Monday, June 10, 2019

Herniated Disc Update - #2

It's been a while since my last post about my herniated disc, so I thought I'd update you guys with what's been happening.  When I last left you, I had been given my first epidural steroid injection and was waiting for the steroid to kick in and relieve me of some of the nerve pain.  It never did, which was incredibly disheartening.  So except for the change in pain meds to a Butrans patch that I wore on my arm for a week at a time, nothing was different, including my pain levels.  We went to North Carolina as planned because I was tired of this injury stopping me from doing everything, and while I had some good distraction by being with Sam and my parents, I was hurting really bad and was taking Motrin all the time. 

On the drive back, I was at a 9.5 on the pain scale, and feeling despair at ever getting better because the first epidural injection didn't work, the pain meds were barely helping, and I'd read a lot of stories online about other people living like this for years.  YEARS.  In tears (there's been a lot of tears since this happened), I called my pain management doctor's office and asked if I could get some prescription-strength ibuprofen.  Kristen, the PA, called me back said if I was needing to take that much Motrin, we needed to change the pain meds.  Luckily it was only changing the Butrans patch from 5mg to 10mg - nothing new since all of the previous pain meds I'd tried had made me incredibly nauseous, and increasing the dosage on Gabapentin, which is my nerve pain medicine.  Plus she told me to stop taking the Motrin altogether and take Aleve instead - two tablets every twelve hours.  I'm not sure what helped, or maybe it was everything, but I did get some relief and stopped wanting to throw myself out of the moving car.  

While I was on the phone with Kristen I told her that I was worried about getting another epidural since the first one didn't work.  She went over my MRI again while talking to me, and said that there was more than one way to do the injection to get the steroid in the right spot, and she'd get with the doctor about me.  She was very reassuring and I had a glimmer of hope after talking with her, like maybe, just maybe, I might stop hurting so bad...most days my pain seesawed between a 7 - 8 on a scale of 10, with jabs of 9+ occasionally.

I still had about two and a half weeks to go until my second injection, so back to the couch for me for most of my day.  I still couldn't sit in a chair for more than a few minutes, if at all - there were many times when I'd sit down for dinner only to immediately stand up and I would have to eat my dinner while standing.  I also couldn't really drive because I couldn't sit upright in a car seat.  Oh and there was that whole brain fog from the pain meds thing, too - I couldn't concentrate enough to read a page from a book, or knit, or watch a movie.  I could make it through a short sitcom sometimes, but that was about it.  So mostly I was doing nothing.

This is a very isolating injury.  I went from going to BCS Fitness three times a week, and running three times a week - always with either a group at my workouts or with Jeff, Diane, and the Renegades - to nothing.  I was hurting too much to go out, and I couldn't drive, so I was home alone, miserable, and alternating between losing hope that I'd ever be without this excruciating pain to being optimistic that maybe my upcoming injection would work.  But mostly I was depressed.  I have gone through a lot of Kleenex since this happened.  Thankfully Diane came over just about every day after work and sat with me for a couple of hours, otherwise the only person I would see was Jeff.  I have a couple friends who check on me via text which is really nice.  But being cut off from about 98% of my social group contributed to my feeling of depression.

I'm not saying all of this to make you guys feel bad for me.  I'm documenting my experience with a herniated disc in case another sufferer comes across my blog; maybe they will feel a kinship with what I'm going through and maybe they won't feel so alone.  And maybe they'll get some hope from my treatment plan.

So.  That was the dark side of having a herniated disc.  I am now standing - no wait...SITTING - on the sunny side.  I had my second steroid epidural 11 days ago as of today and it has helped tremendously.  My team (PA and doctor) were hoping for 60% reduction in pain.  I would say I've gotten more like 80% and I am so relieved!  Not only for the pain mostly being gone, but because my doctor said that the MRI showed a fragment of the herniated disc had broken off and was pressing against the nerve right at L3, and if that injection didn't work, we would need to discuss getting with a neurosurgeon to remove the fragment and part of the disc. 

The reason why this injection worked is because my doctor went in lower than the previous time.  This go-round he was right at the bottom of the L3 area, and kind of curved the needle around to right where the disc fragment was.  He touched the nerve a few times while making sure he was getting to the right spot and my leg zinged when that happened.  This took a little longer than the first injection but I didn't care as long as it worked.  And it did!  He does this under a live X-ray so he can see the needle and move it into position, injecting dye to check.  This is a picture of my spine with the needle in place, with the dye:
The injection sweet spot!

And now, I'm paranoid.  So many people have said that their injection only worked for a week, or two, or three, and then the pain came back.  Every time I sit down I wait for the familiar sharp pain to hit.  So far it's been good - none of that pain.  My thigh will still throb at times and my knee hurts, but nothing like before.  The only addition I've had is that when I stand up after I've been sitting, I get pins and needles from my knee down for a few minutes.  This happens every time I sit.  It's annoying but I'm used to it. 

When an injection works, the next one will help even more - it's a cumulative effect.  I am scheduled for another injection in early July and am hoping to get one more before September 1, when our year begins again with insurance.  And then I don't think I will need any more injections for a while, which would be fine with me.

I have to be very careful with my spine, even though it never hurt and still doesn't.  But the point of these injections is to get some of the swelling down from the herniated disc to take the pressure off the nerve root.  I'm not to lift anything above my head, or bend forward too much, or lift much of anything at all.  It's hard to remember to be cautious sometimes because it's automatic with me to do normal things like bending down to unload the dishwasher and taking out several heavy Fiestaware plates to put in the cupboard.  So even though I'm feeling better, most of the housework is still on Jeff.

