatments for many years. But, while packing for a trip in 2011, she unexpectedly threw out her back just as she headed out with some friends for a road trip. She later found out she had ruptured a disc which required surgery. Hear her insightful journey to definitive treatment and living her best life.