We all get them. Sometimes it comes as a call, a text, or an email, but we all get those reminders of our past that propel us back in time and reminds of who we used to be.
It happened to me recently in the form of a reminder text from my neurologist’s office. I catapulted back to 2012. My family had moved into our new house that January. Because of my back, we built the house handicapped accessible with a raised dishwasher. During the build, we discussed whether to purchase disability insurance for me. While I had multiple surgeries in 1994 for scoliosis, the fusion had been successful, and I had been pretty healthy and active afterward.
When I began having ongoing pain, my physician referred me to a neurologist in 2012. The most recent imaging results were reviewed with surprise and calls to colleagues to “look at this”. One of them said to me, “Did you know that you have a second curve above the spinal fusion?
Not only is the spine curving, but it’s twisting. We need to look at your lung function.” The diagnosis codes on my chart looked like an advanced math class taught in Latin with the accompanying medical terminology that described the issues from the bottom of my spine to the top.
Shortly after that, at the pain management clinic, the anesthesiologist used a fluoroscope to administer my first epidural steroid injection. A fluoroscope is like a real-time x-ray and provides a visual guide for the needle used to inject the pain medication in just the right spot. The doctor left me under the fluoroscope, backside up and barely draped, to wait for two different colleagues to come and view the hardware, curvature, stenosis, and so on. “You don’t see that every day!” One asked, “Is this patient mobile?” Yes, and the patient was lying right there under the fluoroscope, praying for someone to adjust the draping over her hind end and for someone to find an intervention to manage the pain. I was that girl who was a medical melee, leaving a confused passel of professionals wondering.
The ‘bad back’ framed everything
The pain was incessant. Each morning I took three different medications for pain. My work had purchased a desk that raised and lowered so that I could stand as needed during my workday. By the time I arrived home after work, pain was shooting down my left leg and across my lower back. Cooking dinner was often difficult, but I nearly always had dinner on the table by the time my husband came home at 6:00 pm.
Most nights I tried to sit with my family at the table, but often the pain was so severe that I only wanted to lie down. On the worst nights, I didn’t even try to cook. Instead, my husband brought me dinner in bed. With few exceptions, by 7:00 pm each evening I had taken more pain medication and was in bed. My children were six and nine years old. Their bedrooms were upstairs. My husband had to assist me in walking from the kitchen to our bedroom on the main floor. Climbing the stairs to tuck the children in bed was not possible. My littles would climb into bed with me for snuggles and reading and help with homework. They kissed me goodnight and went upstairs for daddy to tuck them in.
Even our weekend family time was framed by mom’s “bad back”. Mom couldn’t get on the trampoline, but could sit and watch. Mom waited in the car while dad took them for a hike to see the waterfall. Sitting in the car as they described it with such joy was as painful as being left behind, but I would never tell them that. Instead, I asked questions and encouraged them to draw pictures for me.
When they had their first snow skiing lessons, mom was safely inside where no one had to worry about her falling and hurting her back more. No water slides with mom. No roller coasters either. The children knew Mom had to be let out at the door of the shopping center because her back would hurt from walking too much. Some days it seemed that the list of what mom couldn’t do was longer than what she could. I was the mom who couldn’t.
Not that mom anymore
Until I began losing weight. Almost one year after the first epidural steroid injection, I discovered a low-carb diet. Let’s be honest. I only wanted to wear smaller clothes and to not be obese. Within losing the first 30 lbs (14 kg) I experienced decreasing back pain.
The Sam’s Club mega bottle of ibuprofen was the first to go. Instead of taking it several times daily, I only took it after exertion. Then the definition of exertion changed. A few hours of shopping at the mall was no longer exertion. A walk to the end of the cul de sac, vacuuming the great room—all of that previously required pain meds. No more. Slowly I stopped taking the pain meds even while becoming more active. By June 2014 on a family trip to Hawaii, this mom was hiking on a volcano and kayaking in the ocean. Med free. Pain free. Not the mom she used to be.
In 2015 I decided to follow-up with the neurologist and wondered if more recent imaging might be warranted. We never did test that lung function, and I wasn’t getting younger. At that appointment, the neurologist looked at my chart, and then he looked at me. “You’re not taking any meds or getting the steroid injections anymore?” I confirmed that I wasn’t. “You’ve lost a lot of weight since you were here last. Over 100 lbs (45 kg). Tell me what you’re doing.” He needed to understand why the old chart didn’t match the patient sitting in front of him. He needed to know this new girl.
I explained my very low-carb diet. He became animated, telling me that a ketogenic diet was a wonderful way to eat. He said that he wished all of his patients ate that way because it is anti-inflammatory. Encouraged, I eagerly asked, “Do you follow a ketogenic diet?” He scoffed, shook his head and said, “No, it’s too damn hard. I like beer and potatoes too much!”
He encouraged me to stay the course, but didn’t see a need for imaging unless I was having pain. We could do the lung function testing if I wanted, as it couldn’t hurt to have a baseline. He wished me well and told me how proud he was of my progress. I left and hadn’t followed up with him since.
Two years later, the text that his office sent that disrupted my day was a simple one. “Kristie, you may be overdue for an appointment. Please call to set up an appt if needed.”
No, thank you. I’m not that girl anymore.