Back pain hope: How Mary got her life back. Part 2 of 3.

• Cement injection into fractured disc.
• The darkness.
• Spiritual resource.
• Laser Spine Institute.

BACKGROUND. This is Part 2 of a long story about hopes built and crushed. My goal is to chronicle the account of one remarkable woman’s faith and enduring persistence through a debilitating health crisis of back pain. In Part 1 (click here) Mary was immobilized by a new back injury received during a bad fall in her bathroom. She can’t drive, she can’t walk, and she can’t stand more than about 10 minutes without excruciating back pain. On top of this, the doctors missed diagnosing a compressive fracture in her thoracic T12 vertebra, and left her for two weeks thinking it was only a back sprain.

Happier times: Mary playing an instrument (click to enlarge image then back-arrow to return to writeup).

CEMENT INJECTIONS. I drove from Albuquerque to help the family out, and was able to take Mary to Emergency where a different doctor did diagnose a compressive fracture in T12, and suggested a cement injection. Mary’s daughter Staci connected us to a well-respected neuro-surgeon. We needed an MRI which meant losing another week.

The neuro-surgeon explained a cement injection was standard treatment for a compressive fracture, adding that the chance of success was 99%. That means only 1% chance of no pain relief. We waited expectantly for another few days while our hope-cup filled to the brim.

Kim, Mary’s second daughter, took time off to transport her mom to the surgery. However, when the doctor reported after the surgery, he was grave….. he wasn’t able to contain the cement within the fractured disc…… some of it leaked into the disc space. He was downcast when he admitted that Mary might lie in the 1%. Our hopes were dashed, and did not recover because her back pain remained excruciating.

The surgeon made a bold suggestion: that he could try to inject into T12 from the other side of the spine. Our hopes soared when this cement remained in the compressive fracture. He was optimistic, and so were we. He reminded us that the success rate was 99%, so Kim and her mom drove home feeling buoyant.

But it was not to be. The intense pain was unmitigated, and Mary still couldn’t stay on her feet for more than 10 minutes. Unbelievably, she had fallen into the rare 1% group, and we kept agonizing over this because the odds of this happening were so low. Confident in the technique but surprised at the lack of a good result, the surgeon concluded the back pain must be coming from the lumbar area of the back lower down. This turned out to be a perspicacious prediction.

Happier times: Mary hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.

THE DARKNESS. My arthritic hip flared up soon after I drove from Albuquerque to Kansas. I had managed it for four years, but now it suddenly went south. The pain deteriorated quickly and within two weeks I had to walk with a cane and then a walker. I realized I had to get a full hip replacement, but couldn’t get it done in Albuquerque for two months.

So I looked around Kansas and found a highly reputable orthopedic clinic in Parsons, a small country town. Who would have thought! They got me in within three weeks, and after one night in hospital, I was back home. Instead of me helping Mary, we had to hire carers to help both of us. Kim cooked for us and transported us, and other friends brought food over. We were truly spoiled!

However, the darkness didn’t end there. One of Mary’s dogs, called Domino, was aged and had cancer. The vet said she had only a month to live. After 12 years of loving, Domino had to be put down, which led to a mourning period by Mary as well as by her remaining dog, Chanel the Morky. In a flash of insight, Staci brought over her two little dogs to comfort Chanel and all of us. They stayed the night which was a soul-lifting gift.

SPIRITUAL RESOURCE. Mary and I were both immobilized for several weeks. Despite tremendous help from family and friends, we were depressed because we had no other plan for Mary’s back, and no other professionals assisting us with plans. We cried out to God as the tears flowed.

We discovered Psalm 40 in the Bible, where the last verse reads:
“I am poor and needy, yet the Lord takes thought and plans for me.
You are my help and my deliverer. Oh my God, do not tarry!”
As an engineer, I was frustrated and distressed by not having any other options for Mary Ann’s back, and not even knowing what plans to make. I lay my Bible on the bed, and slept next to it for seven nights in a row…… and asked God for his plans.

During this dark time, we also found Psalm 42, parts of which are quoted below. We identified immediately with this psalm, because of the ups and downs we were experiencing. One day we felt like we were stuck in quicksand, while the next day our faith was rejuvenated and we were flying like a bird.

However, a new idea came out of the blue and to our surprise turned our boat on a new course. Perhaps an answer to our prayers?

Happier times: Hiking in the mountains above Palm Desert, California.

LASER SPINE INSTITUTE. Mary’s third daughter, Lisa, had googled on alternative procedures for back pain, and come up with nerve ablation. This is where a nerve is burned electrically to stop the pain. This was news to us, and helped prepare us for what happened next.

Barbara, a friend from Albuquerque suggested the Laser Spine Institute (LSI). Her brother said he knew a man who was bent double with back pain, and flew to the Scottsdale Institute on his knees (the only way the pain was bearable). Amazingly, the man walked out of the building after an outpatient operation at LSI.

I had never heard of LSI, but googled to discover they do only outpatient surgeries (same day in and out). And all these procedures are minimally invasive, implying an incision less than one inch long. The disadvantage was the cost: $10-20,000 depending on which city. The cost is high because Medicare doesn’t cover all the procedures.

Our hopes rose when we rationalized what Mary’s health was worth, since she was still immobilized after two months of inaction and then failure of the cement injection. With this new LSI info in our pocket we felt we needed to seek the opinion of others. We first went to the standard GPs and specialists. Two said “I wouldn’t stop you going,” and “I don’t know of any new procedures since cement injection.” And a third said, “Don’t waste your money.” So not much encouragement there! This didn’t deter us because a physiotherapist explained the reluctance of not-for-profit professionals to praise for-profit clinics that charge so much.

LSI claimed they had a 96% positive rating of LSI from patients who had come to one of their clinics. Although most of the comments were about the smooth organization and unusual friendliness of the staff, and not about results of the outpatient surgery, it was still enticing in view of the intense pain that Mary Ann was experiencing. So we decided to go to people on the street, and several folks we talked with said they had heard good things about LSI. This lifted us over the hump, and we made plans to go to the LSI clinic in Tampa Bay, Florida which is the original clinic.

Our hope-cup was full again, since the only other professional recommendations for Mary were to tough it out: (1) just wait until the back heals itself, which could take 6 months, or (2) wear a rigid brace which might reduce the pain and hasten the natural healing, or (3) increase the narcotic patch that Mary was already wearing for pain control.

Look for an account of the the LSI experience in Part 3 of this story.

Happier times: Mary with a relaxed friend in Scottsdale.

GRATEFUL THANKS. For all Mary’s family and friends who have been there for her, this is a grateful thank you. Mary would also thank all of those who have prayed faithfully for her health situation… and prayed for a long time. And last, I know Mary is grateful to God for the hope which keeps bubbling up in her indomitable spirit.

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The Gray Nomad
Helping someone to hope.

As the hart longs for the water brooks, so I long for you, Oh God….
My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”….
Why are you cast down, my inner self? And why should you be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for him, for I shall yet praise him, my help and my God….

Roaring deep calls to roaring deep at the thunder of your waterspouts; all your breakers and your rolling waves have gone over me….
Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

As with a sword in my bones, my enemies taunt me; while they say continually to me, “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, my inner self? And why should you be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for him, for I shall yet praise him, my help and my God….

[Book of Psalms, chapter 42.]

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Sheila thompson
Sheila thompson
7 years ago

Wonderful blog Ian. Mary has been through more pain for a longer time than anyone I can think of. Breaks my heart. So glad you are helping her in this journey. Hope you both have a wonderful time on this trip. Love you both!

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