Category Archives: Health and stuff

All’s Well — Or So I Thought

Darby’s surgery went well. The tumor was entirely contained in the superficial layers, so the vet only had to remove a big patch of skin. Sewing up the incision involved pulling edges of skin together that had previously been much farther apart and leaving some baggy extra folds at either end.  No beauty contests in Darby’s future. Oh, well.

First day back from surgery, she lulled me into a false sense of security. “Oh, yeah. She’s fine. Acting like nothing in the world has happened to her.” Silly me. That was before all the anesthesia wore off.

Her surgery was on a Thursday. I had to take her back for stitches repair on Friday. Then I got a “cone collar” for her. She managed to pull it apart Saturday afternoon, so my brother and I put it back on and fastened it with zip-ties. Then took her back to the vet to have more stitches replaced.

Post-surgery Darby sporting the latest fashion in "Cone of Shame"

Post-surgery Darby sporting the latest fashion in “Cone of Shame”

Everything seemed fine for a few days until I noticed that the skin around the incision looked kind of red. Oh, great. Infection. On closer inspection, I discovered a gap in the middle of the incision where the skin had been pulled the tightest. Darby had apparently gotten her hind foot up to scratch the itch and pulled loose some of the staples the vet had used to replace the other lost stitches.

Back to the vet. This time they had to anesthetise her again and re-suture most of the incision. They sent her home with antibiotics and pain pills. Yay! pain pills. They had a bit of a sedative effect on her, so she didn’t seem as crazy to scratch. I’m sure having the infection knocked down helped, too.

In the meantime, she learned how to use the cone as a weapon. She’d catch it on a door frame and jerk her head sideways to free it — right into my leg. She got me with the edge of it several times daily. I had bruise lines across both legs from her trying to walk up to bump me with her nose (or wipe her wet face on me after a drink of water).

Yesterday, finally, she got all her stitches out after a couple of extra weeks in the “cone of shame.” What a relief.

There’s only one fly in the ointment. The pathology lab finished the analysis of the tumor and reported that it is one of the more aggressive cancers. It tends to metastasize into the lungs. Which means chest X-rays once or twice a year.

At least she doesn’t have to get mammograms.

The “C” Word

Darby is having surgery on Thursday. I found a lump a few weeks ago and took her to the vet to have it checked out. She did not enjoy the needle biopsy process, although she’s generally golden at the vet’s office because everyone pets her and dotes on her.

So the vet looked at the cells through a microscope and said they had the characteristics of a malignancy. I told her I was relatively sure that lump had not been there six weeks earlier or was small enough that I could miss it. But I’d been examining her regularly, knowing that having her spayed at age six plus years put her at higher risk for mammary tumors. I thought I was prepared for that eventuality. I was not prepared for the immediacy.ImageToday, I took her to a groomer and fellow kennel club member to have her clipped down a bit. I wanted her to look more like a Spinone puppy with short, lower maintenance hair. She’ll be miserable enough wearing the “Cone of Shame” after her surgery. I don’t want to add to her discomfort by trying to keep her luxurious “feathers” all tidy. I’m wondering why I didn’t do this sooner. I do intend to keep her close to this look from now on.

I’m also going to make some changes to her diet to get more natural protein into it while she recovers. She likes cottage cheese and raw chicken wings, so far. Oh, and trying to find cottage cheese that is not low-fat… not easy.

The prognosis for this type of cancer is all over the place. It may or may not recur. It may or may not spread. It may or may not lead to more serious problems. Etc. The treatment of choice is surgery, so Darby’s is scheduled for Thursday. I’m sure I’ll spend a lot of time with Ramses, and doing things to distract myself. And I’ll have my phone with me all day.

More fun with failing body parts

They say growing old ain’t for wimps. I’m here to tell you that middle age is no picnic, either. I keep seeing headlines declare,”Fifty is the New Thirty,” “Sixty is the New Forty.” Maybe. Thanks to better diets, better drugs, and plastic surgery (in some cases). Personally, I do not feel twenty years younger than my actual age. But, hey, twenty years ago I was an emotional basket case — or, at least, much more so than now. That’s all beside the point, though. Here’s the real story.

