A Life with Lumbar Herniated Disc

This is a story from a friend of mine about her spinal cord injury. She is a writer, a decent one. Once she asked me to write something about her. This would a challenge as a writer, she said. I thought, why not?

She is a young woman working in fashion industry. As an extrovert and an engineer, she is in charge of production section in her office. She has interest in industry engineering which is also a plan for her master degree. She loves traveling and from what I have gathered, she had her backpacking experience in Southeast Asia.

Her encounter with her injury happened around August 2015. That time she experienced a prolonged cramps in one of her legs and an enormous pain on her backbone. She usually ignored those indications and moved on with her fulfilling activities. Until one day, she couldn’t bear the pain any longer and consulted to a physician. At that moment, she had experienced cramps and seizures in her leg even more often along the pain. Such event would prevent her from working normally at her office.

Her physician recommended her to take an MRI scanning to see her spinal structures. From the photographs, it was concluded that she has Lumbar Herniated Disc. According to Spine Health, her injury can be explain as follow.

Spinal discs play a crucial role in the lower back, serving as shock absorbents between the vertebrae, supporting the upper body, and allowing a wide range of movement in all directions.

If a disc herniates and leaks some of its inner material, though, the disc can quickly go from easing daily life to aggravating a nerve, triggering back pain and possibly pain and nerve symptoms down the leg.

Explanation above is consistent with her symptoms. She told me that there are several level of this injury and her level is three.

Between vertebrae is a gel-like disc substance protected by a ring called annulus. In her case, the annulus has broken and gel-like substance are leaking, touching the nerves near the vertebrae. This would result in shooting pain and, according to her experience, cramps along the log.

The rupture of the annulus is usually triggered by old age or frequent heavy lifting. From her story, she had traveled with heavy carrier on her back to several countries, or attended a formal banquet which required her to wear high heels, or even daily college which required her to bring her laptop. I don’t know what kind of laptop would weigh that much, but I agree that heavy lifting should not be your daily activity.

The physician said that therapy might help her recovery together with several medicine. To numb the unbearable pain, she was given a strong painkiller, so strong that the dose prescribed to her could affect a horse. I didn’t believe that, of course. She did all recommended healing methods she could handle back in her home town. The main reason was, according to her, being near with family makes you felt a lot safer should anything happen, or you need some extra help. She stayed with her family for four months.

During early months of therapy, she spent her day almost sleeping because of her medicine. She only woke up if she had to go to hospital for therapy session. She also learned how to walk but, given the circumstances that her backbone structure was weak, she did it inside a swimming pool. After her condition began to improved, she moved back to her daily job. However, she needs to attend therapy sessions and takes her medicine regularly.

She is also required to wear a kind of corset. The corset was specially designed for her back contour and to help her keeping her backbone straight. This “exoskeleton” also helps to reduce the weight on the spinal structure when she lifts something. However, because of a steel supporting her backbone, she couldn’t move around as easily as before. She said to me that even to do a simple bow, she has to do it smoothly.

Even after months of therapy and having an exo supporting her back, the symptoms aren’t gone. She told me that there are random occasion where she experiences a cramps or spasm in her leg. This however doesn’t always last long so she still can make to her office, even if she’s late. When she needs to go to hospital either to get her monthly medicine or have therapy, she gets a day or two off from the office. The medical bills are covered by health insurance provided by her office. She said that such support is really helpful.

I have asked her about a possibility of full recovery. She said that at her injury level, which is level three, full recovery is a fifty-fifty. Since she’s still young (yes, she is still in her twenties), there might a chance for a full recovery by therapy combined with medicine. However, the result could only be seen by MRI scanning which she refused to take because the scanning costs much. She also told me about the possibility of having a surgery to remove the disc completely and replace it with a titanium. There is a different version, however, according Spinal Health which she recommended me to read. According the website, it is possible to remove some of disc which is pushing against nerve system while leaving the rest of the disc intact. We didn’t talked much about this option.

Two minimally invasive procedures, microdiscectomy and endoscopic microdiscectomy, are most commonly recommended for lumbar herniated discs. These procedures take the pressure off the nerve root and provide a better healing environment for the disc.

Usually, only the small portion of the disc that is pushing against the nerve root needs to be removed, and the majority of the disc remains intact.

Until this day she still goes to work in the morning and comes home after sunset. She still wears her corset, or what I like to call exo, on daily basis. She still hangs out with her friends for having dinner together, attend to writing club (yes, she is a writer and she has two blog titles), birthday party, etc. Fyi, her office is so far from her boarding house, so far that she could have a long nice nap before arriving at the office.

To see how she fares with her current condition, I asked her to meet for a dinner at one night. She seemed fine. She didn’t wear her exo. I saw that she maintained her posture and walked rather slowly. During dinner, she told me about how she was first diagnosed with her injury, her therapy, her crazy medicine (just like medicine prescribed to a friend of mine with kidney failure, a story for another time), and daily life after injury. She also told me about her having drastic and sudden emotional change, which I considered normal because people in pain often experience such thing.

She described her therapy during dinner. Her bed was modified to help her keep her backbone straight to prevent the injured vertebrae from being burdened by her weight. On top of the mattress is one and a half inch sheet of wood and on top of it, there is layer of Styrofoam. She sleeps on that. In hospital, she is given treatment on her backbone. She described it as giving heat to injured part. I assumed that would relax the tension on her spinal structure so the ruptured disc might return to its normal position.

Her medicine consists of strong painkillers and nerve tonics. She has stopped taking painkiller since the pain isn’t as frequent and acute as before. The tonics are for strengthen nerves’ sensitivity. She described the result of its strength as a simple touch might tickle or hurt.

In conclusion, she is fine and able to live her daily life normally but with several restrictions. Just like any other people with injury, she needs to take her medicine and attend her therapy session regularly. Her injury doesn’t affect much on her social activities and she is still the same extrovert, cheerful person as before.

Hopefully, she could recover fully from her injuries and we can learn a valuable lesson from her experience.

Good day, Dear Readers.


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