Tim, 60, is a very active married man with three grown up children as well as two grandchildren with another on the way. Tim’s back problems started after a mountain biking accident years ago, which ultimately lead to him having a microdiscectomy. He got a number of years of relieve from that only to have recurring pain almost twenty years later that crippled him to the point where lumbar fusion was his only choice. He talks how the changes in technology have made these surgeries so much different after he spent over a week in the hospital with his first surgery and then less than three days for his more complicated lumbar fusion operation.
My name is Tim, and I'm a few months short of my 60th birthday. I've been married for almost 35 years. I have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and three and a half grandchildren. I've worked most of my life in a desk job in the financial industry.
So, my back pain journey really started with a bicycle accident that I had in the early '90s. I was up in the San Gabriel Mountains with a couple of friends riding on mountain bikes, and I unfortunately sort of hit a part of the trail wrong and sort of fell the wrong direction, then started falling down the cliff. Fortunately, I had a helmet on. At one point in time, kind of went airborne, and finally sort of landed at the bottom. And I was fortunate at that point in time that I didn't really have any really bad injuries. I didn't have a broken bone or anything like that, and I remember sort of lying there at the bottom sort of feeling, especially around my legs, just sort of making sure that there wasn't something going on that I couldn't feel yet, and the other two guys were kind of looking down from up above, I think sort of wondering what they were gonna tell my wife because they thought they just killed me.
I was all right and I kind of was able to sit up a little bit and get going, and one of the guys hiked down and we hiked back up. I sort of sat down on a park bench while they moved the car and were putting the bikes on the car. It was more difficult to walk the 10 feet from the bench to the car than it had the probably two or three miles of that hike back out.
It was several months later that I had an episode where I was doing something very simple and I was watering some plants and I was holding a pot, and I sneezed. And suddenly just this incredible pain down from my lower back right down into my leg happened. That sort of classic sciatica. Intense, debilitating pain. Kinda did the typical male thing, "Come on. This can't be that bad," sort of deal, and went and saw a doctor.
They did tests and took pictures and all that kinda stuff, and basically I remember him showing me the bulge in my disc. The L5-S1. And it was just basically rubbing against that nerve. So, at the time, he tried treatments - steroids, that sort of thing. It helped but it really wasn't doing the trick, and they finally said, "You know, well, there's a surgery that we can do."
I think going into that first back surgery is the first time I had ever had surgery. It was really almost the first time I'd really even been in a hospital, and so, it was a little bit scary from that standpoint. This was, I think, around '92 or '93, and I ended up being in the hospital for about a week, which, in the hindsight, seemed like a really long time.
Having surgery like that was scary, but at the same time, I was being told that this pain was gonna go away, and I was at a point where I was sorta saying to myself, "Anything to have this pain go away." I had the laminectomy surgery, and that was a successful surgery. It took the pain away, and for a period of time every once in a while it would kinda creep back into my life, and we were able to address the pain mostly with steroid treatments, and were able to kind of get it back under control.
Flash-forward to about 2007, and I specifically remember what I was doing primarily because my wife will remind me every time I talk about it that it was a stupid thing I was doing. There was a tree stump that had died and we needed to get it out of the ground, and rather than hire somebody I said, "Well, we can just do this. Come on, let's go down and do it." And so, I'm down there in a funny position pulling at this tree stump while someone else is digging trying to get this thing out of the ground, and suddenly I just sorta felt something happen, and it was that same shooting pain down my leg and I said, "Okay. I gotta stop for a little bit."
And it was at that point I had said, "I think I've really done something wrong this time." Because it was much worse than any time before. For a couple of days, I was able to work from home. Went and saw a doctor, and the doctor said, "Well, let's try this," and we tried a steroid treatment and some painkillers and things like that. The painkillers, I didn't like the way they made me feel, and they didn't seem to really do much for the pain.
For that period in time, it impacted everything in my life. You feel very helpless to it. You realize that there's just nothing that you can do about it. I am, for the most part, a relatively optimistic person, but right now it's really pissing me off because I can't do the things I wanna do, and I'm relying on somebody else to do everything else for me. I was worried about my job, but I was thinking, "My life can't continue this way. There's just no way." Something was gonna have to change. Talked to one doctor that suggested that a drug regimen was the right way to go, and the other doctor was more along the lines of, "If you really wanna get rid of this, we're talking surgery. There's a way to fix this surgically."
He knew exactly how to fix it, but that it was a serious surgery, and if you looked at the MRIs, the pictures you could see what was going on with the vertebrae. You'd see vertebrae above there that were all perfectly aligned, and then you'd get down to the one. You could see that it was compromised. My wife Kate and I discussed the possible different options that we had. The pain was not going away. The impact on my life was not going away. I'd been lying on my back for almost two months trying to work from home.
So, after, you know, talking a lot about it between the two of us, I think even talking to a couple of people that had had a similar surgery, talking to the doctor as well as my other doctors about it, I really came to the conclusion that the surgery was the best option for me at that point in time.