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Faces of Pain
Stephanie's Story

Stephanie Hi, my name is Stephanie; I am 37 years old and suffer from chronic back pain.

I was very active when I was younger.  I loved sports!  I played softball, volleyball, and competed in gymnastics.  For gymnastics, we trained 4-5 days per week for 3-4 hours per night; plus ballet classes; plus weekend competitions.  When I got too tall to compete, I coached classes and the team at the local YMCA. Looking back, it seems that spending so much time trying to bend myself in half and launching myself off of tall objects was not such a wise choice.

Moving forward, I remained active throughout my 20’s and early 30’s.  I was always in charge of the grass cutting and actually enjoyed helping my husband split and stack firewood.  I would still do monkey flips on the kid’s trampoline and learned how to play golf. (Not well though!)

In Oct. of 2006, I was working in the yard, bending over a lot and my back started to hurt.  I went to the urgent care (I was flying out the next day for a business trip).  The doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory.

Dec. 2006: I reached above my head while cleaning and felt a sharp pain in my lower back.  I could barely move for three days. 

Jan 2007: After the holidays, I went to a chiropractor.  He determined that one leg was shorter then the other and “treated” me for five weeks, twice a week.  The treatment did nothing and I moved on to my primary care physician.

Feb. 2007: I explained to my primary care doctor that I was experiencing lower back pain.  He ordered X-Rays and prescribed a muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory.  He determined that I had arthritis in my upper and lower back.

I tried to just get on with my life, living with back pain everyday.  When the weather got nice, I started playing golf and riding my bike everyday.  I was up to 14 miles every morning when the pain became unbearable.

June 2007:  I went back to my PCP.  He ordered my first MRI.  The results showed a herniated disc at L5-S1 and a tear at L4-L5. My PCP said he could not help me anymore.  He referred me to a Neurosurgeon.  He would not prescribe any pain medications.

Aug. 2007:  I had my first appointment with my Neurosurgeon.  He said I had a mild herniation and should resume my normal activities " including golf and bike riding”.  He prescribed 10 sessions of PT and a new X-Ray.  According the NS, I should not be in any pain.  He could not explain the shooting pains in my right leg and foot.  My herniation was on the left; therefore, I should not have had symptoms on my right side.  I tried to play golf, but it really agitated my back. 

Fall/Winter 2007: Continued visits with the NS.  I tried MANY anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and nerve pain medications. The NS would not prescribe pain medication. (He said that was what my PCP was supposed to do).  I tried a three-day series of epidural injections.  They put a catheter in my back, and for three days I was injected with cortisone, fentanyl, and more cortisone.  (No relief).

Jan. 2008: Tried exercising once again. I felt MAJOR pain, and had another X-Ray, which determined nothing.  I requested that my PCP refer me to a NS at the Cleveland Clinic.  My NS was not being proactive in my eyes, and I HAD to do something.  I was spending the majority of my time lying down with ice packs, crying and wishing one of my doctors would help me.  (My appointment for the Cleveland Clinic was made for MAY 2008!)

Feb. 2008:  I demanded a new MRI.  The pain was unbearable.  I started seeing a pain management doctor.  My NS said my PCP should prescribe me pain meds.  My PCP said my NS should prescribe pain meds.  I honestly started to hate both of them.  How could they let me be in so much pain?  What kind of doctors were they?

The new MRI showed a MASSIVE herniation at the L5-S1 level.  There were also disc fragments in my spine.  For the first time, my NS actually acknowledged my pain.  I saw him on Monday, Feb. 18th. On Wed., Feb. 20th, I had a microdiscetomy & laminectomy.  HALLALUJA!

April 2008: I started to feel better and at five weeks post-op, my NS ordered six weeks of PT, three times per week. I liked PT; it was like having a personal trainer. After three weeks of PT, I started experiencing sharp pains in my back and shooting pains in my leg(s) when I would do certain exercises. 

I went to my PCP and told him about my back pain.  I requested that he order a new MRI.  I still had my appointment at the Cleveland Clinic in May; my back hurt, and I wanted to be prepared.  He said, “Lots of people that have back surgery still have pain.  You do not need another MRI.”  That was the last time I ever saw my PCP.  He was fired.

May 2008: I went to the Cleveland Clinic.  My new NS said, “You need an MRI.  You should not be experiencing nerve pain”.  No kidding-- right?

The MRI results showed scar tissue surrounding the nerve root and a herniation at L4-L5.  The new NS said there was really nothing they could do about the scar tissue; more surgery would cause more scar tissue.  He recommended a series of epidural steroid injections. The injections did not work.

So, here I am, taking things on a day-to-day basis.  I travel for my job.  When I pack for a trip, I make sure I have my heating pad and tens unit. Crankygirl, RottenBraten and Pebbles on the phone.

Without the support of my new friends on CPS I would be lost.  Just knowing that there are other people out there that KNOW how I feel and understand what I am talking about makes things easier.