My eyes opened slowly as I came to. It was all over. I was lying face up on the bed and I was quickly overwhelmed by the raging and searing pain in my lower back.
The last thing I could remember was lying face down on the table, positioning my head so that the pillow didn’t pull the oxygen tubing away from my nose. It had been difficult to get comfortable. My back was miserably uncomfortable and it didn’t appreciate the hard, flat surface, even with the pillow under my stomach. But despite all that, the excitement that was coursing through me had me in exceptionally high spirits, loving everyone who was in the room.
I was here because during my earlier life, dominated by sports and training and corresponding injuries, I had accumulated 4 ruptured discs that were now severely degenerated, and to add to that, cysts and large bone spurs had developed in the most offended areas. Although my life remained active, running and weight lifting were long off the table, and heavier activities now looked like yard work and house cleaning, all of which were carefully planned around chiropractor visits. By early fall of 2018, ice packs and heating pads were daily companions, spending a few days at a time lying on the floor wasn’t unusual, and not being able to sleep for more than a couple hours was typical. In December I withdrew from my weekly volunteer activities at the stables and knew that going forward, even light activities would be an issue.
I was here because I had lived in a way that did not preserve the integrity of my back.
I was here because my back was my weak spot.
I was here because perhaps this was the manifestation of emotional-spiritual blockages, perhaps the second phase of the Lyme ‘clean-up’.
I was here because the promise of this procedure on my back was that in less than one hour, all four ruptured discs would be sealed and plumped up without any invasive surgical procedure.
Actually, I was here simply because…I was here.
And so there I lay, and it was over, and I was in recovery. I had expected some kind of discomfort, perhaps tenderness. I had definitely not been prepared for excruciating pain. I needed to turn onto my side, but that required moving my legs, which of course cranked up the pain. But turn onto my side I did, and I did more than cry, I wept. And then Lamaze breathing techniques were remembered, and I breathed long, slow, deliberate breaths, and then cried some more.
The nurse told me my friend Phyllie was in the waiting room, and asked if I’d like to have her come and keep me company or wait until I felt a bit better. I asked for her to be shown in right away. If you know Phyllie, you know she is a 5 foot nothing Irish spit-fire with a huge heart. She walked into the recovery room as 100% heart and leaned over the bed to put her arms around me. It was one of those precious moments in life when everything dissolves into love.
This was an outpatient procedure. The patient walks out the doctor’s office within about 2 hours of the procedure. I was seriously doubting how that would be possible. I was given pain medication that eventually kicked in. And then there was the moment that I knew I had to get onto my feet. Somehow my entire body was begging to be standing up, even walking. And so with the aid of a walker, I shuffled down the hall to the room where my clothes were. I still wasn’t sure how the hell I would be walking out of the building.
Phyllie helped dress me, and then she put my shoes and socks on. I literally had no facility to bend down towards my feet or lift them up. And miraculously, 2 1/2 hours after the procedure, I walked out the doctor’s office into the sounds and activities of Manhattan, and climbed into the Uber that Phyllie had ordered for us. There were six band-aids on my back; one next to each disc that had been injected, and one over each of my facet joints where I had received PRP injections. My back felt different but pretty comfortable. There was a strong feeling of pressure, but it was not painful.
In my hands was a folder with discharge instructions that included guidelines for walking sessions to begin the next day. It also included a handwritten letter from my doctor, Kevin; Dr. Kevin Pauza, who prefers to just be addressed as Kevin. He’s a cheerful, unhurried, down to earth and very focused man. He made sure I had phone numbers to reach him or his assistant, anytime, day or night, 7 days a week, with any questions or concerns. I did not reach out until yesterday, which was a Saturday, 6 weeks after the procedure. He responded within 1/2 an hour.
Kevin’s office is in Tyler, TX. I’d come across his web site when researching back treatments for degenerative disc disease. As soon as I read about the disc sealing procedure I knew that was for me. Thankfully, he performs the procedure in Manhattan once a month. So I booked myself the very next appointment which was February 15th.
From the DiscSeel.com website, this is the procedure:
“The Discseel® Procedure takes approximately 40 minutes and is performed in an outpatient facility. You will be offered mild sedation. During the procedure, your physician uses xray fluoroscopy and injects contrast mixed with antibiotic into each disc in the region to precisely identify disc tears. Next, using x-ray fluoroscopy, the two components which make Fibrin (prothrombin and fibrinogen), are simultaneously injected into the tears of your annulus fibrosus, making Fibrin in the disc, sealing your torn and damaged discs. [Fibrin is FDA-approved biologic..] The fibrin will seal the disc tears and promote tissue growth over the following months, thus sealing and healing the discs.” (These photos are also from the website)
Right from the start my back felt different. I no longer needed to position my body to absorb every cough or sneeze, and when driving my car, the bumps on the road didn’t cause pain either. The feeling of pressure eased away in a few days. The tenderness remains but most of my discomfort is below the bottom vertebrae, in the sacro-illiac area. My sleep is better than before but still pretty interrupted after the first 4-5 hours. It is comfortable to walk. I can sit on the floor without feeling like my back is going to burst into freakin’ flames. That is like a miracle all by itself.
But all the emotions, the oh-so-human emotions have been there. The impatience is predominant. And initially there was a flood of relief and gratitude that frequently had me dissolve into tears. I would relive the procedure, especially the recovery, and wonder if the pain, as an analogy, was the pain of birth…the birth of a new spine. Or, and this felt truer to me, if the pain in recovery was an accumulation of all the cries from my back over all the years that were finally being heard together. One giant, guttural release.
In contemplating my impatience, I have almost found it amusing. After DECADES of back issues, DECADES of soft tissue adjusting to injuries and doing the best job possible to protect those areas, I wanted a procedure to reorganize ALL of that permanently in one hour. I didn’t want to patiently wait for ligaments and tissues to adjust to the new height of the 4 discs, I didn’t even consider that the new positions of my lower lumbar vertebrae would impact all the vertebrae above them and everything below them. I just wanted to be able to run outside and do heavy labor and run a marathon, RIGHT AWAY.
I have been humbled back into remembering my Lyme journey, remembering the realization that after living my life one way for so many years it might take as many years to shift to another way, and that the ‘clean-up’ of body and thoughts would take as long as it took, and not a moment less.
I don’t know if the Discseel Procedure has been a wild success physically. I do know that my back feels completely different, and at 6 weeks out it can sometimes still be very tender and painful, but in a different way than before. I was told in no uncertain terms by Dr. Pauza that I would likely notice big differences in 3-6 months, and definitely within 1 year. In the meantime…there are a million experiences coming and going, pretty heavy on the impatience for sure, and all of them hold an opportunity to open to a deeper understanding.
So for now, this is part one of my back story.