Looking back on the first revelation that I had degenerative disc disease, I feel somewhat foolish. I had suffered a traumatic blow to the left kidney. Initially, I was swallowed up in waves of nausea and the fear that I would be pissing blood by morning. I lay curled on a bench for half an hour while the nausea subsided. The pain due to bulging disc, however, just kept getting worse. It started in my lower back, on the left side, but not quite in my kidney, and radiated down my leg. By the next day, the pain had doubled. I couldn’t sit upright for more than a minute or two without the pain growing and running across my butt, down through the outside edge of my knee to the outer toes of my left foot.
When I went to see the orthopedist who had treated my sprained ankle earlier that year, she listened and nodded and ordered x-rays. When she brought back the pics, talking about degenerative disc disease, something in my head just shut down. I’m sure she’d known from the start exactly where my injury lay. At the time, I didn’t know about dermatomes, couldn’t understand why she wanted to know precisely where the pain was radiating and to which part of my foot.
I went through several months of epidural injections and PT. Tried a couple months of acupuncture (what a crock). I began looking into procedures not listed in this article. Dekompressor discectomy uses a tiny, flexible bit, inserted through a canulla, to remove a portion of the disc nucleus. Intradical electrothermal therapy (IDET) also uses a canula to insert an electrothermal catheter to burn damaged areas of the disc. Then, after researching those techniques, I found someone local who could do them. He first did a discography on my L5/S1 and found that it was essentially trashed. Thirty-plus years of weight lifting and martial arts had made hamburger of my lumbar discs, with the worst on the bottom. The minimally invasive techniques were of no use to me.
So, I had my L5/S1 disc removed and the vertebrae fused. I was doing well after the surgery, but once the swelling had gone down and the scars were healing, the pain started to climb again. I’ve been on a regular cycle of PT, epidurals, and opioids ever since. Pain is becoming a big part of my life.