My Story

The past is the past and I have no desire to dwell on anything. I’ve had to repeat my medical history to so many doctors over the years that it has become rather boring to me. I’m sharing this to hopefully help other people avoid unnecessary surgery. Not every doctor has your best interest in mind. The best way to protect yourself: knowledge.

I was born with a broken spine. The technical term is spondylolsis but it’s not something that most people have heard of unless you’re one of approximately 6% of the population that has it.  As a young child I remember frequently having back pain. My mother was very good about listening to me and took me to see many different types of doctors. I had more x-rays than I can remember and time after time doctors would tell me I had slight scoliosis but that scoliosis wouldn’t cause the pain I was describing.  Polite doctors would come up with some vague explanation like it was “growing pains” and nothing to worry about. Others would tell my mom I was simply making it up for attention.

Finally when I was 16 I went to a female rheumatologist who took me seriously. She ordered an MRI, my first of what would be many MRI’s over the years. It showed that there was an abnormality in my lower back (which happens to be the most common cause of low back pain in adolescent athletes). After years of being told the pain was all in my head I had started to believe it. I was shocked to realize that there was something seriously wrong.  Something so wrong in fact that I ended up “needing” a spinal fusion a year later after a failed attempt at physical therapy. Now I no longer believe that I actually needed the fusion, and most doctors I have talked to recently agreed it was unnecessary and highly unusual to even suggest surgery to someone that young.

The fusion never fully relieved the pain and I had come to accept a certain amount of pain as my version of normal. Ten years later the fusion degraded leaving me just as bad off as I was before the surgery. Only after trying all other possible options I agreed to have the fusion redone. The surgery caused peripheral nerve damage and facet joint syndrome that I am learning to manage with a combination of lifestyle changes, physical therapy, medication, nutrition and non-surgical medical treatment. It’s taken a lot of work to get where I am now and I am eternally grateful for the people who have helped me along the way. But had I not had the 2nd surgery, and more importantly, the first surgery, I would not be disabled to the degree I am today. There’s no question in my mind that both were unnecessary because spinal fusions do not have a high success rate in terms of reducing pain.

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