Earlier this year (like, last winter), I decided to take up crocheting. I used to know how, so I figured it would be a simple matter to refresh my memory. That part actually worked out as I figured, but I started running into an annoying problem. Part of my left hand would start going numb. Well, crap, what’s that all about? I got several lay diagnoses of carpal tunnel syndrome. My doctor even agreed that that was probably my problem. I started wearing a brace on my left wrist. And I put away my yarn and crochet hooks.

Fast forward to summer. I use a push mower to mow some parts of the yard, like the dogs’ enclosure, and around some of the trees. The engine on the mower doesn’t run as smoothly as it did when it was new (!), and I began to notice the vibration was causing my right hand to go numb. So I got a brace for that wrist and wore it at night, because with both wrists immobilized, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do at work, or around the house — except look pitiful.

Then I developed “trigger finger.” At first it was just annoying, then it got painful, and interfered with writing, typing, and life in general. Treatment consisted of “resting the joint by splinting the finger.” Oh, joy. I decided to design my own splint — one I could take off when I needed to wash my hands. I used part of an old glove finger, with duck tape around it for some rigidity, followed by stretch wrap.

So I decided to add a little humor to the situation.

So I decided to add a little humor to the situation.

And I wore that, or others like it, off and on (mostly on) for most of September and October. I learned how to type around it, how to grip a pen with two fingers, and was heartily tired of it in short order.

Meanwhile, my left hand, not wanting to be left out (haha, a pun!), developed a mass the size of a ball bearing at the base of my thumb. I figured it was a ganglion cyst. I’ve had trouble with those in the past.

So. Monday of this week, I went to the VA Health Center in Temple, where I had an appointment for a consult with the orthopedic surgery department (Thank heaven for VA health care, by the way.) to discuss what to do about my thumb. I was all for surgically removing the offending mass, and possibly fixing my “angry birds finger” at some other opportunity. Imagine my surprise when the specialist said, “Oh, no, that’s not a cyst. It’s another trigger finger. Trigger thumb to be precise. And we can take care of both those for you right now.”

I had never had a steroid injection of any kind before, so I had no idea what manner of torture I was in for. Not once, but twice. Holy crap! that hurt!

The specialist and two observers were impressed with how still I kept my hands while my face contorted in agony. I think something in my reptile brain must have told me how much worse the pain would be if I moved, and somehow kept my arms relaxed.

My hands are still a bit sore, and stiff, but so much better than they were. And I found out that the ongoing numbness and tingling in the outside edge of my left hand is not related to carpal tunnel. Oh, no, the other large nerve that runs into the hand is being pinched in my elbow. 

So, I can go back to crocheting, if I don’t bend my elbow. That should be interesting. I’m telling you, getting old is an adventure!

“Failure is Always an Option”

I watch “Mythbusters.” Maybe not as avidly as my brother, but there are a few episodes I’ve seen more than a few times. Jamie and Adam often say they learn at least as much from things they do that don’t work, as from things that do work. Adam even wears a shirt sometimes with the quote in the title printed across the front. That same expression applies to live in general, I think, and maybe especially to those hard lessons a lot of us have to repeat frequently throughout our lives. You can probably come up with a list of those for yourself without much trouble.

They generally fall into two main categories, don’t they? Lessons from “the outside,” from other people or the environment; and lessons from inside, when you listen to those nasty voices in your head, or when you have a disordered internal system. For now, I’m going to stick to the lessons from inside – the ones that make you feel like your own worst enemy, or like you’re at war with your own body. The kinds of battles it seems like so many people around you think you should be able to win in one blow and get on with your life (and stop making them feel guilty for whatever reason they feel guilty). After all, it’s all in your head, right? That’s what “everyone” says, right? So you should just be able to make it stop, right?

