Dr Google Says I am Probably Dead Already.

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How many people with chronic back pain also have generalised  systemic pain? I do. How many of you have diagnosis for those aches and pains that has a different cause than injury or Degenerative Disc Disease? I don’t yet.

I have many aches and pains that appear to come hand in hand with chronic pain. I’ve diagnosed myself with so many conditions I Dr Google even suggests I should probably be dead by now. I don’t want to be ‘sick’. That’s not the reason for my searching.  I want a reason for being in all-over pain. I don’t want to think it’s just back pain causing it all. Because, if that’s true, it really does fucking suck.It goes without saying that my back pain is ever present. To greater and lesser degrees of intensity but a constant nevertheless.  Sometimes though, I also have whole body pain. When this happens my hands hurt; my feet hurt; my blood hurts; I feel nauseous, often I vomit. I am exhausted. Like the flu but without getting the flu. I have flare-ups of skin problems: little blister-like spots on my face; bigger ones on my ears, and on my feet. Often, a ‘flare-up’ of these symptoms would indicate a massive flare-up of back pain. In fact, in the first couple of years I could predict a flare-up of back pain by my blood hurting in my hands, feeling sick and throwing up. Now often I get these symptoms without an increase in back pain, possibly as back pain is already quite high.

Needless to say I have spent a long time trying to figure out what this might mean and how it links with my lower back problems. I have some theories, of course I do! So does my GP, and others around me.

  1. It’s intervertebral disc leakage from a tear in the disc; leaking into my bloodstream and nerves, my body reacting to the toxic gunk that comes out. The problem with this theory is that since my discectomy in June 2013, as far as I know any tears are no longer there. I personally loved this theory of mine (no evidence to back it up!). healthcare professionals didn’t have much to say about it.
  2. These flare-ups are bugs: a common cold, a virus, etc. This is my GP’s favourite theory. It goes like this:  ‘Normal’ people get colds. But Degenerative Disc Disease means I have chronic inflammation in my lumbar spine, so for example it’s at ’50’ where people without chronic inflammation have markers at 0. When people/I get a common cold, normal inflammation rises to 50, but my spinal inflammation rises to 100. Thus increasing the already present inflammation and causing even more pain. And all the other symptoms are what other people with bugs would get, but i don’t feel it as quickly/quite the same until I am proper sick, due to it all being masked by pain medication and anti inflammatory medication. It also means that I don’t respond as ‘normal’ people do when I am sick, i.e. resting, more fluids, etc, because I don’t realise I am unwell.  Then I get rundown and this causes skin infections etc. Possible. It’s probably the most plausible. But, I get these ‘bugs’ an awful lot.
  3. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis or some other Inflammatory Arthritis. I return to this one occasionally as I keep going ‘oh! I have that!’ to various symptoms etc. I’ve not specifically mentioned it to my GP but have asked if I could have inflammatory issues of some kind and he pretty much laughed. No. He doesn’t think I have any of the symptoms, but did a CRP test to shut me up. And it was ‘normal’. Although, I was not mid flare when blood was taken and he didn’t do an ESR test. Strangely though, this week, I saw a locum GP and the first thing she said was ‘have you been tested for Ankylosing Spondylitis? Do you have a family history of this?’. Then she ruled it out, saying that the surgeons would have looked for and ruled it out before surgery. Not sure if she means they would specifically rule it out or if it would have been visible on MRI. Either way,  this theory is certainly not taken seriously by my GP. Research suggests that trauma or other environmental factors can ‘trigger’ Inflammatory arthritis in those who may be pre-disposed to it, so it’s still a reserve theory.
  4. I have something wrong that is nothing to do with my back pain (like a thyroid problem), and it’s a red herring, because it’s easier, and cheaper to blame one thing and treat that, than try to find another piece of the puzzle among thousands of possible pieces.
  5. It’s a reaction to my medication. This is the overall healthcare professional’s favourite! Despite having no correlation to the dose or type of medication being changed, and flare-ups occurring when not on medication. It is, in my honest opinion, Bullshit. And as above, easy and cheap.
  6. There is nothing actually wrong with me. It’s all in my head, and I am what is medically termed a Hypochondriac. I would like to think not, as I ignore most things until I have to mention them to the GP when too much to bear. But, this does mean I go with lists as I wait, wait, wait, and then take all my (individually minor to him) problems there at once. So, I may either be one, or the GP thinks I am one.

