Meet Melissa, who I’ve decided is pretty badass. Prior to this interview, I knew she had back issues, but had no idea just how much she lives with each day. Melissa is a former high school comrade, (I am now beginning to suspect that something was in the water) with whom I reconnected through Facebook. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and 1 year old son.
Check out the other interviews with people who live with chronic health issues as well.
Another Fibro Warrior names Julie? I suspect a conspiracy!
Naturopathy is Trisha’s weapon of choice
Megan is sick of being sick
“I HAVE LUPUS! Take that, House.”
1) So, what ails you?
I have multiple issues including, migraines, Degenerative Disc Disease, Spinal Stenosis, Sciatica, Hip dysplasia, 8 herniated discs, spondylosis (osteoarthritis), and various other issues that seem to trigger my pain flare ups.
2) When did you receive your diagnosis (diagnoses)? How long was it from the onset of symptoms before you had a diagnosis (diagnoses)?
My first diagnosis was a bulging disc when I was 18. I have always been well-endowed (DDD- EE), so lower back pain came with the territory. It had gotten so bad, I went to the doctor to find relief. After a round of x-rays, she said it was a strain. She prescribed me Valium. A few weeks later, I returned to my primary doctor, and she did an MRI…a week later. She confirmed what I thought, a “bulging disc”. More Valium and Percocet were prescribed. “It isn’t bad enough to require surgery…oh, they slip in and out all the time,” she said, “…it will go back in, in time.”
Well, a few weeks later, the pain got worse. I went back and received more pain meds. A month goes by, and I request a new primary doctor. I had Kaiser at the time. I saw this new doctor, who seemed sincere. She wanted another MRI. When the results came back, she had this look on her face. She went on to explain to me that I had degenerative disc disease, and that in the couple of months since my first MRI, that there were significant changes. At this point in my life, I was in my first year of college and I was not doing any strenuous activities. She explained to me how she was concerned that, at this point in my life, if the degeneration continued to change as fast as it was, that by my 40’s I would be in a wheelchair. She said this to an 18 year old.
I went on to become a Paramedic, the worst choice for someone with back issues. I figured, do what makes you happy and deal with the consequences later! I did just that. Over the course of a few years and many different doctors, my symptoms became worse: lower back pain; leg numbness; tingling; hip pain; sciatic nerve pain. When I was 27, I had a patient in the ER in cardiac arrest. I was the only medic out of all of the staff so, being the lowest man on the totem pole, I got to do CPR. PROLONGED CPR. Over an hour we tried to revive this woman. She was a big girl, 250+ lbs? Thumping on this woman’s chest was more than difficult to get any cardiac response in the monitor. We finally got a heart beat, but we knew it was a matter of time. I didn’t have any issues pain-wise, other than my normal 2/10 [on the pain scale]. About 4 hours later, I was retrieving an O2 tank from under my stretcher; I bent over to get it. I was suddenly struck with such intense pain, I could not stand back up. In tears, I slowly moved to get help. I went to the ER, and the piece of crap MD said I strained it, gave me meds, and sent me home. After two weeks I still had horrible pain, so I went to my primary doc, who sent me for an MRI. I gave him copies of my previous MRIs and he came to the conclusion that, now, I had 4 herniated discs. Two in my thoracic, which I never had, and two in my lumbar, which were no longer bulging, but now pinching my nerves. I was sent to physical therapy, pain management, and a surgeon. My surgeon said I was not a candidate for surgery and I had to “suck it up”. He was an ass- no bedside manner. It wasn’t that I didn’t need surgery, because I did. I still do. But I am not a candidate because I have a clotting disorder, where my blood clots too much, so I am on blood thinners for life. (Found this out at age 26, when I had blood clots in my lungs). So, every surgeon who I have seen since is scared to open me up.
So, as of today and my most recent MRI, I am in pain management and I have 8 herniations, all of which need surgery. My discs now have no fluid in them, causing my spine sit on top of each other with no cushion. Bone on bone.
3) How does your illness manifest itself, (symptoms)? Does it or has it manifested itself in a way that is atypical? Did that delay receiving a diagnosis and/or does that require that you receive different medical treatment?
I don’t think that the delay of my diagnosis has caused me any harm because, I am stuck in limbo. Until they come up with a way to repair my spine without surgery, all they can do is treat the symptoms and pain.
4) Have any unconventional or naturopathic treatments worked for you? What are they?
I’m not one to go for natural remedies.
5) How has your illness affected your daily activities? How has it affected you long term? Are there things you used to love doing, but can no longer do?
My days begin with meds. I cannot do a single thing without taking medicine first. I don’t even pee before I take my meds. I try to wake before my son does, so my medicine is in effect when taking care of him. Otherwise there’s no hugs, [no] picking him up to put him in his high chair, no making breakfast. Nothing without my meds. There is no functioning without my medicine.
I was able to have a child; not sure how I carried him for 9 months without pain meds, but I did. Since he was born, my back has dramatically gotten worse. Probably 45 [times worse] since I am always running around with him. I cannot get him in and out of our car without intense pain. Sitting on the floor with him requires me to think of the best possible way to get down there…then there’s getting back up. Carry my son? My 30+ lb. son? Lol! That’s funny! But, somehow, I do. I am no longer a Paramedic. I had to give that up when I injured myself. Now I wait tables, which is probably worse. But after being injured at work, it’s hard to get another job in medicine. Walk around a mall? Not even on a good day. Groceries? Sure…if there’s a bag boy. Stairs? NOT A CHANCE. Hikes? Nope. Playground? Sure…if my hubby is with us so I can sit, while he runs after Isaac. What I miss most is movies. I haven’t been to a movie theatre in 8 years. The seats are too uncomfortable for me to sit for 2+ hours. Netflix, Redbox, and On Demand it is!
6) How has your illness affected your mental health?
I am terrified of falling. Terrified of getting into a car accident. Terrified that I will injure my spine again, only to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Depression sometimes gets the best of me, but that’s what Zoloft is for!
7) How does your illness affect your family and friends? Have they been supportive?
My mother thinks I am an addict, as do other family. My mom had a motorcycle accident and fractured her spine in 7 places. She has pain, but rarely takes pain meds…so why do I need them? I cannot complain to her because her pain in worse.
8) What do you wish people understood about your illness?
I wish people wouldn’t look at me and think, “Maybe if she lost weight…” Bite MY ASS. Since having my son, I have lost almost 70 lbs. My pain is worse. You do the math. I wish people wouldn’t judge me when I use my handicap tags. I wish that people could feel my pain so they would understand that my 2/10[on the pain scale] is 8/10 for most people.
9) What do you wish people understood about you in light of your illness?
I wish people would understand that I try my very best to be happy, easy-going, caring and there for everyone. Some days, it IS about me. All other days, it will be about THEM.
10) What has pissed you off the most during your journey with this illness?
That what I loved doing most, being a Paramedic, I can no longer do.
11) What has been the most helpful?
My husband. He is my ROCK. He is always there for me and would do anything to help me.
12) If you could shoot one of your doctors/healthcare providers out of a cannon because of their asshattery, who would it be and why?
The doctor at the spine center in Winchester, VA. He was a douchebag. When he said I had to suck it up and deal with it, he obviously had never experienced pain.