Monday, July 21, 2014

The Reality of My Reoccurring Nightmare

I went to the hospital to get what I call a "check up x-ray" of my back. This is something I've been putting off for years, though I knew it should be done more frequently. The last time I took a picture of my lumbar spine was in 2009, so five years without any imaging is probably not the best idea. Anyhow, I finally went in to get it done today. 

Going in, I knew what the prognosis was going to be: severe compression fracture of my L2, suggested spinal fusion surgery, no more fun activities that include bending or twisting of my back or any lifting of heavy objects, and lots of core strengthening as rehab. I guessed that there would be some arthritis or bone spurs that had developed by now, and I was curious to see how much, along with the condition of the adjacent discs and vertebrae. 

Well, I got what I asked for. Exactly. Except this doc said that it wasn't just a compression fracture, it was a burst fracture, which is even worse than a regular compression fracture. Compression fractures, as I mentioned in a prior post about Neymar's injury, are kind of like squished marshmallows. The cause of a burst fracture is basically like that of a compression fracture, but with more force so that the vertebral body (the marshmallow part) has some shatter element to it (think pressing down into a piece of taffy with your finger, vs smacking it with a hammer....using your finger, it just kinda squishes in, whereas the hammer might break off several pieces of taffy, clean cut). It also increases the surface area of the flat part, which means that that there is more of a chance of it affecting my spinal cord in a negative way. 

The doc then mentioned that if I had gotten surgery at the time of the accident, my vertebra would have actually grown back into it's original shape (or something similar, I'm guessing). A couple pins to temporarily fuse it in place, and a year later, remove the pins. Bam. A new back. 

Exactly what I have been wishing for since 2009. 

And then he took it all away from me. All of the hope. Because my injury is an old one, I wouldn't be able to recover the way I would have if I had taken immediate action. All that's left for me to do now is to either maintain what I have by core strengthening, or attempt surgery to permanently fuse my L1 and L2. I entertained the idea of surgery, but then I came back to my senses and remembered the doc saying that at this point, he wouldn't recommend surgery unless I was experiencing some terrible pain. 

When I got home, I broke down and cried. Just the idea that I could have actually had a normal spine again crushed me. These past 5 years would have been pain-free (minus the year of rehab). I wouldn't have to be so careful with everything I do. I wouldn't have to rehab myself just to be a normal human being. 

The thing is, since 2009, I had already made peace with the fact that my situation was an eternal one. There's no getting better, just maintaining the same, or getting worse. Why it was so tough for me to accept this coming from a doctor this time, I really don't know. Maybe it was the temporary dangle of hope in front of my face before he asked the date of my injury. 

Actually, I think that was it. 

After talking to my significant other (it was moreso just venting and crying), he reminded me that "what if's" are pointless and useless. He reminded me that the path I've taken since the accident has made me into someone who wouldn't have existed otherwise. Live to Play would not exist. The people I've helped along the way might still be in pain. My friendships would be different. My sports and activities would be different. My address would be different. Everything would be different. 

He's so great :)

The thing is, we have to learn how to live with the cards we've been dealt. Yes, it would have been great to have a healthy(ier?) spine, but who knows if it would have actually gone the way it was planned (we should know by now that rarely anything goes exactly as planned)? I've used this crux as a driving force to improve my direction in life, adding to my passion of helping people, but now with an actual fire. I took a path I was too afraid to continue when I failed at first (yep, Anatomy class in university....had to drop the class twice because I knew within the first 2 weeks I wouldn't have the slightest chance in passing). I have learned so much more than I would have, think more freely, and actually use my brain when making educated decisions, rather than basing it what the institution would have bred me to believe. I have expanded my knowledge in ways I wouldn't even have blinked at, and have made many similarly-thinking friends on the way. I have challenged my body in ways I would never have imagined (even though some are just basic things), and accomplished exactly what I intended when all the docs told me I couldn't. 

Well, I can. I have, and I will. 

Docs told me I couldn't run without pain, so I ran a few half marathons. Docs told me I wouldn't be able to participate in martial arts anymore, so I competed a few more times, took up a whole new martial art, and competed in that one several times. Oh, and mixed the two in an MMA tournament. Docs told me I shouldn't jump, so I ran a 10-mile obstacle course race. Docs told me I shouldn't lift heavy things, and, well, we all know what happened with that ;) This doc "taught" me an exercise I "should" do every morning to maintain the muscles that support my spinal column: 

Ironically, this is an exercise that I would NOT recommend to beginners, or people who just walked into a doc's office as a first exercise. It's way too easy to round your back and not use the right muscles to perform this movement. Also, most people would also end up with a neck strain along with their sore back. Woot. 

Ok, so now I feel better. Sometimes hearing news you already knew can suck, even if you were expecting it. Hearing it out loud, and then even just having a smidge of hope presented, can sometimes seem devastating. But bring yourself back to reality. Look at your cards, do your research, know that there are always other options. In situations like this, take your best option, believe in it 100%, and never look back. Obstacles are bound to happen, but keep your eyes on the prize. The path to success is never a straight line.

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