Surgical Nightmare as a Sciatica Treatment

I have been through a lot in the last 10 years, suffering with chronic sciatica and finally going through with lumbar surgery.  I want to share my story, since I believe it might help to prevent some of you from suffering my identical fate.

My name is Jonathan.  I am currently 41 years old.  I began to experience sciatica around the age of 30, after a fall on the ice, in winter of 2003.  I thought it was funny at the time, having fallen straight on my butt.  I got up and went on with my day after a chuckle or two.

When I got home later, I saw that I really bruised my upper buttocks area.  I had a big black-and-blue right where the coccyx resides.  It hurt a lot, but I did not think much of it.

I work as a mail carrier, so I walk every day.  The first 2 days after the fall was ok, but then I started to get pain down my left leg and into my foot.  My back did not hurt, but the pain in the leg was quite bad.  I put up with this pain for about 2 months before going to see my doctor.

My doc said that it may be related to the fall and advised an x-ray, just to be sure that nothing was broken.  I had the x-ray and all was fine.  My tailbone was intact and the lower spine looked ok for fractures.  However, my doctor said the lower vertebrae were really close together and suggested that I see an orthopedist.

It took 2 weeks to get an appointment, and during this time, my pain continued to get worse.  I actually took a week off of work to allow it to rest and recuperate, but this was to no avail.  Every day, all day, the pain shot down the back of my left leg, like fire burning inside the nerves.  It ended in my left foot, with pain in some of my toes.

When I saw the orthopedist, he ordered a CT scan.  In a few days, a got a call from him, saying he wanted to see me about my test results.  When I went to his office, he told me that I had a herniated disc at L5/S1.  He said that it looked like it had been there for a long time, which was a real shock to me.  He also said that the fall must have aggravated it. 

I immediately contacted workers compensation and applied for disability as per his recommendation.  Being that my fall did not happen at work and was never really reported, the process was not simple and I had a tough time dealing with the run-around.

Well, things got sorted out and I ended up out of work for 3 months while I took physical therapy and lots of pills.  My doctor seemed happy after the 3 months was up that I would be fine.  I was not so confident.

The PT hurt like hell.  The drugs made me feel weird.  When the drugs stopped, I was still in lots of pain.  However, I returned to work.

This is where everything went wrong.

I could not work anymore with this pain.  It was worse than ever before and made me walk so slowly and gingerly that I was called into my supervisor’s office for disciplinary action.  I explained the situation, but he did not listen. He told me to move my butt faster or I was going to be replaced.  Within 2 weeks I was transferred to do office work in the facility.

I worked for 2 years in this diminished capacity, suffering terribly from sitting and having a progressively harder time standing.  Eventually, after several problems at work, I applied for disability.  This is another long story, but to cut to the chase, I was denied 3 times.  I gave up.

My doctors had been of no help during this time.  They gave me some pills every now and then, but these did little good.  I tried to go to a chiropractor, but the cracking made my back worse and scared me.

In the third year after my fall, I had to quit my job.  I just could not do the work anymore.  There went a good career position and my hopes for collecting a pension.

I got a job working at a call center, since I had the opportunity to work from home after 6 months of training.  I stuck it out, despite the horrible pain of sitting each day.  After 6 months, I was answering calls from home, lying on the floor mostly.  I used a laptop to enter data and stayed at this job for 5 more years, becoming a virtual prisoner in my own home.  It was really depressing.

The company went out of business and I was left unemployed.  Having been accustomed to a sedentary existence, I was fat and unmotivated to find new work.  The economy is crap and I could not find anything when necessity called, so I started to live off my savings and unemployment benefits.

I began to suffer worse pain, no matter what position I was in.  I reached out to my orthopedic doctor and he agreed to see me again.  Another CT scan showed the same herniation, in the same state as before.  There was no change at all. 

The orthopedist gave me 3 injections, 3 months apart and said this would help the disc to heal.  This hopeful year went by fast, but did not bring any relief.  I was now at the end of my rope. 

I was out of money.  I was living with a relative, sleeping on their couch and needed real help.  I called the doctor and cried to him about my sad state.  He sent me to a surgeon.

The surgeon seemed much more concerned with the CT scan films.  He prescribed some really potent pills and said he would evaluate my case and see if he could do anything for me. 

After 3 days, his office called and said they wanted to schedule a disc operation that would cure me.  I was so excited.  Finally, there was a chance to get my life back, or so I hoped.

Well, I did some testing and filled out lots of paperwork.  My family helped me a lot during this time.  Everyone was hopeful that I would recover finally and stop being a depressing burden. 

In 2 months time, I was on the operating table and having what was described as an anterior disc removal and fixation of the vertebrae.  Surgery went well and I was in recovery a few hours later.

Well, the process of getting past the surgery was terrible.  I could not move.  I had rods and screws in my back from the fusion.  I had lots of pain.  PT made everything worse, but I made it through the 6 months of torture.

I am off the pills, since my doctor cut me off.  I wish I could say that the surgery helped, but it did not.  I feel the same, only I can not move as well as before.  Prior to the operation, I could move, but it hurt like hell. Now, my body just does not respond.  I feel so old and fragile.  Life is not good.  The pain has not diminished one bit.

I am now on disability, finally, and subsist on a tiny budget every month.  I rent a room in a basement of a private house.  I can just walk in and out, since I can not do stairs anymore.  I am afraid of falling.  I can not work, nor do I think I ever will again.

I have seen a few other doctors in the months leading up to me writing this account, but most have no answers for me.  One neurologist said that the fusion might be causing problems, but that it can’t be fixed.  More than ever, I feel like I am swept under the rug by these doctors, since I seem irreparably broken.  No one seems to care, especially the surgeon who did this to me.

I guess I have to end this story eventually.  Now is a good time.  I am getting really sad writing it.  I am depressed enough, so I have to stop.  I have no real point here.  I just wanted to share and warn people that surgery is not a good answer, at least it was not good for me.

I have read a lot of good things on this website and agree that patients must learn more before agreeing to treatment.  I wonder how my situation might have gone differently if I had found this site earlier and actually listened to this good advice.  I was so naïve and it cost me my life. 

I hope the rest of you do better than I did.

I am trying not to be bitter, but it is hard.  Life had so much promise and now it seems like a chore.  Thanks for listening.  - Jonathan

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