Today, May 15, 2016, is the ten-year anniversary of my lower back surgery. I had this surgery on May 15, 2006, that was a Monday. I have to cheer today, and give thanks to my neurosurgeon, Dr. Joel MacDonald at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and to my local neurosurgeon, Dr. Mike Brown, who referred me to his good friend in Utah.
I injured my back in 1997, just before my 27th birthday, and yes, it was photography related! I was working for Russell Image Processing in Atlanta, and had an early job where I needed multiple enlargers (yes, darkroom!) to meet a deadline. By myself, I decided to carry an enlarger from one darkroom into another, because I was the only one in the lab at the time. While toting this massive beast, I felt like I was going to drop it, so I twisted and kept it from hitting the ground. Once I heaved that thing onto the counter, I had a strange rush of heat run down my back. I didn’t think anything of it. I was young, strong and invincible. Right?
Not so much. That would be the beginning of eight and a half years of progressively growing pain and the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. Over the course of those eight and a half years, as the pain progressed, I did everything under the sun – physical therapy, experimental procedures like IDET (Intradiscal Electrothermal Annuloplasty – I was patient #13 for my pain doc), steroid injections and facet block injections, and acupuncture. Do needles scare me? Yea, right!
Finally, I hit a wall, in 2006. I had two episodes where the pain reached a new height. My reaction to it was actually passing out. I had become really good at dealing with pain, and just living with it. I always boasted a “high pain tolerance” and, I had a pain management doc once tell me that my pain would sideline a linebacker, but here I was, standing there in front of him with a smile on my face. I guess the passing out phase was my body’s way of saying, Alright Already! That led to a local hospital stay, and a drugged up discussion with Dr. Brown where I apparently tried to negotiate the type of surgery I needed!
That conversation led me to the great state of Utah, and Dr. Joel MacDonald. He is the head of neurosurgery at this wonderful teaching hospital! On Monday, May 15, 2006 he performed an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion at L4/5 and L5/S1. I have all kinds of cool hardware – two fancy new titanium cages where the old discs collapsed and disappeared, and a couple of rods with six screws to top it off! And, I grew a ½”!
Today, 10 years later, I’m doing great! No back pain whatsoever, and the ability to do all those things I enjoyed doing before – hiking, skiing, yoga, wading across the Arkansas River in waders with my camera bag above my head – that’s a story for another day! The only thing I can’t do is anything that causes major compression like horseback riding. Trust me, I don’t miss that.
My advice to you, especially you photographers who carry so much equipment, always, always lift with care, have someone help you with the heavy stuff, and take care of your back. Photography gear gets heavy, even an overstuffed camera backpack, so from someone in the know, be careful!
Happy Anniversary to me! And, a shout-out to the best neurosurgeon in the world, Dr. Joel MacDonald!