If you have any theories to add, or any ideas on the theories I have aired about what might cause my chronic pain other than back pain, drop me a line, or link me to more blogs/websites. I’ll try to revisit these theories from time to time.

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It’s Been a While: Had a Laminectomy!

Wow. A long time. But, still many people reading since I have abandoned you. Sorry about that.

You see. I had big plans when I last posted. I was going to be an advocate for music festivals as a disabled person. I was going to out those who made it harder for disabled people to access music, and highlight those who helped and supported them. I was going to continue camping, endlessly, tirelessly refusing to give in to the pain and discomfort.

But, it didn’t happen. It was too ambitious. Because actually, as much as i loved it, my back pain and mobility deteriorated and I sort of stopped living. For a little while. I buried my head in the sand, again, about the longevity of what I know for sure now is degenerative disc disease and arthritis of the facet joints in my lumbar spine. And really, I am just not brave enough or strong enough or able to pretend my back pain is not there enough to be able to go to festivals as I would like no matter how fabulous the event organisers are. I attempted camping once this year, but due to a combination of shocking weather, mobility issues and air mattresses that keep deflating on me, it’s on the back burner. We might try once again. Hmm.

I think during my last rant or two I might have mentioned that I was waiting for an appointment to see a highly reputable Neurosurgeon at the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery. Well it did. I saw him, he was direct, honest, kind, and if I might say so, rather handsome to boot. He informed me that I have lumbar spinal stenosis due to the facet joints being little fuckers at TWO levels (it’s getting higher) – L4/L5 vertebra and L5/S1 vertebra. If you remember, my original problem was L5/S1 vertebra and was told I had a perfect spine if not for that injury. Well, that was bollocks! So, basically, along with a broad based disc bulge at L4/L5, and a thickened Ligamentum Flavem, which was helpfully pressing on the spinal cord, I had bone spurs growing into the channel where the sciatic nerve exits the spinal cord.

I had a laminectomy and decompression on the right side of L4/L5 and L5/S1 vertebra in January 2015 at NHNN, with the expectation of up to 50% overall pain relief, i.e. attempting to completely free the nerve and ease my sciatic pain, but not really being able to do much for the back pain without fusing my spine, which was given a 60/40 success rate so was dismissed for now. Initially the results were fabulous after the minor blip of a CSF leak; I could stand straighter, I could walk without a stumbling shuffling gait, I was able to walk without my lovely orange and black crutch for short walks on flat surfaces, and I felt I had, finally, turned a corner.

But no! Of course not! My pain levels went up, up up. My mood levels went down, down, down. I struggled with leg pain, back lock, constant muscle spasms from the base of my spine to my neck. I had trigger point injections which helped a lot (and four months later I am waiting for my 8 weeks review to see how these went) but wore off too quickly, I had acupuncture, which worked wonders for several days then back to epic spasms. Pain Clnic doctor and physiotherapist have both said I am impatient, have lots of muscle wastage, and to give it time, much, much more time, patience, effort. All of which I have been doing. I have slowed down as asked, but not stopped, and tried hard to be positive.

But it’s been 8 months since my laminectomy and decompression. 8 months of moving, walking (trying to get some distance but not happening), physio and i continue to struggle with standing for too long, walking, pretty much at all, and sitting for more than a few minutes. And now I am mostly back at the stuck bent over stage. I’ll take a photo of the  ‘old woman hunched over with a walking stick’ sign at Wembury Beach toilets to show you what I look like.