I am happy to announce that Krishanna is the next recipient of our award. Here is her story:
In November 1998, I was managing a convenient store, getting ready to go back to school because I finally got a clue about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was very active. I walked 2 or 3 miles a day, rode the city buses with no problem, exercised regularly, and so forth. After several years of working at it, I was within 30 pounds of a weight goal I had set for myself. Then I injured my back lifting a case of beer at work while I was cleaning up and stocking the walk-in cooler. Ironically, I was 11 years sober and even after all that time, booze still could still kick my butt. ;)
At first, I thought the lower back pain I was experiencing was nothing more than a muscle strain. But it lingered and continued to get worse. The pain extended from my lower back to the back of my left leg and shot down into my foot, creating needle sharp pain in the sole of my foot, combined with tingling. The big toe on my left foot went numb and the numbness began to creep over the top of my foot and up the left side of my leg to the knee. It didn't matter what I did, nothing brought no relief. I tried most over the counter pain killers, nothing touched it. Walking, sitting, standing, lying down, it all hurt.
After a week of this, I finally visited my primary care physician thinking I had sciatica. He examined me, prescribed a painkiller and a muscle relaxer and ordered no work and rest; no heavy lifting, no vigorous exercise, no nothing. Just rest. He told me to return in two or three days if it did not improve. It did not. The vicodin barely made a dent in the pain and walking was becoming increasingly difficult.
I returned 3 days later. My doctor took x-rays which suggested a herniated disk. He referred me to an orthopedic specialist and prescribed more meds for the pain with the same restrictions: no work, no heavy lifting, no vigorous exercise and rest. Preferably, bedrest.
The specialist examined me, sent me to physical therapy with restrictions. Two weeks later, the pain was unchanged, the numbness in my left foot and leg was increasing. So the specialist ordered an MRI which determined without a doubt that I had one completely ruptured disc and two bulging discs at levels L4 thru S1 in my spine. He prescribed more pain medication, no work, rest, same restrictions and referred me to a spine specialist and surgeon.
It was now December. I met with the orthopedic spine surgeon who examined me, looked at results of the MRI and agreed with the orthopedist. The surgeon told me the disc was completely ruptured and needed to come out as soon as possible.
The discectomy was scheduled for December 23, 1998.
The discectomy went off without a hitch. I was in surgery the 23rd, home on the 24th and able to make the family Christmas gathering with the help of percocet and a recliner. The horrible sciatic pain I had down my left leg was gone and the pain in my back was significantly decreased. I was hopeful.
While the pain in my back had quieted to a dull roar when sitting or lying down, walking and standing was another issue. It was very painful and got progressively worse. About a month post-op my back began to ache constantly in any position, day in and day out. Darvocet made it tolerable. I was still unable to work and still restricted in what I could do and could not do.
I started physical therapy for pain management and to build up my endurance both to pain and physical activity. I hurt more all the time. I could only walk a block or two and then I would have to rest and wait for the pain to subside to something I could bear. Sitting and lying down were the only positions that didn't cause me considerable pain. I was given a TENS unit which helped some in increasing my endurance in physical therapy and with walking and standing.
In June of 1999 an MRI indicated some instability in the same area that was operated on the previous December. More physical therapy was ordered. This continued until my physical therapist and I determined I was not getting any better. It was as good as it was going to get.
July, August and September saw me receiving Epidural Steroid Injections These injections are administered to the nerves in the area of your spine that is causing your pain. Theoretically, the combination of steroid and pain medication reduces inflammation and "blocks" the pain. I hear they work well for some people. They did very little for me.
By September, I was no better. After months of working to increase my endurance and strengthen my back, I was unable to walk more than a block or two without a rest and my back hurt 24/7.
When I saw the doctor for the follow up in October, he suggested a complete fusion of L4 thru S1 to help stabilize them and tus reduce my pain level. He stressed that there was a 40% failure rate and that my back would get no better as it was. He felt we had a good chance to get rid of most of the remaining back pain by doing a fusion. I told him I wanted to think about it.
I researched on the Internet, I talked with people who had had spinal fusions. Some were successful, some not so successful. I talked it over my boyfriend. I did more research. Meanwhile, the pain was getting worse. Darvocet was barely taking an edge off of it no matter what I did and walking and standing was excruciating.
When I went back for the follow-up with my doctor, we talked some more about it and he went over everything: the surgery, the success and failure rates, some things that could happen during the surgery, everything. I thought I was well informed. I decided to have the fusion.
I had the spinal fusion on December 12, 1999. During the surgery, my surgeon nicked the dura (the casing that surrounds the spinal cord and nerves) while removing the remains of a disc and scar tissue. Nicking the dura during surgery can cause spinal fluid to leak out, causing a variety of troubles including horrid headaches. He caught it immediately, stopping the leak with a few sutures. Other than that, the surgery went well.
