Edward, 50 “It’s Given Me a Chance”

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ContributorEdward, 50Read Full Bio


Edward, 50, is married with two kids in college. He works in the Spanish Language Media. Besides playing football, rugby, and volleyball in high school and college, Edward’s family had a history of back pain. He had episodes of debilitating back spasms which started to happen more and more frequently. At age 29, Edward’s doctor discovered a significant herniation in his L4, L5 region. He had a microdiscectomy and felt immediate relief. When his back pain returned his social life and basic mobility was not what it used to be. You must ask yourself whether or not you are willing to live with this pain, Edward advises. He told his friends that if, hypothetically, he were in a building on fire he would not be able to make it down the stairs in time.

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ContributorDr. Robert G. Watkins IV, MD, Orthopedic SurgeonRead Full Bio


Robert Watkins IV, M.D., is co-director of Marina Spine Center and Chairman of the Surgery Department at Marina Del Rey Hospital. Dr. Watkins is a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon, specializing in minimally invasive spine surgery, computer-assisted surgery, spinal-deformity treatment, and disc replacement. Dr. Watkins earned his medical degree at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the L.A. County/USC General Hospital. He then worked as a traveling fellow in Europe, specializing in artificial-disc replacement and scoliosis surgery. Over the past decade, he has lectured on spine issues to doctors, patient groups, athletic trainers, and physical therapists; led research teams that have published studies; and taught surgeons on specialized techniques. He is the spine consultant to many Los Angeles sports teams, and has treated professional, college, and high school athletes from all over the country.

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Edward, 50, is married with two kids in college. He works in the Spanish Language Media. Besides playing football, rugby, and volleyball in high school and college, Edward’s family had a history of back pain. He had episodes of debilitating back spasms which started to happen more and more frequently. At age 29, Edward’s doctor discovered a significant herniation in his L4, L5 region. He had a microdiscectomy and felt immediate relief. When his back pain returned his social life and basic mobility was not what it used to be. You must ask yourself whether or not you are willing to live with this pain, Edward advises. He told his friends that if, hypothetically, he were in a building on fire he would not be able to make it down the stairs in time.

My name's, Eddy, I was born and raised here in Southern California. I'm married, two kids, two kids in college. I work in the Spanish language media industry. Uh, I've been selling media time to reach the US Latino consumers for almost 30 years. So taking a look on the history of my back issues that I've had over my life, my dad had back problems. I had uncles that had back problems. I think I was kind of predisposed to have the same type of issues. I played high school sports, I played both volleyball and football for four years in high school. Played one year of college football and then two years of college rugby. At some point in that span of time I think was eventually where I had my initial issues.

I started getting back spasms, debilitating type back spasms. Pretty much take your breath away, they were happening once a year, then they were happening once every six months, and they were happening about every two to three months. And they would-it'd be from small things. Bending over a certain way, brushing your teeth in the wrong position, and it took longer and longer to get over each episode. By the time I was 29, so I was still relatively young, I got to a point where I had just terrible sciatica pain. I had numbness in both feet, and the doctor finally decided to do an MRI when they discovered a pretty significant size herniation in my L4-L5 region.

You know at the time, you know things were different, 20 years ago but it was a little bit more extensive surgery back then. I'm talking about what uh, back pain does and the way that it affects your daily life, the level of activities that I was able to do or not do. You know, I just didn't feel like I was old enough to-to give up on some of the things I loved to do, and to change my lifestyle that much. But in addition to that, just being out socially. Not being able to sit throughout an entire dinner, you know I just didn't think that that was something that I wanted to do long term. Getting in and out of the car, seems really like, simple and rudimentary but for someone with back pain I think that they all would agree that's not necessarily always the case.

