It’s been a tough year at Force Majeure Farm. I haven’t said much, as we’re not big on sharing our problems with the world. However, our recent experience with back pain, back surgery, and the aftermath indicates that it isn’t necessarily easy to find information and resources, especially for people who are tall and for people who are in farming. In that light, we’ve decided to share what we’ve learned in hopes that we can make things easier for the next person that comes along.
It started a year ago, as painful hips. A visit to the doctor ruled out arthritis, so my husband was referred to a specialist. A spinal x-ray confirmed the problem in the spine — bone spurs and the L4 vertebrae that was sliding forward and pressing up against nerves and crowding the spinal cord. For future reference, this is NOT what the spine is supposed to look like:
The first steroid injection into the spine worked, for about four months. The second did nothing. My husband kept the farm going out of pure grit, but by June he couldn’t walk further than 200 feet and was dragging his left leg. Hay baling nearly killed him. The next appointment with the orthopedic specialist was scheduled for July 11th, but we called and insisted (okay, begged) on being seen earlier. That appointment was July 2nd at 2:30; the doc took one look at him and — I kid you not –by 2:32 we were on our way across the street to the hospital. Chris spent the next week in pelvic traction and was referred to a neurosurgeon who (bless him) came in over the 4th of July weekend to look at him. Two weeks later, on the 17th of July, Chris spent 7 1/2 hours on the operating table as the surgeon worked to remove significant bone spurs from L4-S1, fused the L4-L5 vertebrae, and restored the lumbar curve:
That hardware you see is permanent.
Here’s the rub: lower back surgery has a fairly high failure rate. We signed at least three acknowledgements that he could actually end up worse off. It is for this reason that every other alternative should be tried before surgery. Once we started looking for information about lumbar surgery, the news was even more discouraging — lifetime limits on lifting more than 50lbs, no lifting and twisting of anything whatsoever — and, in general, no doing anything that might resemble farm tasks ever again. The idea that we might not be able to keep our livestock or our farm property is a pretty tough prospect. The little handout they give you at the doctor’s office about back surgery isn’t much help in addressing long term issues. With a little research and planning, though, we located ideas, equipment, and resources that made us a little more optimistic about the outcome of the surgery:
First, we realized that we couldn’t be the first farm family to grapple with disability. Sure enough, between some internet-based resources and conversations with some friends, we’ve came up with some solutions to try for caring for our herd.
Second, we recognized that Chris’ height (6’3″) might require some particular equipment. We went to the local medical supply company ahead of time to size things up. It’s hard for an otherwise healthy and active man to prepare for his own disability, but it turned out to be a very important part of his recovery process.
Third, we didn’t just accept the referred neurosurgeon and his recommendations at face value. Armed with information about the qualifications he should have, I looked into his background to ensure that we were satisfied with his experience, qualifications, and malpractice history. Further, we researched the surgery enough to be able to ask intelligent questions and inquire about the latest pain management medications. His willingness to look into a new drug that was just released this past spring gave us an even better sense of confidence in him.
I’ll post more in detail about all of these lessons learned in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, at just over 3 weeks post-op, so far so good.