Yesterday I went to the Department of Neurosurgery at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital to meet with a surgeon. Understandably I was very nervous; this guy was entirely capable of inflicting pain and putting me off my feet for weeks. The person we met with, though, was the most attentive and reassuring doctor I’ve ever known. He spent over half an hour with us, explaining my MRI and the options it threw up.
My third vertebral disc has just about disappeared; instead of being a lovely spongy bit of spinal padding, it’s now a sad little slither of nothingness. The vertebrae either side of it have been banging against each other and, as a result, are starting to fuse together by their own accord. The pain I’m getting in my leg are the result of nerve damage being caused by all this going on – the spinal channel is currently narrowed and the nerves are getting jangled and prodded when I try to walk or stand.
What Mr Khan suggested was looking at non-invasive methods first. This is because the surgery I would need to have (and might still need) is massive. It involves taking pieces of bone from my hip to pack the fusion of bone and then fix the two vertebrae with plates and screws. It would take months to recover from it. It’s not a bad a recovery as it used to be, but it’s still a huge operation made worse, in my case, by some spinal curvature (scoliosis) probably caused by the fact that I have one leg longer than the other.
So what I’m going to try is a treatment of nerve numbing drugs, allowing me to get on with life whilst my spine hopefully continues to fuse itself, accompanied by an injection of anaesthestic, guided by an MRI, into my spine. I’ve been given a timeline of four months, after which time I go back and see Mr Khan. I’m to keep a diary of what’s going on, how I’m feeling, how I’m coping and if I can do more or less with the drugs. The side effects of the drugs are pretty nasty and I’m going to feel spaced out for a while until my body gets used to them. I may not be able to drive or work during that time. I’m prepared for that.
I did challenge this; I’ve been in so much pain for so long – I just want to be well again, even if that means surgery. I didn’t want to waste any more of my life faffing about with things that might not work. I had already got the idea of surgery into my head and had accepted the need for it. However I totally understand, once Mr Khan had explained, the benefits of doing things this way.
If the drugs work, I could be walking short distances on the treadmill within weeks. I could start swimming and cycling. I could try some gentle pilates. Within a few weeks!
I couldn’t leave without asking the all important questions:
Did running cause this? Perhaps, but Mr Khan said he would rather see a fit 50 year old runner with this problem than an unfit 30 year old couch potato!
Could I run again? Yes. I would have to start with short distances on an even surface and might be restricted to shorter runs (up to 10k) until we know how stable my spine is. Basically I have to behave myself.
So there it is. Today I will try and get the prescription satisfied so that I can start the drug regime this week. Then it’s a wait and see.