Hernia. I've got a hernia.
At least that is what my orthopedic surgeon told me last week after stuffing my gangly 6'6" body into a suffocatingly small, loud, enclosed tube called an MRI machine. I seemed to fit into the tube like a foot-long hot dog being wedged into the last remaining eight-inch bun. But they got the images that my doctor needed to diagnose the cause of my pain as a herniation to the L5/S1 disc in my lower back. L5/S1 is the medically accurate name of the damaged region. I like to call it the "stupid jerk zone."
My doctor explained that there are two primary reasons for the severe pain I have been feeling. First, my disc has completely ruptured and is now pressing against the spinal nerves which is causing the stabbing pain in my back and burning sensations in my hips and leg and numbness in my feet. The second reason for the pain is due to the fact that when a disc ruptures it releases its fluid material into the immediate area and causes inflammation and pain.
Referring to the fluid, my doctor told me to image my disc as a jelly doughnut that has been punctured, causing the jelly filling to squirt everywhere. If I were a doctor I would tell my hernia sufferers to imagine ordering a Taco Bell burrito with extra Fire sauce on it that was prepared by a careless drive thru worker who failed to seal the ends of the tortilla. I think this is a more apt description because most people attempt to eat 2-3 leaking Taco Bell burritos every week and the Fire sauce better describes the burning sensation. Maybe this is why I work in HR and not in the ER.
The good news is that my doctor is not recommending surgery right now. We agreed to have me receive a cortisone shot to reduce the swelling and pain so that I can start physical therapy next week to strengthen my core. The shot is technically considered to be a minor surgery and is not something that can be easily administered like a flu shot so I have to go to the surgical center to receive it. I got the cortisone shot yesterday and kept a running diary of the events of the day:
7:14 a.m. - I took the day off work since my shot is in the morning. I normally take the Normal Mormon Boy to school but we decide to let him ride the bus today so I am off the parental hook. As I lay in my bed the 4-year-old Normal Mormon Girl comes into the bedroom and wants to snuggle. While my daughter is an excellent princess, dancer, singer, gibberish speaker and puzzle maker, her greatest talent may be snuggling. She snuggles with me in her warm, furry pajamas and I cannot think of a better way to start the morning.
7:22 a.m. - I call my office voice mail to change my message to let people know I am out of the office today. On average it takes me about 4.6 attempts to get the message just right. It usually goes something like this:
Take 1 - "Hello, you've reached the voice mail of the Normal Mormon Husband. Today is......uuhhh..."
Take 2 - "Hello, you've reached the voice mail of the Normal Mormon Husband. Today is Friday, January 23rd and I am out of the office, returning on Monday...Jan...u...ary.....Twen...ty......"
Take 3 - "Hello, you've reached the voice mail of the Normal Mormon Husband. Today is Friday, January 23rd and I am out of the office, returning on Monday, January 26th.."
And so it goes until I get it right. This morning I got it down in one take. Another good omen.
8:07 a.m. - I normally do not eat breakfast, but I indulge in a bowl of Life cereal since I have some extra time this morning. After I finish eating the bowl of cereal I have a disturbing flashback to the scheduling person at the doctor's office telling me to not eat anything after midnight the evening before my procedure. I pull out my instructions and my heart sinks when I read it right there in black and white - "Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the evening before your appointment." Oh, no! I call the office to make sure that I have not just completely hosed myself and they assure me I can still come in for the shot, but they will not be able to give me as much sedative as normal. I guess there must be some problems with patients with full stomachs and/or colons who get sedated, but I can't put two and two together....
9:15 a.m. - I call Aetna just to double check that my cortisone shot will be covered by insurance. I tell the Aetna representative, "I am receiving a cortisone shot in my back and want to make sure it is covered." The rep asks a follow-up question of, "Ummm...okay...how do you spell that?" I almost sarcastically say, "B-A-C-K" but instead spell "cortisone" for her. The sinking feeling that I will end up with a $42,000 bill from this is now officially residing in my gut, right next the the Taco Bell Fire sauce in my back.