As if. Why do people even continue to believe that, you wonder, with all the evidence from medical and psychological studies saying that we each have a unique recipe for the biochemical soup that keeps us cooking along.

Since I’m most intimately familiar with chronic pain conditions, I’ll start with that as an example. Whatever the cause of the pain, there must be some set of chemicals – in the cells of the body as well as the brain – that act together to (sometimes) continue producing those pain signals long after the initial “injury” is healed. There’s (finally) an entire medical specialty devoted to studying and treating all types of pain, and I’m sure they understand a lot more about it than I do. I can only talk about my own experience with any degree of knowledge.

To begin with, I’ve been plagued with back pain since I was a teenager. Scoliosis tends to show up during puberty (or not “show up” – mine was so slight as to be superficially imperceptible). Yet I complained of back pain and numbness in parts of my back – and was told simply, “stand up straight.” Which didn’t make anything all better.

Of course, the generation I grew up in was only a hair’s breadth removed from the notion that a child with a “defect,” like scoliosis, was a direct reflection on the quality of the parents, or the parenting, and I think my mother would have been horrified by such a diagnosis if it had come in my youth. She would have blamed herself – for not being able to make me stand up straight enough to prevent it, most likely. As it was, she felt bad that we didn’t find out about it sooner, but by then, she realized it was neither her fault nor mine.

These days, I use a variety of pain-modification and pain-management techniques, all of which have had some pain-relieving effects, none of which has made the pain stay away for good. Whether it’s a brain chemical that causes me to “want” my back to continue to hurt, or some other set of substances that eventually counteracts all the treatments I throw at it, or just that I’m that sensitive to my own body doesn’t really matter. Apparently it’s not something I can get conscious control over, and switch off. One way or another, I have to find a way to live with this pain, just like people who battle addictions have to find a way to live with always having those cravings – even when they don’t give in to them.

I have a friend who is at risk for diabetes because of her family history. When she eats sugary foods, she has a hard time stopping. I think she hopes that if she stays away from the sugar, she’ll eventually just not even want it any more. I don’t think that’s likely to happen. I think her family members who became diabetic did so because they didn’t work as hard as she does to control the cravings. Somewhere in her personal, unique physiology, is a sugar junkie gene, or the equivalent, and it’s always going to make her want that second piece of cake, or that fourth piece of fudge, as soon as she eats the first one. But I don’t think occasionally forgetting and having that first piece, or even two, makes her a bad person. (And you need to stop beating yourself up about it!)

We all have to be able to forgive ourselves when we make these mistakes, or “fall off the wagon,” or when something doesn’t work (or doesn’t keep working). And then we need to get up and try again. Because failure is always an option. Giving up isn’t.

Walkin’ off the cookies

Mio pedometer

A handy little gadget, if you have pockets…

Because I have this cool little pedometer with a lot of functions for telling me how far I’ve walked, and how many calories I burned during that walk, I’m starting to get a feel for how far I’ll have to walk to “burn” some of the things I’m not supposed to be eating to begin with. Like the package of Famous Amos cookies I got from the vending machine at work. That’ll take about five miles.

I’ll put that on the schedule for next week.

One of the things I find a little inconvenient about the pedometer is the fact that it doesn’t have any kind of clip for attaching it to my waistband or anything. Of course it’s really handy for carrying in a pocket, except that I don’t wear pants with pockets. Not fond of stashing stuff in my undergarments, either. I carry it in a “fanny pack” when I take Junior to the park for our walks, and I don’t know if that causes it to count extra steps, or fewer than I actually take. I think it’s close enough, though, considering I had no idea before how far I was walking if I wasn’t on the trail at Veteran’s Park, which is a one mile loop. If you go off on one of the little side loops there, there’s no way to know how much extra distance you’re covering.

