The idea of back surgery has always scared the hell out of me. Just the thought of doctors wielding scalpels, saws, and other scary surgical tools in my lumbar spine area makes me apoplectic.
So like many septuagenarians who have dealt with lower back issues for decades, but feared surgery, I tried addressing the pain and discomfort with a smorgasbord of less scary, less-invasive techniques.
I started with exercise. I joined a gym and met with a trainer who suggested a couple of stretches and exercises especially designed for older people with back issues. I did them religiously and prayed for improvement, but after about a year my back didn’t feel any better. It wasn’t exactly an exercise in futility, but close.
It was time to try something else. My next step was to go to a much raved about chiropractor. Frankly, I’ve always been a bit leery about this popular pseudo-medical practice. It just seemed kind of bogus to me. Many people, however, will tell you it’s the best thing in the world and it changed their life. That’s all well and good, but after all the pushing, pulling, and popping, all it did for me was strain my bank account.
Next on the menu was physical therapy, aka PT. This approach seemed much more scientific and medically based than the voodoo-like aura of chiropractic care. I put my all into it, did what I was told to do, tried to be patient and, guess what, my back was still killing me. Enough with PT.
Having struck out three times already, I embarked on a five-year journey of pain management with a highly regarded specialist in this area. The first three years, I had annual lumbar facet bilateral injections. They were very effective and provided considerable relief. I was very pleased. For the first time in a long time, I actually felt better. In year four, I graduated to annual transforaminal injections—three at a time for two more years. Sadly, these six jabs didn’t ease my pain at all. Another letdown and a return to constant pain. Oh well, I gave it a shot.
I was now 76 years old and had run out of the widely accepted options for treating back pain. Unfortunately, none of the courses of action had offered lasting relief and my back and leg pain had gotten much worse. I was using a cane. Standing was terribly uncomfortable, as was sitting and walking. Lying down wasn’t so great either. I knew I had to do something. And soon.
Having worked my way up the spinal pain relief food chain, I knew it was time to go to the next level. It was time to embrace the notion of back surgery.
I read about it. I watched videos of various spinal operations and talked to people who had been through it. Based on what I learned, I decided to go for it. With my mind made up I underwent a series of examinations, x-rays, and MRIs. Upon evaluating the results, the neurosurgeon concluded that I had severe spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritic bone spurs, and several pinched nerves. This diagnosis, she said, made me an excellent candidate for lower lumbar surgery.
Once all the tests and evaluations were complete, I found myself in the operating room in about two weeks. I ended up having what they call a laminectomy (four of them actually), a form of decompression surgery on my lower lumbar vertebrae. The surgery was a total success. Immediately, the pain in my legs was completely gone. I was up walking the night of the surgery and feeling pretty good. Hallelujah.
As I write this, it has been two months since my surgery. I am completely pain free. That’s right, pain free. I walk two miles a day and am feeling terrific. I couldn’t be happier about the entire experience.
Well, that’s my story. If it sounds familiar, I encourage you to meet with a neurosurgeon and give back surgery some serious thought. It just might be a life changer. It was for me. You’ve been through enough. Don’t let constant pain ruin your third act. Take back your life.
Larry Moss is a retired advertising creative director and jazz piano player. He recently published a memoir about how playing the piano played such an important role in his life.