For the last few years, I have become increasingly debilitated by chronic back pain. Have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis over three decades ago, it was logical to attribute my decreasing strength and growing pain levels to the neurologic symptoms of that disease. But last Christmas season, I experienced severe postural problems and stabbing pain.
Last January, I discovered a mass in my back as big as my entire hand. My first thoughts were that I had inheirited my mother's rare soft tissue cancer.* Those were frightening days, until I went to see my wonderful orthopedist, Dr. Pete Goldschmidt. He diagnosed Adult Idiopathic Scoliosis. And the lump? It was actually my rib cage which had twisted and was displacing the musculature of my lower back. Believe it or not, the medical term for this is "rib hump"! All that pain, and I don't even get a Latin description?! Pete referred me to a colleague in the Twin Cities, thus began my epic journey.
My insurance company wouldn't allow me to be seen by the surgeon of choice. I spent a frustrating month attempting to resolve this. I was able to make an appointment with University Hospital's orthopedics department, and was seen by wonderful Dr. Jonathan Sembrano at the end of May. As all the imaging showed, I not only had rotoscoliosis, but also degenerative disc disease. I had also lost three inches in height. I am simply amazed at how well I have been doing despite my failing spine. I nearly wept with relief when he explained the surgeries that would improve my condition. Taking a conservative approach, we thought perhaps in 2018.
I became increasingly fearful that if the Affordable Care Act was repealed, I would be unable to get insurance in the coming year, and decided to have my surgery this year rather than the next.
I'll be admitted Monday, 11 December for the first operation and have the second on Wednesday, the 13th. My expected duration in hospital will be about a week. Then my most wonderful friend, Kathy Wessels will whisk me off to her home in Madison, Wisconsin to care for me during the recovery stage and host our families' shared Christmas tradition. I may not be back in Duluth until the second week in January.
This sunny morning, while drinking coffee and listening to Harry Nilsson, I count my many blessings. I have the gift of the most devoted family and friends a person could ever receive. I have absolute faith and confidence in my surgeon and hospital. As a "recovering nurse", I trust medicine. I am very thankful for the modern diagnostics and surgical techniques we have in the 21st century.
But even more, I recognize what a blessing my multiple sclerosis has been for the last three decades. I've learned just how adaptable we human beings are. Every day is a new adventure, and I've navigated many highs and lows. I've pushed this old body through many neurological insults and kept it as strong and functional as possible. And I've become a cockeyed optimist, able to take the long view of my health.