I’ve found that “helpful” little signposts listing distances for trails at the parks I go to aren’t helpful at all. If the “green” trail is half a mile, that’s great, except when you can’t find any green trail markers. I’ve decided that it’s best to be self-sufficient and chart my own distances. I even have a little notebook in my fanny pack so I can write down all the data from my pedometer when I get back to the car — because I can’t upload it from the pedometer to my computer. And because carrying the extra weight of the notebook also burns calories (maybe nano-calories — it’s a tiny little notebook). But, hey, every little bit helps when you’ve got cookies to burn.

Everything has a Price

– Or – Nothing is Ever as Easy as it Looks

I recently discovered – re-discovered, really – that a glass of wine has a pleasantly relaxing effect on painful muscles and joints. But…more than one glass relaxes those muscles a little too much, making it more likely that I’ll fall down and undo all the good of the first glass. A fine line, indeed. And then there are the calories. Why is it, I wonder, that you have to burn 3500 calories to lose one pound, but only have to eat 20 or so calories to gain ten pounds? Seems largely unfair. Hugely unfair. Bloated with unfairness. Oh, well.

I’ve been walking regularly – 2.25 to 2.5 miles 4 or 5 times a week – to get back in shape, help manage my back pain, and just co-incidentally, take some of the edge off Junior’s boundless energy. Somehow, this is also making me not lose weight. Oh, I know, I’m gaining muscle, but that doesn’t actually show on the scale. It just looks like my weight has not budged in three months. Ugh. Why give up Klondike Bars when there’s no return on it?

I had thought it would be relatively easy and painless to take of some extra pounds once I started walking regularly. After all, it happened once before. I had a part-time job in a lab at the local Vet School. The lab was located on the second floor off a building about three quarters of a mile from the parking lot I was allowed to park in. I walked to the building and up a flight of stairs to get to work, and then back down the stairs to the parking lot when I got off. Ten pounds just flew away. Of course, I was carrying a small back pack at the time with about 3 or 4 extra pounds in it, and was on the ragged edge of menopause at the time. I have no idea if the menopause part had an effect, but I’m about to decide I need to start carrying that back pack again. That’ll be fun when it’s 90 degrees at 7 a.m.

But then, of course, the job ended and my dad died and I ate all those Oreos. And the ten pounds came back. That part was certainly easy enough.

Then there’s this whole computer thing. I seem to be naturally attracted to the hard way to do things. I could just save up and get a new laptop, but I decided instead to get a new memory card to try and speed up this old one. In theory this is supposed to work. In theory, it’s even supposed to be a simple operation.

In theory, this old laptop has enough memory, processing power, and everything else to run a lot more stuff than what I’ve got on here. Only it had been slowing down so much that I found myself duplicating what I had been doing when I first got it – when it had the hated Windows OS installed. I would open my Thunderbird mail program, check my emails, and then close Thunderbird. Then I would open Firefox – or I would launch Firefox and go pour my coffee while I waited for it to open. If I had my music program running when I wanted to look up something on the Internet, I had to remember to pause the song or just quit the program, because surfing the ‘net was not compatible with listening to tunes. Therefore the decision to upgrade the memory.

My laptop had 526 MB of RAM installed, but could be expanded to 2 GB. I figured one new memory card with 1 GB extra RAM would probably be plenty. When it arrived in the mail, my brother offered to install it for me while I was at work, if I could find a set of instructions for him. That part was not a problem. There’s a whole community of Thinkpad users on-line, with links to PDFs of the user’s manuals. So I came home from work to a laptop with over a gig and a half of RAM – that wouldn’t boot up. It would hang up in black screen, or it would hang up at the IBM screen, or it would get all the way to the Ubuntu opening screen before it would hang up. Aahhhrrrrggggg!

