When we are between our teens and mid adulthood, we often think: “I am invincible! I can do anything. I am strong. I have unlimited energy.” After all, usually nothing happens (that we can see) when we participate in risky activities at that age. It takes getting older before we realize, “I screwed up!”
Where Did My Youth Go
When we get older and feel the wear and tear on our bodies from all of our abuses and extreme behaviors we start thinking in real time. We slip into the not so invincible, not so all powerful, not so energetic and not so young: “What was I thinking? I wish I had known that! What did I do to myself?” We finally realize that we are no longer “spring chickens.”
Did you know that your back talks to you? I do! Back has spoken loudly, clearly and eloquently. Back gave me my first warning.
Upper Back Said, “Less Heavy Work!”
The messages started when I was a nurse trying to keep a confused patient in bed while the rest of the staff were in a Code Blue emergency. As I struggled to loose the patient’s vise grip on the bed rails which he was trying to throw his legs over, I felt a sharp pain between my shoulder blades and numbness down my right arm almost immediately. Neck spasms followed quickly.
An MRI revealed two mildly bulging discs in my neck. I was placed on sick leave; given physical therapy and healed after about three weeks. But I soon discovered those discs were only temporarily healed.
The exercises did strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles to support my upper back. But soon there was another injury to my neck. After a second failed recovery period, my supervisor told me my neck could not handle the work in ICU/CCU, so I had to find another less intense unit to work in.
Back and my supervisor were telling me what I had refused to hear. So I worked in an outpatient pre-operative area with much less pulling, turning, or lifting. Things went well. Then my family moved.
Lower Back Says, “Warning!! Be Careful!”
After several years of floor nursing I developed a few flare ups of back ache and rare slight left leg pain. For several days I would rest my back; apply ice and heat; did physical therapy and some yoga stretches. The back pain got better over a few days’ rest. And then I went right back to work. My back was talking to me but I wasn’t listening.
Back Yells, “SOS!”
Later I started home health nursing. While helping a family member lift a client up in their chair, I discovered that the patient was not helping (like he said he would) when I promptly had pain in my lower back and down my left leg.
A lower back MRI showed I had not only two slightly bulging discs in my lower back but a bone spur and degenerative changes!! After physical therapy and back rest, the doctor released me to return to work.
The doctor even told me that people with worse bulges and degenerative changes than mine could lead normal lives after the initial healing period. So why should I worry, right? Wrong, not in the long run!!
Back, “Don’t Get Cocky!”
So I continued to do floor nursing on the telemetry floor. I almost always had help, the patient assignments were closer together so there was less walking. Everything seemed better.
Back: “Finally Warning Understood!”
Finally in 2010 at the age of 59, after 37 years of nursing, my two lower spinal discs revolted. Back started with a whimper and progressed to a scream. I noticed that when I sat for any length of time my posterior started aching. This discomfort became a burning, aching pain.
Soon I couldn’t sit or stand for more than 15-30 minutes without great discomfort. I couldn’t walk on concrete floors without having numbness and pain down my left leg or in my left buttock after just 5-10 minutes.
Back Sighs, “A Reprieve!”
I went to the doctor with records in hand. Physical therapy did an assessment and studied the reports. The doctor told me that with the bone spur and the bulging discs that I should not lift over 20 pounds of weight. Bone spurs are the result of vertebrae rubbing against each other because of a protruding disc or scoliosis.
When I gave my supervisor this note, things changed. The hospital could not risk my having a workplace injury or being libel if someone fell and I couldn’t catch or help them. I was placed on long term disability for two years.
While on Long Term Disability through my hospital, in hopes of having a light job for the future when disability expired, I applied for several jobs. I was honest about my restrictions. No one hired me. Wonder why???
I really understand why. From an employer’s point of view it would be risky to hire a person with so many potential problems and so close to retirement. Why spend time and money orienting someone who might retire or begin having other health problems in a few years. What if she calls in sick a lot with back flare ups. She could be or become a drug addict on pain medicines.
So I retired early. I have had some flare ups which required physical therapy. I started a photography business for three years. Soon after the editor of our small town newspaper hired me as a photojournalist for three years until it closed.
I could do these jobs because I could work at my own pace, rest, get up and down anytime I needed to.
A Changing Back
Until last October after four different therapists, exercises, some weight loss, and after three different chiropractors I had only occasional back aches. Things were going pretty well for 9 years
Back Demands, “Help”
When I had my physical I was surprised to find I had lost an inch in my height in one year! Soon after I was waking up with severe aching across my lower back and pain from my right groin to my knee. I saw a neurologist.
He ordered an X-ray which showed more severe changes with very thin discs between the lower vertebrae. The bone spurs were more pronounced and there were disc protrusions or “spurs” from scoliosis! I knew I had a slight scoliosis or curve of the spine, but it looked much worse now. So that’s where the inch of my height went!
I wanted to share this in case anyone else had similar problems. I wonder what my back would have looked like if I had continued to work as a nurse on the floors. I was right to retire early. Things could have gotten much worse much faster.
“Thank you, Back. I appreciate the warnings.”