Because the surgeon had nicked the dura, I was placed on complete forced bed rest for 48 hours to make sure there was no spinal fluid leaking anywhere. I was not allowed to raise my head any higher than 45%. I was hooked to a catheter and I was on a morphine pump. It was the worst 48 hours of my life. I couldn't look around, seeing the television was a challenge, I was drugged, I had tubes in both arms, I had never been catheterized before and the nurses insisted I wear these horrible devices made of plastic that filled with air and squeezed my legs every minute or so. Plus, it was infernally hot on the floor.
So when the day came that i was able to be off of bed rest, I was more than ready. The nurse came in and mercifully took me off the morphine pump and handed me a perocet. Then she removed the catheter. It felt weird but I figured that was because I had been in bed for 2 days and I had never had a catheter before. I sat for awhile and thought I needed to go to the bathroom. So I got up and shuffled over to the bathroom.
When I sat down on the toilet seat, I knew something was very wrong. I heard myself pee but I couldn't feel it. When I wiped, I couldn't feel that. When I stood up and turned to flush, I noticed I didn't feel the other side either. So I sat back down and wiped the other end and felt nothing. Indeed, I couldn't feel any of my "stuff" from my lower abdomen all the way around to the top of my lower back. The backs and the insides of my thighs were also numb, as well as my entire butt.
The nurse was waiting for me when I came out of the bathroom. I calmly told her she needed to get my doctor in there to see me STAT because I was completely numb. Sometimes, medical personnel ask the dumbest questions and she was no exception, '"What do you mean numb?" So I repeated myself and she hurried off to get the doctor.
In came a parade of doctors beginning with my surgeon, who called for neurosurgeons, who called for a urologist. Each of them poked at my numb buns and thighs and stuff with sharp implements, parroting what I told them in the form of questions. "You can't feel that?", "You only feel a bit of pressure?", "You feel like you are sitting on a saddle?" It was really annoying. 'No, dolt, I am only saying that to entertain you', is what I felt like saying. Duh.
When they were all done examining me, the neurologist said I had saddle anesthesia and parasthesia. He said he didn't know when or if it would repair itself. It could be in 3 days or it could be 3 years or more. Time would tell. But I could take heart because he had a male patient who hurt his back in a parachuting accident and had lost all feeling in his penis and after 8 weeks some of his feeling was returning. I told the good neurosurgeon that I didn't care about his patient's penis. I was concerned with MY "stuff" and telling me about some guys numb dork wasn't helpful in the slightest. He bade me a quick, curt but polite goodbye and went on his way.
The next day I underwent a Myleogram and CT Scan to rule out the possibility of any spinal fluid leakage and to check for abnormalities. They said they found nothing unusual or out of the ordinary for four days post-op. The day after that, I was released and sent home to recuperate.
Some of the numbness had dissipated by the time I was sprung from the hospital but now I felt like I had a giant wedgie 24/7. Sometimes it felt like I was carrying around a tennis ball in my buns and at a year post-op, I still felt that way. These days it feels like a wedgie, most days. I can feel myself pee now and I am accustomed to the pressure changes in my numb buns that tell what time it is. Still, it's not always easy to live with a broken butt.
The bone grafts on the fusion filled in. None of my doctors could give me any sort of a time frame about whether or not the nerve damage I sustained during surgery would correct itself. It would or it wouldn't. Nerves grow and regenerate about a millimeter a month depending on the extent of the damage or trauma, if they ever regenerate at all, and it is nearly impossible to measure the extent of damage. All the research I have done also indicated that as well.
Did the fusion take care of the pack back pain? To a large extent, yes. The pain in my lower back is tolerable most of the time with medication. The TENS unit still helps in tandem with the medications and hot baths. However, nothing helps the walking and standing. I can walk about a block or two before the pain drives me to find a place to sit down and rest. I have horrible muscle spasms and twitching in my left leg that wake me and sometimes keep me up at night.
Am I in worse shape before the surgeries? I guess that depends on what your perceptions are. I don't think so. I could not have lived in the pain I was living in prior to the surgeries, even before the last one. I have some hope that although this may be as good as it gets, I am still not living in excruciating pain and I'll be able to work again and make a good living for myself and my loved ones. As bad as I think it is, there are others who are not as fortunate or lucky as me.
Art was and continues to be a huge part of my healing process. It helps me feel more centered and serene and continues to sustain me through challenges and changes. It has allowed me to take the small steps that were necessary for me to reconnect with the world after my injury. The more I create; I become more familiar with my art and the creative process. If I had not had my visual art to retreat to for solace and expression in the months when I was unable to sit and write, I can't imagine I would have been able to make the strides in healing and confidence I now have in my work and in my new life without art.
Without having gone “Under the Knife”, I would not have been able to do what I love to do: write and create art.
Krishanna Spencer | The Altered Artist