I went on-line and signed up for the Thinkpad users forums and posted my question. A moderator came back with a suggestion that I take out the new card, take out the original memory card, and install that one in the “auxiliary” slot. If it still didn’t boot, that would mean the memory slot was bad, and if it did, then the new card was probably defective. I (of course) got the instructions mixed up, because (of course) I had to turn off the computer to work on it. I put the new memory card in the “standard” slot, left out the old card, and started the computer. It worked like a charm. Then I decided to experiment and put the other card in the auxiliary slot. That worked, too. I reported all this on the forum, and the moderator suggested that I should run a memory test on that new card, all the same. Wha?? I guess it seemed kind of fishy to him that it worked that way. So more fumbling around on my part trying to figure out exactly what these people are even talking about, so I could make this test thingy work. Changing parts is not a problem for me. After all, I was a jet aircraft mechanic for four years. But there was a reason I was taking off panels and changing tires and fuel tanks, and not working on the avionics equipment.

Anyway, long story short. I’ve got both those memory cards installed. My laptop works a treat. It’s way faster than it was, and it can multi-task. I can listen to music while I surf the web and I can keep my e-mail open all at the same time. Woo-hoo! I’m such a geek. Sometimes the end result is worth the pain-in-the-ass price.

Freecell and Stress

I can always tell how I’m doing by how I play Freecell. As far as computer games go, I never got much beyond some really basic RPGs that I played on my old Amiga computer way back in the early 90′s. Yeah. So last century.

Since then, I’ve actually devolved to mah jongg and cards. I used to like Klondike, but since I discovered Freecell, I hardly ever play anything else. I like that all the cards are face up. All you have to do is figure out how to move things around to get all the suits on the Aces. I don’t know if there are configurations that can’t be solved. I know that I can’t always solve every hand, and it’s usually because I’m stressed out and not concentrating.

Once I get into some forward momentum, though, the cards seem to move themselves. Everything flows. And I relax. I figure this has to be good for my brain chemistry, yes? Maybe it is one of those kinds of mental exercises that can help head off dementia and other nasty effects of getting old. Maybe it’s a good distraction that can help with pain management. Maybe it’s a great big time suck and I’m just kidding myself about any possible benefits…

Nah. I prefer to think of it as valuable pattern-recognition skill practice. And fun.

I did at one time have a version of Galaga on my computer, and Centipedes. (Yes, my current computer) But I found myself actually getting more stressed out playing those. Definitely not as relaxing as I was looking for. I wonder why that is. How can anyone unwind playing Doom? (I realize I’m dating myself even further, here. I don’t keep up with games.)

I wonder if it has anything to do with how stress makes different people feel. I want to disconnect – shut myself down, like C-3P0 in the first Star Wars. I guess other people would feel better if they could shoot somebody or blow something up. Not exactly my cup of tea, although I do like explosions on Myth Busters. Maybe I need a game where I can just experiment with explosives. Does anyone know if one of those exists? I’d be interested to know. I can do without the shooting people part.

A Walk in the Park

The verdict on my back is that surgery can wait for now. Basically, because I can walk around without excruciating pain searing down my legs (and I’ve been there) more surgery might do more harm than good. And the procedure would be a lot more complicated, with longer recovery time and more opportunity for infection, etc. Waiting is okay with me. At least now I know.

The doctor told me to stay active, but not to overdo anything. “Arthritis is a disease of motion,” after all, although stopping all motion is not the way to treat it, either. So I guess I’ll keep walking. My new pedometer measured my favorite route this morning at a little over two miles, and said I burned around 230 calories (that’s a Klondike bar!), so I see no reason to try and go farther. I may find a pool where I can swim a few laps a few times a week. I’m not a very efficient swimmer, and can probably burn up plenty of calories flailing from one end of the pool to the other.

But the trail at Park Hudson will be my primary workout. There are more trees, hence more shade, than the “Mile of History” walk at Veteran’s Park, which borders a bunch of soccer fields. And I can go earlier in the morning, since Veteran’s Park (which has gates) doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. when it’s already getting pretty hot around here. Plus, more squirrels for Junior to try and chase.

Ramses at the park

“Did somebody say ‘squirrel’?”

An edge of wilderness

Plenty of places for those pesky squirrels to hide and play.