9:20 a.m. - The Normal Mormon Wife is driving me to the surgical center with our seven-month-old daughter also tagging along. We used my GPS device (aka Gretchen) to guide us to the address. As we prepare to turn on to the street of my doctor's office Gretchen says, "Now arriving at destination on left." Uh, Gretchen, there is funeral parlor on our left. Please tell me I am not getting my surgical procedure done in a funeral home. Doesn't that represent some sort of conflict of interest? Not a good sign.
9:40 a.m. - The surgical center was two buildings down from the funeral home and we take our seats in the lobby. The NMW sees a Body Mass Index on the wall and wants to see where I fall on the BMI scale. She comes back and tells me that, unfortunately, the chart stops at 76 inches. I am closer to 78 inches and once again experience the horrors of the most prevalent form of discrimination that still exists in our society today - HEIGHT DISCRIMINATION! (I have blogged about height discrimination before and it's worth a read if you're interested. It's one of my favorite "classic" posts.)
9:42 a.m. - I had to take off my wedding band in preparation for my shot so I am now holding my infant daughter without my ring on my finger. I see people in the waiting room glancing at us and suddenly feel like a baby-daddy since my wedding ring is not plainly visible. Awkward.
9:49 a.m. - The NMW and I are talking with an elegant woman in her sixties about the joys of parenthood. She looks a little surprised when we tell her we have two more kids at home. She then asks if I'm going in for major surgery today and I tell her that it is just a "minor outpatient procedure." The woman looks at me with a knowing smirk on her face that leads me to believe that she thinks I'm taking measures to ensure that baby number four is never born. I quickly clarify that I'm only receiving a cortisone shot.
10:05 a.m. - I am now in the back offices and being passed from nurse to nurse every four minutes. Every nurse glances at my chart and looks at me with disdain and says, "Oooohhh, YOU'RE the one who had breakfast this morning." In total, eleven of fifteen nurses make this comment to me through my ordeal. I think they would have been less judgmental if I had done something less serious - like bombing a national monument or killing baby animals just for kicks. As nurse after nurse reprimands me for eating Life cereal this morning I am tempted to put a sign on my forehead that says,
10:09 a.m. - While laying down on a gurney awaiting my I.V. I smile as I hear "Stayin' Alive" being piped in over the sound system. The irony of this particular song being played to a bunch of people getting ready to undergo surgery makes me chuckle. If they were playing "In the Living Years" by Mike + the Mechanics I would seriously dive for the closest window.
10:15 a.m. - My doctor is ready to do the injection. I am told that I will feel a "poke" as the long needle enters my back. By "poke" he really meant "stabbing." I am now told that I will feel "pressure" as the needle descends into my back. "Pressure" really meant "deeper stabbing." I am then told to be prepared to feel "an adjustment", which really meant "stabbing in new areas." Man, the guy downplays everything! If I were to die on his operating table today, what would he tell the Normal Mormon Wife? "Ma'am, I am sorry to tell you some moderately difficult news - your husband's surgery was not quite 100% successful. His body has been transferred to the funeral home down the street for the next steps in his recovery process..."
10: 29 a.m. - While I am in the recovery area experiencing drug-induced hallucinations, the medical staff tells the Normal Mormon Wife that over the next 24 hours I need to comply with the following three basic requests:
2) Do not drive
3) Do not make any important decision
I guess now is not the best day to tell the NMW that I have just decided to drive to New York to try out for the World's Strongest Man competition and adopt two Serbian orphans while I am there. Maybe tomorrow.
I am happy to report that the cortisone shot has done exactly what my doctors and I were hoping it would do - relieve the constant, debilitating pain that has made my life so difficult lately. This morning is the first nearly-pain free day I have experienced in months. What a relief!
I am deeply grateful to the NMW for shouldering nearly all of the responsibilities of our home and family over the past several months. Hon, you are an amazing woman! You have been an absolute champ and I am looking forward to getting healthy and once again pulling my weight around here. I am thankful for the prayers, service and priesthood blessings from my family, friends and ward members that have sustained me during this tough time. There have been a number of kind, uplifting comments from you, the readers of my blog, that have also boosted my spirits. Thanks to all of you.
Sweet! The 24-hours have now passed since I received my shot. Time to go tell the NMW about my upcoming trip to New York.
Gotta run! And this time I will not look like an 83-year-old man as I do.