After the microdiscectomy and emergency cerebral spinal fluid leak repair, I started to feel a little better. My back still hurt most of the time, and I still spent most of the day in bed, but I started to feel like I was returning to some semblance of normalcy.
I had one setback while riding the stationary bike at the local rec center where my back went into spasms. Jason was in New Hampshire, trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives and how we were going to move back to Colorado, but luckily his parents were there with me. They tried driving me home, but sitting in the car just exacerbated the spasms and the pain was so intense that I didn’t think I’d make it into the house. They flagged down a policeman who called an ambulance to take me to the hospital, again (ER Visit #5). The medicine they gave me wasn’t helping with the spasms so they admitted me, again (Overnight Stay #3).
The next day the surgeon who repaired my CSF leak came by to try to figure out what was going on with my back. He didn’t think I had the symptoms of another CSF leak and, after a pretty thorough examination, he said he thought I had aggravated my sacroiliac (SI) joint. The internal medicine doctors made sure my pain was under control and that I could walk with the assistance of the walker and sent me home.
Jason was worried and upset that I was in the hospital while he was in New Hampshire, so the next day he told his boss what was going on and that he needed to move back to Colorado. His company was very understanding (and continues to be understanding), and they told him to take the time he needed. Family comes first. A week and a half later, Jason, Moose, and Jason’s dad drove across the country. After two long months, our family was back together again.
The following Monday was a downright nasty day. After a couple days of warmth and sunshine, it was snowing and 10 degrees outside. While getting into the truck to go to the chiropractor, my back felt really sore. By the time we made it to Boulder and I got out of the truck, it was starting to spasm. When I tried to get on the chiropractor’s table it went into full spasms. We tried to get me back into the truck, but I couldn’t lift my leg to get up to the door. And I couldn’t stand up to go back inside. Jason called the ambulance while I stood hunched in the car door, crying and shaking uncontrollably from the cold.
I don’t remember anything from the emergency room. At some point I was taken back for an MRI and they saw that a large area of my lumbar spine was severely inflamed. They admitted me to the hospital (overnight stay #4) and called in the infectious disease doctors. I remember very little about the next couple of days in the hospital. At some point I watched the Bachelor but had to rewatch the episode when I got home.
Over the next eight days, I had two more MRIs and a CAT scan, had biopsies taken of the infected area including a section of bone, and had a abscess drained. All of the doctors believed I had an infection in my spine, but nothing was growing from the biopsies. They even sent samples to the University of Washington for genetic testing, but all avenues led to dead ends. They said I had osteomyelitis based on my symptoms and the MRIs.
Osteomyelitis is a general term that means infection in the bone. Most people who develop osteomyelitis get it in their arms or their legs, usually as a result of surgery. While it’s an outcome no one wants, most people have the option to have their limb amputated if modern medicine isn’t successful in fighting the infection. My infection was in my spine. Amputation wasn’t an option. So I had to fight it.
I was scared every single day. Scared of what I knew about my condition. Scared of what I didn’t know about my condition. Scared I wouldn’t get better. Scared I would get better but I wouldn’t be able to run or bike again. Scared I would never be able to walk without the aid of a walker again. Scared of falling asleep because of the spasms and pain that started every time I started to drift off. Scared pain was going to become my new reality. And man was the pain intense.
My world used to encompass the entire planet. Suddenly it was confined to the four walls of my hospital room. Twice a day it expanded to the hallway of the orthopedic section of the hospital four. Every four days it expanded a little more to include the shower.
Eventually I started to feel slightly better. I was anxious to get out of the hospital and the doctors were pleased that I seemed to be responding to the IV antibiotics. After putting a PICC line into my upper right arm, the doctors agreed to release me from the hospital. I would still have to take the IV antibiotics through the PICC line every day but I’d be able to do it at home.
As I started to get better it was a weird juxtaposition of wanting to do everything and nothing. Almost every time I went for a walk, after I ditched the walker, I felt like I wanted to run. I didn’t want to run per say, but to experience the freedom and joy that I so often found with running. Every time I had a small new pain I was afraid it was the infection coming back. Most of the time I just (figuratively) closed my eyes and prayed to God that I would be alright.
It’s now been five months since the first surgery, four months since the second surgery, and two and a half months since I was diagnosed with osteomyelitis. I’m able to hike almost anything I want, even really rocky trails. I can ride my bike (on the indoor trainer) and the only limitation is my attention span. I can do squats and planks and push-ups again. Someday soon I’ll be able to run again. On the outside it looks like I’m getting back to “normal”, but I’m so much more. I’m so much stronger. I’m getting better at prioritizing myself and pushing back when other life stresses get to be too much. I’m so grateful for my body, for my mind, for my family, and for the amazing team of doctors who prioritized my health and helping me return to life as a functioning human again. It’s been hell, but I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason. This is just one more Shakespearean comedy to add to the adventure of my life.