It was brutal, you know. Just getting out of the damn car was hard. Maybe you th- you take your back for granted, but it's-it ties everything together and if you've got a bad back, you're not doing well. It changes your life. I'm always sleeping on my side with a pillow between my legs. It seems like all people that have bad backs, we all have the similar story. Not being able to sleep in certain positions. It got to a point up until this last surgery, that I literally couldn't run if I had to. I told someone in my office if the building was burning, I wouldn't be able to get out because I couldn't possibly run. So, you know these are all things that kind of, you have to decide, are you willing to live the rest of your life like this, or are you willing to look at options and see what's available.

EDWARD: So, with my very first surgery 20 years ago, I had a micro discectomy. L4-L5 region, they removed almost a eight millimeter herniation and the relief was almost immediate. So, I was able to get back to normal activities. Which for me, were basketball, I could rejoin my men's soccer league; unfortunately about nine months ago I was at Pilates class and I knew I should've left five minutes before I did. Um, but, ended up doing one more move and at that point I felt muscle spasms that I hadn't felt in 20 years. I felt that pain before and so unfortunately I knew the feeling and I was afraid of what it might mean.

I went in for an MRI just to confirm what I thought and unfortunately the L3-L4 disc had herniated. Which they say is common for people that have issues with one disc, is that the disc above it no longer has a foundation, there's more stress on that particular one. So, the doctor wasn't too surprised. I went in and they did a micro discectomy and they removed a herniated portion. Unfortunately this time around, I didn't have that same exact sense of relief that I did 20 years ago. Chalked it up to the fact I'm older, but after two and a half months of physical therapy, I could tell it just wasn't right.

When I went back to see my doctor, we decided that maybe we had gone too conservative. We decided to go and have a, uh, two level fusion which is a little scary. You know, when they first mention fusions, it sounds serious and a lot of people it really kind of scares them off. But, the more I looked into it, and the more I talked to the doctor and his team, it seemed like it was the best route to go. The-my best chance to get back to some type of normal type of living. It took a while to really get my arms wrapped around the whole thought of a fusion and what it means and I think there's a lot of misperceptions about what fusion’s all about. Certainly technology's come a long way, and you wanna make sure that you're-that you really need it.

We all knew that this was probably gonna be my best chance, no guarantees. But, we felt pretty good about what the chances would be and what the potential outcomes might be. After the two level fusion, I was in the hospital for two nights. Now, think about what that was many years ago, you'd have been in there for weeks or months. So yeah, it's pretty incredible. You're up walking the same day of the surgery. Hard to believe that you're up, they want you kind of getting up and moving around quickly. You're out of the hospital going home in two days. Just pretty amazing and I had the surgery just over two months ago and I will tell you that the-the changes are significant.

The stability’s the biggest change. All of a sudden I feel as if everything's kind of back together. You're on a lot of medication, but certainly once the medication starts to fade, you're definitely in pain. I'm not sure if it's more from the surgery itself, or if from the actual back pain. And I will tell you that most people are trying to get off the pain medication as quickly as you can but the pain level was a lot lower level than what I would've expected. The micro discectomy nowadays is outpatient surgery. For a lot of people they see immediate relief. I did when I had my first one. With a two level fusion it was a little bit different in terms of the time to get over the whole thing.

Post surgery's you know, real important. They want you to you know, get back into your normal life to a certain extent. Certainly start walking a lot, you know, you're managing your pain as best you can, trying to follow the directions that the doctors have given you. But I got myself in a pretty good walking schedule. I was taking three walks a day. They graduate from around the block to around the park and pretty soon, you know, you're taking a couple mile walks a couple weeks after surgery. They remind you to do not do any of what they call the BLT's, no bending, lifting or twisting, which is pretty good advice. Walking's a definitely a big part of it. Physical therapy was just approved yesterday and I start next week. In terms of physical therapy, again I'm going back to the same doctor that I went to before.

We were midway through it when we decided that we needed to kind of push the reset button. So I know at least the first half of what we're going to be doing, I’m anxious to get back. So it'll be two months after my actual two level fusion surgery, that I'll start my physical therapy in earnest next week. Deciding to have surgery's a big decision, and unfortunately I've had to do it a few times. But, you really have to decide on it as a family and you know, the kind of restrictions that you're gonna have at least temporarily. The potential, you know, side effects that you may have to deal with. I think you kind of have to weigh that against what the upside might be.

