Adventures in Colorado and around the World

A Comedy of (Spinal) Errors: Part 1

If you’ve been following me on Instagram (or you know me outside of the interwebs), then you know that I’ve been out of commission since October 2018. Although my back had been bothering me since we moved to New Hampshire in July, it seemed to be OK with carrying a backpack and relatively slow hiking, so we didn’t cancel our plans for the High Sierra Trail. The trail actually seemed to improve things and by the last day I was hiking straighter than I had since June. Then I took a tumble hiking down from Consolation Lake, which started a chain reaction of bad decisions and worse luck.

As soon as we made it home from the High Sierra Trail, I immediately flew to DC for an all hands meeting at work. As our networking event, we went to Top Golf and I decided to show off my golf swing. The next morning I woke up and could barely walk.

I stretched and relaxed for a whole 24 hours before we left to volunteer at the Ragnar Reach the Beach relay with Jason’s coworkers. After setting up portable showers, I spent the night curled up in the back seat of our truck with Moose. Again I woke up and could barely walk.

The progression continued steadily downhill until mid-October when Jason went to his brother’s bachelor party. Friday was fine, I even made it out of the house to take Moose to the dog park and see Free Solo. Saturday morning my back was in intense pain. After a trip to the bathroom I couldn’t move at all without my back seizing up on me. Since I was home alone and we didn’t know many people in NH, I had to call an ambulance to take me to the ER. Although I walked out of ER visit #1, it was the definitive turning point for my back.

The next month was spent in intense pain with visits to all sorts of spinal specialists, trying to find one doctor who would advise against getting surgery for my two herniated discs. Out of the eight doctors I saw, most of whom were not surgeons, all recommended surgery. The deciding factor was the fact that I had lost almost all feeling in my right leg down to my foot and all strength in my right calf. Not ideal for someone who likes to run and bike on rough trails. So I booked a microdiscectomy for November 27.

The surgery went surprisingly smoothly and, an hour after waking up in the recovery room, I was able to walk upright for the first time in two months. I went home the same day as the surgery and followed the doctor’s instructions to slowly increase my walking time. We started with trips back and forth down the halls of our apartment building and eventually worked up to walking outside. I maxed out at about a mile.

Two weeks after the surgery I went to have the stitches removed and spinal fluid starting pouring out of my back. The doctor eventually got it to stop, stitched me back up, and gave me strict instructions to let him know if I started to get intense headaches. He also gave me orders to spend as much time laying down as possible before our flight to Denver for Christmas.

I had headaches, and bouts of dizziness, but nothing that matched the descriptions online about spinal fluid leak headaches. After consulting with the doctor, we decided to continue with our Christmas trip.

Three days after arriving in Denver, I turned to open the bathroom door and my back went into spasms. They were intense and left me writhing on the bed until the paramedics came and took me to the ER (visit #2). They gave me a bunch of medicine, verified that I was drugged enough to get up on my own and sent me home. Fast forward 24 hours and I was back in the ER with the same symptoms (ER visit #3). Again they gave me a bunch of drugs, kept me overnight for observation (Overnight Visit #1), and released me in the morning with more prescriptions and a walker (Christmas Eve).

The day after Christmas, Jason, his dad, and I decided to take the walker for a spin outside. The walk was mostly uneventful, except for getting the walker stuck on a small rock in the road, but when we got back inside I realized the waistband on the back of my pants was soaking wet. Jason saw that my incision was leaking so we went to the ER again (ER visit #4). They immediately booked me for an emergency Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) leak repair surgery for the following day and admitted me to the main hospital (Overnight stay #2).

Two days later I was out of the hospital, but starting back at square one. I couldn’t shower for five days. I had to severely limit my sitting and standing time. I could only walk for short time periods with the help of the walker. I needed help going to the bathroom, washing my hands, and brushing my teeth. But I had hope that everything was fixed and I was on the road to recovery.

Score (so far):

  • ER Visits: 4
  • Surgeries: 2
  • Overnight Stays in the hospital: 2