A little touch of civilization

Lights make it possible to stroll at night…and look for squirrels.

Ramses at the park 2

“Are we there, yet?”

This Adventure with my Back

I’ll soon know whether there will probably be more back surgery in my future. My appointment with the VA neurosurgeon is this week. Chances are, being a surgeon, he’ll be all for doing surgery. On the other hand, neurosurgeons tend to be on the conservative side when it comes to treating back problems. I think they know they’ll always have work, whether they operate on one more person today or not. That and they probably figure that sooner or later, they’ll get you under the knife – that is if your back looks like mine.

I’ve read some personal experience stories by people who have similar back conditions, some of whom believe having surgery was the worst decision they ever made, and others calling surgery a life-saver. It comes down to individual differences, sometimes the abilities of the surgeon, too, but, from what I read, you kind of get out of it what you put into it. If you do the work prescribed by the surgeon and the physical therapists, and give the process enough time, you’ll have a better outcome than if you sit around in shock because all your pain didn’t miraculously vanish the moment you came out from anesthesia.

All business about surgery aside, living with a painful, but “invisible” condition is a drag. There’s no percentage in trying to put on a good show or keep up with the activity levels of everyone around you. You end up three times as exhausted as a normal person doing the same thing. And everyone expects you to maintain the pace indefinitely. Or they get annoyed that you’re dropping your end of the load, without realizing or caring just how long ago you may have needed to put that load down for good. I’ve concluded that it’s just better to let everyone down right from the start and grow a thick enough skin (or shell) to deal with the invective about not pulling your weight.

So much for not indulging in a whine festival.

Pain management becomes your most important daily activity or you just get overwhelmed. I walk. I had been doing some exercises to strengthen my leg and core muscles, and for a while, those helped. But I’d still get stiff after only short periods of sitting or standing. I started taking the Puppy to a local park with a one mile walking path so I could know for sure that I was walking at least that one mile. After a few trips, we’d walk almost all the way around, then turn around and go back, to make it nearly two miles. I did it that way to avoid walking past the car. I knew Ramses would want to get in the car – he wants to get in every car we pass – and that not getting in the car, but walking away from it again when I was getting tired would make me even more tired. So I fooled us both.

But now that it’s started to get warm (read scalding hot) here, and that park doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m., I’ve found another park with a nice walking path and plenty of shade where I can go much earlier in the mornings. I kind of have to guess about distance, but I think I’m still doing close to two miles. And I’ve started going every morning. I’ve had to shuffle my schedule a little bit, but have decided that this is a priority. For one thing, the Puppy is somewhat better behaved after he’s had some exercise and fresh air. I say “somewhat” because nothing can change the fact that he’s a Basenji, and consistently well behaved is just not what they do.

The difference in how I feel after I get back from that walk is noticeable. When I get out of the shower I take when I get home, I don’t feel any pain anywhere. I want to jump up and down – which would not be wise, but still. The pain-free window doesn’t last, of course, but I don’t stiffen up as quickly, even if I sit at the computer for a while. Sometimes I keep writing longer than I should, but considering how often I can’t finish a piece because I start feeling so broken that I can’t think of what I’m trying to say, I have to try to find some balance.

I’m not losing sleep, yet, over the outcome of this appointment with the neurosurgeon. I may not wait long to make a decision about whether to have surgery or not, but I do intend to wait until I know the outcome of my VA disability claim before I schedule anything. Once I have that in place, if I have surgery, I’ll have some income to carry me through my recovery if I end up missing several weeks of work. It’s the waiting that’s so annoying. I’ve been waiting since January for this neurosurgeon appointment, and I’ve been waiting since last June for my disability claim to be processed. I’m ready for everything to be resolved, questions answered, and some kind of path forward in front of me.

