Back To Work With A Bad Back

Katie Young
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Wednesday - April 19, 2006

Sometimes on the “Road of Life” there are signs to direct your way.

Often, these signs can be difficult to miss - like Las Vegas billboards they point you toward “Great deals! Free shows! Oncein-a-lifetime experiences!”

Other times the signs are subtle, making life choices more of a challenge. Go one direction and you could miss out on something the second path has to offer, but pick the first path and all your dreams could come true.

I’ve often felt, in recent years, that the “Road of Life” has felt more like a freeway. Forget about taking your time and being really thoughtful about your daily decisions. It’s so easy to get caught up in your routine.

But let me tell you, it really throws you for a loop when a giant road block pops up in front of your Honda Civic as you’re speeding along at 60 mph. No time to downshift; no exit or alternate path to take. You just have to slam on your breaks and STOP!

Well, that’s exactly what happened to me three months ago. That’s how long it has been since The Young View has appeared in MidWeek. I received a lot of nice e-mails from readers, some wondering if I got canned or if I quit, others who gathered from my last column in January that something was amiss with my back.

The latter of the two assumptions was correct. And trust me, I truly appreciated all the advice I received about back surgery. It added to the wealth of knowledge I was getting from my doctor, the neurosurgeon, the orthopedic surgeon, my physical therapist and my acupuncturist.

While the advice was different, the diagnosis from my MRI was the same: I have a bulging disc in my spine right at shoulder level and bone spurs in the same spot that are also creating a pinched nerve. Add to that some mild arthritis and a little tendonitis (better known as “Tennis Elbow”) and you’ve got one very broken Katie.

My doctor laid out the options for me: “On the spectrum of treatments, there are a few things you can do,” he said. “First, you can do nothing and hope it will just get better. Next, I can give you an oral steroid which will help with the swelling in your neck. After that, you can do physical therapy, then we move on to epidural steroid injections into your spine, and if that doesn’t work, then we look at surgery.”

Well, being the conservative girl that I am, I opted for the least invasive of the treatments. The oral steroids did nothing for me, so then I tried physical therapy. I also opted for a less conventional, but highly recommended treatment by readers: acupuncture.

A couple months into treatment I did start to feel a little better. Where I couldn’t even sit up before for more than 20 minutes, now I could actually get through a meal without wanting to leave the dinner table and lie on the floor.

I attribute my improvement to physical therapist Linda Fernandez and her team at Fernandez Sports & Physical Therapy in Kahala. Through them I had to learn to do things differently. My posture was atrocious (the cause of this whole fiasco, I believe), and so they showed me how to walk and sit properly. I had this horrible habit of writing at my computer with my feet up on my chair, and arching my back and sticking my neck out like an ostrich when I walk. I learned not to do those things as well as not to carry my heavy purse on my shoulder.

And I have to say I’m not a fan of needles, but Dr. M. Gloria Martin of The Wellness Center in Kailua has me believing in the power of those slender pokers. She has generously taken extra good care of me, and I emerge from her office weekly feeling like my chi has the right flow.

But honestly, even after three months of this pain, I am still not at 100 percent. It’s a very slow process that, for me, has given new meaning to the term “baby steps.”

I’m better enough to return to work, but, in fact, surgery is still an option. Another option is slowly going back to the gym to strengthen my weak spots.

Maintaining patience has been the hardest part of this ordeal. I felt young and unstoppable before. And there’s nothing worse than having a million-andone things you want to get done to move forward with your life and not be able to do anything more than sit like a giant potato in a reclining chair, icing your neck and remembering you have to stretch four times a day. I felt much older than 29.

It has also been frustrating to not know which path to take - for one doctor to say I need surgery and another to say I don’t. I became distraught about making the right decision. There were too many choices. I wanted a clear direction, a surefire solution and a quick fix.

But a good friend, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, reminded me to stop feeling sorry for myself, to stop being negative and start being positive. He found that was the best medicine.

Because on the Road of Life, road blocks do appear suddenly and without warning. And even though I thought this obstacle left me without an alternate route to take, I was mistaken. There is always a way around. You just have to be willing to take things one day at a time. And the best part is, whatever path you choose, it will always be your choice to make.

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