Monday, May 28, 2012

Who, What, When, Where, and Why

A little about me and why I'm writing this blog... My name is Jill and I'm 32 years old. I'm writing this blog to document my journey through spinal fusion surgery and recovery. I'm the kind of person that likes options, so in this first post, I'm going to provide you with 2 options - the short story and the long story.

The short story: In the 5th grade I was diagnosed with scoliosis. At 19 I began having back pain. Over the years, it got worse, then it got worse, then it worsened, then I had more pain, and then it got even worse. I tried everything including standing on my head and spinning in circles, while thinking happy thoughts about majestic unicorns and fluffy kittens sprinkled with glitter. Despite my efforts, the pain still got worse and my curvature progressed. Now I'm 32 and I'm having surgery. If you've opted to read only the short story, then you can stop reading here, disembark the pain train and start looking forward to my next post. If you've opted to continue reading, then make yourself comfy and keep reading.

The long story: I was first diagnosed with scoliosis in the 5th grade during an annual checkup with my pediatrician. X-rays showed that I had a double major thoracic curve in the shape of an "S" and I was referred to a specialist at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. At the time, my curve wasn't severe enough to warrant surgery. Because of the location and type of curve, my doctor said that bracing probably wouldn't do much good in reducing the curve or halting its progression. He said that the psychological effects far outweighed the possible benefits since the type of brace I would've required would have extended from my hips to my chin. It was decided that observation was the best treatment option for me, so I continued to visit my doctor at Riley annually. When I was a freshman in high school, my doctor told me that I no longer needed to continue my visits to Riley because I was nearly done growing and my curve would not progress once I was done growing. At that time my upper curve was approximately 37 degrees and my lower curve approximately 42 degrees.

At age 19, I began experiencing occasional mild to moderate back pain and chronic migraines, so I made an appointment with my doctor who took x-rays and referred me to an orthopedic surgeon in Evansville, IN. The surgeon told me that my curve hadn't changed much and that I wasn't a candidate for surgery. I was also told that my scoliosis wouldn't cause back pain. I was told to take OTC pain relievers for the pain and migraines. I followed the doctor's recommendations, though they didn't help much. As the years passed, my pain progressed in severity and frequency.

At age 26, I started working at a job where I was sat for 8 hours a day and there was a noticeable increase in my pain. After learning a little about ergonomics, I made some adjustments to my workstation and took a bigger dose of "toughing it out." I began getting massages every 2 weeks, which helped dramatically with the frequency of my migraines. The massages also helped to decrease my pain by helping my overworked muscles to relax. My massage therapist explained that my back muscles were extremely tight because they were trying to compensate for my crooked spine, and that this was likely causing a lot of my pain.

By age 29 I was in enough pain that I realized I had to do something because it was only going to get worse as I got older. After speaking with my general practitioner, she prescribed a wonderful drug called Imitrex for my migraines, and recommended a chiropractor and acupuncturist. She also referred me to an orthopedic surgeon in Fishers, IN, who took new x-rays and sent me for an MRI. The orthopedic surgeon measured my upper curve at 35 degrees and my lower curve at 43 degrees. He told me that I wasn't a candidate for surgery because my curve wasn't severe enough and he referred me to a physical therapist. While physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture helped with my pain, the relief was only temporary and typically only lasted 2-3 days. I also continued to get regular massages. During this time, I began to average 3-6 appointments (massage, doctors, and PT)per week. The appointments in addition to work and life's other responsibilities were exhausting and I was left with little free time for fun and relaxation.

By age 30 my pain had gotten worse, despite all of my time, effort, and money spent on PT, adjustments, acupuncture, and massages. I was in pain all of the time and was enduring migraines that lasted 3-5 days each week (even with the help of Imitrex). Once again, I spoke to my general practioner during my annual visit to see what my options were. She recommended that I see a pain management specialist. So, I took her advice and began treatment at a pain management group where I added 5 new doctors/ healthcare practitioners to my already full list. During my first visit, x-rays were taken and my lower curve was measured at 50 degrees.

I'm now 32. In January, I found out that my that my upper curve had increased to 40 degrees and my lower curve had increased to 53 degrees. I also discovered that sometime over the past 3 years, I shrunk 1 inch. I've visited 3 orthopedic surgeons who specialize in scoliosis, from Indianapolis all the way to New York. All 3 recommended surgery because they said my curve would probably continue to progress. I was also told that surgery may (cautious doctor speak in which the doctor hints, but avoids making ANY promises) decrease my pain. I've concluded that I've exhausted all other options and surgery is all that is left. After much research and many long talks with friends and family, I've decided to have surgery. Life should be more than spending all of my time in doctor's offices or lying on the couch with ice packs on half my body. The big day is now 7 days away.