The Bad Back Blues

I’ve had lapses before. Most of us go through the occasional “bad patch,” where we just don’t get as much done, or don’t enjoy what we’re doing as much, or whatever. I haven’t just been ignoring my blogs. I haven’t been writing much of anything. No book reviews – even though I’ve read some excellent books recently. I haven’t posted anything to Twitter or Facebook in a while. I haven’t been drawing or making tiny planets and dragons, either. This isn’t writer’s block. It’s everything block. Sometimes being human means there will be lapses.

Last May (by way of explanation) I learned that I qualified for Veteran’s Administration (VA) health care, since I only have a piddly part time job and no health insurance. I figured it was time to see what shape my back was in – if it had deteriorated any or stayed much the same after the surgery I had 12 years ago to repair a couple of herniated discs and alleviate the pinched nerves that had been making me miserable for the previous four or five years.

First I had to get through the basic physical checks – finding that my cholesterol was over 300 was pretty alarming – and deal with those results. It wasn’t until January that I asked about having my lower back x-rayed. I didn’t get to see the x-rays. I hate that. People who take x-rays (radiology technicians) aren’t the same ones who interpret the results – x-rays often go someplace far away to be “read” by the MD radiologists – so the techs can’t legally look at the films with the patient. That would be “practicing medicine.” That is so dumb. Although I can sympathize with someone not wanting to get slapped with a law suit over it, it still aggravates the crap out of me. Because the radiologists in their splendid isolation will never see the patients at all. How tidy.

But I digress.

My doctor was concerned enough by the results of the x-ray to send me for MRI scans. I, too, had a copy of the radiologist’s report from the x-rays, and I had to look up an unfamiliar term – listhesis. Normally part of a larger term – spondylolisthesis – this jawbreaker describes a condition where a vertebra is out of line with the ones above and/or below it. It may be “level 1,” with an offset of up to ¼ inch, up to “level 5,” which indicates that it has fallen off the edge and is basically no longer part of the parade. The pictures of x-rays of those conditions on the Wikipedia page made me cringe. No wonder my back hurts. No wonder I can feel odd slippings and slidings in my low back, and things that go “clunk” when I move certain ways. No wonder it feels like something is protruding slightly when I put my hand on that part of my back. It literally is. And I have only the level 1 condition.

The last time I was in my doctor’s office, she was able to call up the MRI images on her computer, and I was finally able to see for myself. I almost wish I hadn’t looked. Aside from the lower-most vertebra looking like it’s been shoved backwards out of line with the ones above it, the last two inter-vertebral discs seem to have gone missing. I was expecting some deterioration in the past 12 years, but not that much. I have to wonder what it will look like in another 12 years. And what other activities I’ll have to put on the “can’t do anymore” list.

What really depresses me is the fact that all this happened without me having to “do” much of anything over the past 12 years to help it along. It’s true I didn’t always heed my mother’s command to “stand up straight” when I was a teenager. It’s true I had mild scoliosis, along with a slight leg length discrepancy, and didn’t know it until I was 30 years old. It’s also true that I had some highly physical jobs when I was younger. When I was in the Air Force, working on the flight line, I used to push and pull some massive equipment from one spot to another – there just wasn’t always time to wait for the “tug” to come move it for me. And at the Fort Worth Zoo, I was often called on to help collect all the barrels of animal waste from all the other mammal department stations and empty them into the back of a dump truck. If you imagine a 50 gallon trash barrel of rhino crap might be heavy, picture five or six. But that was all years before I needed surgery, although I strongly suspect it all contributed to my present dilemma. Especially all that marching in Basic Training and tech school.

But not everyone who has physical jobs like that ends up like me, do they? I know other women who worked on the flight line when I did who don’t have train wrecks in their lower backs. And I’ve never been in a car accident, aside from a couple of minor fender-benders. I haven’t been jumping off buildings or falling off horses, or riding bulls. I must just have a crappy back to begin with.

That’s the kind of funk I’ve been in for the past couple of months. I’m waiting now for an appointment with a neurosurgeon to find out if I’m going to need another surgery and what kind of outcome I might expect from it.