I'm In the (corti)ZONE!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

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:

1) Rest
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.

Good times!


Christine #2 said...

Glad to see you are getting some relief. Since I work in HR, I have some experiene with those clever Insurance folks. Yikes!

8:54 AM
Brenna the Nurse said...

I'm a nurse in an ER and I see people with back problems like yours pretty often, so I know exactly the type of pain you are talking about. I wish you all the luck with your recovery and am keeping you and your family in my prayers. Stay strong and faithful, things will get better!

9:13 AM
Pam C. said...

Congratulations on the freedom from pain--and successfully surviving the surgical center.

9:42 AM
Lindsay said...

Glad to know my GPS isn't the only one trying to direct me to weird places.

9:51 AM
Amy said...

have you seen Brian Regan's skit on visiting the doctor/visiting the ER/pain? Hilarious. Something tells me you'd relate.

11:25 AM
Jamie said...

For my first 3 c-sections, my husband wasn't in the OR with me when I got my spinals. For my last baby, he was there when I got my epidural. I think he about fainted thinking about the needle and where it was going. That 2nd push just about put him over. I hope you're feeling better soon, although snuggly girls are hard to beat.

11:45 AM
Ang said...

Love the breakfast moron bit. I'm also glad you didn't throw up little Life cereal bits all over the disdainful nurses. I also must reprimand you (since I am your big sister and that is my job):


(Unless you're having surgery that day.)

Seriously, though, I'm so glad that everything went well and that your pain is subsiding.

12:08 PM
normal mormon wife said...

Yay! I might be as happy as you that the shot seems to be working. Now we can start on my list of things I've missed out on over the last 6 months:

ice skating
sky diving
strong man competitions

Oh, wait. We're on the same page on that one, huh? You'll be planning weekly dates for the next couple of months, right?

Amy--We DID see the Brian Regan ER skit. I almost peed my pants. That is one funny guy.

Ang--I've tried. I've tried several times. The breakfast thing just isn't happening. It's kinda like the "Go to bed earlier" thing.

5:43 PM
Sandy said...

Yay! Glad to hear you're on the mend. Your wife ROCKS, but you knew that already:)

9:04 PM
Braden said...

Another ER nurse here (and I was thinking I'd be the first). Just wanted to let you know that the reason they had to reduce the sedation following your CCOD (cereal consumption of death) is because of the risk of aspiration. When your body is being attacked while you are sedated, you are at an increased risk for vomiting, and since you are sedated, you clear it like you normally would, and as you continue to breathe (hopefully), you risk sucking little bits of life cereal deep into the bowels of your lung, where they fester and pneumoniaize. The reason why nurses look at you so disdainfully when they find out that you have partaken of the forbidden bowl is because they heard somewhere that you shouldn't eat after midnight on the day of your surgery.

As far as Stayin Alive goes, I am a little surprised that a hospital allows that song to be played at all, given the linkage to CPR that has been around for years but has become much more prevalent in the past few months.

12:38 AM
Col.Smeag said...

OK I'm with on th tall discrimination thingy. For years I've had to suffer being squished into undersized roller coaster seats, only wear xxl shirts not xxl-tall(why earth does Target not order these sizes I'll never know they always sell out),being told when I drive down the road I look lilke Mr Incredible in my Scion XA. When I was a kid I had to wear the "HUSKY" size, yes thats right I'm Big & Tall and prud of it. Too bad we are not like Shaq and can't just have our Motorcycles custom made to out height.

So how are the Serbian orphans settling in?

8:37 AM
Sarah Jensen said...

I've been feeling sick today, didn't go to church, and couldn't stay in bed any longer.
I read Sherry Ficklin's blog, and often come here and read yours.
Now my head hurts worse. I laughed so hard I almost had an aneurysm. Not because you are in pain, trust me, I know how bad that feels, but because your running diary had me in stitches.
I am glad that they aren't recommending surgery. I actually saw something about this on GMA Monday morning. Dr. Oz and the other doc, who is a chronic pain specialist talked about how too often surgery is recommended and not needed.
Good luck with physical therapy.
And I'm going to have to weigh in here about the whole breakfast thing... Eat if you're hungry. Fruit is best before noon.
I often don't eat until then, and I've become healthier than ever. So breakfast may be overrated.
Oh, but if you do eat breakfast, DO NOT DO IT ON THE DAY OF SURGERY.
Although, that sounds like something my Normal Mormon Husband would do.
And blessings go a long way. So do prayers.

5:09 PM
Shelley said...

first of all, loved the commentary on changing your voicemail. i had co-workers who would write it out so they would get it right on the first take. "rookies" i called them. of course it always inevitably took me 4 times before i either got it right, or was reduced to hysterics and had to try again in a few minutes.

second, i haven't been able to wear my wedding ring for a few weeks now due to swelling, and i always feel weird going out in public without it, as i'm sure people feel sorry for the poor knocked up girl sitting in the waiting room at the ob/gyn's office.

third, i believe your phone call to offer to watch our daughter fell in the 24 hour window of your "epidural". i think that qualifies as making an "important decision". i'll be sure to consult with the nmw on all future offers to watch my child before agreeing to your crazy drug-induced schemes!

6:55 PM
M-O-R-G-A-N-'S said...

I came across your blog thanks to your Twilight posts. LOL Anyway, I'm glad you finally figured out the source of your back problems.

I work in the health care field for the last 15 + years and never once has a patient described a cortisone injection, so thank you. I finally know what it could feel like and only pray I never end up with one. lol

Happy Health! :o)

7:07 PM
Calipalooza said...

I had this same "injury" in '07 and it was the worst thing I've ever, ever experienced. Mine was L5/S1 too. I am really sorry because I know that you've just been miserable! I'm glad the cortisone shot worked for you - it didn't work for me and I did have surgery which turned out amazing and I'm as good as new (ok, not really, but I'm not bed-ridden anymore!)

Just wanted to wish you luck and let you know that I really enjoy your blog.

Cali in Provo.

12:07 PM
Natalie said...

You always crack me up. I am so glad you have such a positive and fun attitude about going to get the shot.

12:49 PM
Admiral Lily said...

You're posts never cease to make me smile. And dang, that pain must have been REALLY bad to get a SHOT in your BACK! The shot part would be bad enough for me. Hate needles to the 10th+ level and Hades.

Wishing you a fast, complete recovery. And good luck on your trip! LOL

9:17 AM
Elaine said...

I also came across your blog from your Twilight posts. Just wanted to say that my husband had the same injury, same place, and had surgery for it last year. We just found out TODAY that the surgeon removed the whole disc. So, for the love of Pete, if you have to have surgery at some point, make sure you find out if the surgeon took out the entire disk. It will explain your ensuing pain.

3:13 PM
Melanie said...

Hey - I think this is my first time commenting, but I wanted to say that I hope you continue to get better and that you're able to fully recover. My dad had a ruptured disc for a long time while we were growing up and after he finally went in for surgery, it changed his life. He hasn't had back problems since.
Good luck! And I hope your insurance covers everything.

11:18 PM