And for a lot of people I think going through that, f-regardless of the types of surgery. You have to decide whether or not that that type of lifestyle is gonna be something that you can live with. And for me it wasn't. We know the risks, we tried to do the best job we could with exploring the best options that were out there and then just trying to go in there and have a positive attitude. You know, I think that the best thing they said was just you know let your body decide for you, you know, and decide when you're able to do different things. Communication with all the doctors was really key. I've had the same physician for 20 years so she knows my whole history, she knows what I've been through. So keeping her involved and in the loop was really important. We bounced a lot of things off of her. I also have a friend I went to high school with who was a back surgeon in the Midwest.

He was great to bounce things off of as well. I think you feel better being informed at all levels whether it be your primary care physician, you know, all the way up to a second opinions, but, the more you know the-the better you'll feel. About two months after my surgery, still trying to get my arms wrapped around, you know, what's next. I know that it-there's a lot of heavy lifting. I know what I want to be able to do, I want to get back to playing golf and we've kind of set a time line, its late summer; nine months after my surgery which we-we all feel is manageable. You know, I wanna get back to mountain bike riding, I want to get back to doing boot camp; I wanna get back into playing basketball.

I know it's gonna take some work to get there. You don't automatically get back there-there's no shortcuts, so regardless of whether you go for surgery or you go another method, there's work that needs to be done and I think that it's the first step. I'm ready and excited to jump into physical therapy and do even more than the doctors are asking of me and try to get ahead of schedule but I think that all of us that have been through the pains and the agonies, we're anxious to do that once we’re physically able to do it. A few months ago, even if I wanted to I could not get into physical therapy. I wouldn't be-be able to do the things I'm doing right now to try and get myself back to being on a scale of one to 10, back to a seven or eight. Which is what I'm hoping for at this point.

Yeah, going back to work is a-is a really big decision. I think most people that I've spoken to that have had similar surgeries go back too early because we just feel better, you know, I think we just-all of us then say finally I feel like I'm back to normal and we get a little ahead of ourselves. Your body's still healing there's still a lot of swelling, there's still a lot of things that are going on that we'd probably be best to stay out another week or two. I think there's kind of a rush to get back to a life of normalcy and a-for a lot of us that means getting aback to the office. The big thing that I would recommend for people is to take as much time as you can, and even when you get back, try to do it on a part time basis.

It's been eight weeks since surgery and I'm still on part time. I've set up a-a standing desk so that I'm not sitting for long periods of time and overall I would say that's worked out great for me. Being the patient, you know, being looked after at home was not an easy thing. I'm not accustomed to that, but the kids were both home for holidays, so it was great having them, uh, and it was great having them help. My mom was actually in town so we actually had a great scenario, but it's hard for me because that's kind of a different type of role to take on but after a few days I learned to just kind of sit back and I dunno if enjoy it’s the right term-

But to let it happen cause they were very willing, and they wanted to help and be a part of the process after a while I guess I got a little used to it. But that goes away quick so you gotta just enjoy it cause it doesn't happen too long. You wanna get out, you wanna start walking, you wanna start doing things on your own. And frankly I think that's part of the-the healing process is to be able to get back to where you can do things for yourself. I'm turning 50, you know, next week and I don't wanna do another back surgery, so I'm really gonna take this physical therapy and this whole process of-of healing serious. I wanna make sure.

And not do things too quickly cause I really want to get back to some of the things that I really love to do. I think we've set some pretty good guidelines, you know, I wanna get back to, um, doing boot camp with my son and I wanna get back to playing golf with my friends on the weekends, and-and getting back to what I consider a normal active lifestyle. And I think all that's now possible after this fusion that I went through, it certainly would not have been had I not gone on to the surgery, and that's the way I look at it is it's given me a chance. Ance-ance-ance-ance.

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