I had my first physical therapy appointment last week and my second one is later on this morning.  I'll write more about that on Wednesday.

So...after two and a half months of pure hell, I finally got some relief from the pain.  I credit having a doctor who is a working anesthesiologist and has the knowledge to do the injection a different way, and for the skill to move that needle around to just the right spot.  This is why I chose him when I was first diagnosed with a herniated disc - I checked out all of the pain management places in town and I liked the idea that he was still working at hospitals, helping patients with different needs, and not just running a pain clinic. 

Thanks for sticking with me over the last few months - I am hoping SO MUCH that the second injection is signaling the beginning of the end of this nightmare.  Nerve pain is unbearable and I would not wish it on anyone.  Now, please keep your fingers crossed for me that the injection lasts for the entire six weeks.  
Look at me, sitting and blogging like a normal person!

24 comments:

  1. Wow...I have been following along the whole time...but it has been in bits and pieces. It hit me how rough it had been for you!!! I would have been depressed also!!! Thank heavens for friends and a great spouse! I am sooo relieved that the pain is so much lessened...and that there’s is quite a bit of hope now!!! I’m praying and I have my fingers crossed for continual improvements!!!

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    1. Thanks Mary Fran - yes, it's been really rough, but hopefully I'm going to continue to get better.

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  2. Such good news! I can't imagine living with that level of pain. Fingers crossed that you continue to feel relief. I completely agree with what you said about seeing an anesthesiologist for pain management. Hopefully you'll be able to get out and at least walk. XOXO

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    1. Thanks, and I'm glad to hear that you agree with my choosing of an anesthesiologist, knowing that you are in the medical field as well. :)

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  3. This is such good news to hear! I am very happy that you are having relief from that level of awful pain. I pray the shot lasts the whole six weeks for you.

    I have learned from reading how you have dealt with your situation. I think you were wise in your choice of a pain doctor. I'm glad they were able to get you mostly pain free and not dependent on opioids. You will no doubt give other suffers hope and a road map.

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    1. Thank you, Susan. I do hope other people unfortunate enough to have what I have can get some hope from my story - until you have this happen, there's no understanding of the pain and what the options are to get help.

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  4. This whole thing has been so surreal to me - I can't even imagine trying to live through it based on the one episode I had of the nerve that caused my entire right arm to set fire and leave me with a numb index finger to this day.

    I feel like we were talking and I was asking you if you had tried IT band stretches to loosen your hip and knee and BAM!! Herniated Disc.

    I'm so happy that this injection is giving you some relief and I know I haven't been there in person but to me you have soldiered through this with a pretty good attitude based on what you've been dealing with! Here's to continued healing and recovery of your health!

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    1. Haha, it's kind of surreal to me! I was just going along with life and like you said, BAM! Life changed. I appreciate your texts and checking in on me, even when the answer was the same for weeks...hurting, feeling bad. At least now they're more positive, right?

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  5. I'm so glad to read this detailed report! And so glad that the injection seems to be working so well. Wow, Diane is a really good friend to come over so often to see you. And Jeff and the housework--keep up the good work, buddy. Maybe when you get better he'll forget that he's not supposed to keep doing the housework?? :)

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    1. Yes, Diane has been wonderful! And another YES, I think Jeff will be more apt to pitch in with the housework even after I recover from this...he is now seeing what a well-oiled machine I had going (i.e. wash sheets and towels on Mondays, fresh bedding), a quick vacuum almost every day, dishes washed and PUT AWAY (that's his downfall now, and then he talks about how the counters are messy, LOL).

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  6. I am SO HAPPY to hear that the second injection is bringing you relief! And I don't know how anyone could go through all of that and NOT be at least a little depressed, so I think your feelings there are completely normal. I'm sorry it was so bad for so long, and I hope things keep improving!

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    1. Thanks, Anne - I don't know how I made it through this except that I didn't have a choice. But holy hell, that pain was indescribably horrible. The last eleven days have been paradise by comparison, and that's even with some pain still!

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  7. What you've been through sounds brutal. I am so happy to see that you finally have some relief and will keep my fingers crossed that this is the beginning of the end of this awful time for you.

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    1. Brutal is a good description. Thanks for the good thoughts! :)

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  8. Such good news, Shelley! I hope the relief lasts a long, long, long time!

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  9. Fantastic news Shelley! I can empathize with that pain and it is no joke. Most people don't understand how chronic pain can lead to depression, but until you live with pain day in and day out with no relief, you won't understand. Here's to continued improvement and being able to sit for long periods of time and better sleep!

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    1. Yep, you get it. And here's to your last sentence coming true! :)

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  10. Girl, you must be tough as nails to endure that kind of pain! I am impressed, and also glad that pain has subsided. Fingers crossed the injections alleviate ALL the pain!!

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    1. I've discovered I'm tougher than I knew, but this nearly broke me.

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  11. Oh my gosh, I am so glad the second injection is helping!!!! I hope the next two do as well and they continue to build on one another, like you said! It's great your documenting all this, for someone else suffering the same way, to see what worked for you. Thank heavens for those smart docs!!!!!

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    1. Thanks Kim - and I appreciate your support through my misery. :)

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  12. I'm so glad you've gotten some relief. I deal with daily pain levels of 6-8 on a scale of 10 which includes nerve pain as well. It's not fun. Maybe soon I can share that story, but for now I've been advised to keep it pretty quiet. Just know that I feel for you and I think of you often.

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    1. Oh Sarah, I'm sorry to hear this! You know. You really know.

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