I was very anxious, as it had been five months, to hear what the Interventional Radiologist, or IR doctor, had to say about how he would be doing the procedure. As usual, the appointment was over the phone, late morning, at 11.30 am. I explained to the doctor that the pain was returning and on his last recommendation, I should call him immediately to get this new procedure booked. He wanted me to describe the pain in detail, giving the occurrence and severity.

I began by explaining that I went out on my usual walks each day, but sadly, these walks were getting shorter and shorter in length. At some points this severe, sharp, and electrifying bolt of pain would resonate down my left leg; it would start in my back, over the hip and into the top of my knee. When recovering on the floor I would feel a more direct line of pain coming from the spine, making it impossible to walk or bear any bodyweight of any kind.

Telling the doctor, I could define the pathway of pain (radiculopathy) very easily at this point because of the procedure of radiofrequency ablation – which is a rubbing off of nerve endings to alleviate pain – that was done back in July and August was now beginning to wear off. I explained a very sharp pain is now increasingly making it difficult in any situation, especially getting in and out of a car, bathtub, bed …… anyway you get the idea.

At night, I told them, when I was relaxing with the heating pad sandwiched in between my lower back and a cushion for support, I would have a sudden twinge and I knew from prior experience that the stiff, locked up back was now going to kick in.

The muscles in the lower back would react automatically, going into protection mode; they act on messaging from the central nervous system to tighten to protect the spine.

As they did, oh boy, did it get painful. I would picture it trapping yet another nerve, thinking to myself, Is there any end to this pain? I would lay out, flat on my back on the floor to try and stretch my already tensed back with the hope that I could release the trapped nerve again.

Have you ever been to the dentist, and had an exposed nerve? Or touch something extremely hot, burning your finger? That first, sharp, initial pain? That’s what it feels like for me.

As far as the stiff back, well it’s hard to get up and down, residual pain goes to the head, inevitably leading to a headache and everyone knows that pain.

The IR doc understood and sympathized with me and his diagnosis was it’s a problem coming from the nerve root located either at L2 or L3 level of the lumbar spine. He explained he could do a small surgical procedure with microscopic and CT scans which would do a “fraying” of the nerve, at the root where it exits the spine. Which he said has given years of relief to many people in trials, and he was willing to do that on me.

I then raised with him a second issue – catching my breath. It would often feel like a tightly cinched belt under my rib cage. He interrupted as I explained and asked if this has gotten progressively worse since we last spoke?

“Yes, it has”, I told him.

He went onto explain, “now, knowing the problem has increased from two levels of the spine, there isn’t much I can do.” There was not much hesitation in his voice as he referred me immediately back to my surgeon.

I was so frustrated at this time because I knew while waiting for the surgeon to call me back that I would be in intense pain that would carry from both levels until I get the surgery. His office was very quick in responding two days later, where I was thinking at least two weeks.

Only one week later, I’m speaking with my surgeon, remembering, this is the 2nd opinion Surgeon given by my provider, who also had no hesitation saying “Ok, it’s time for surgery, and we need to get you in ASAP, but we are not doing the full fusion as your previous surgeon mentioned, where we would fuse the whole lumbar spine. We will do a more modernized surgery called an extensive lateral interbody fusion.”

They continued to explain, “Robotically, we can set instrumentation into the side of your body that makes for much less invasive, and a much quicker surgery with a lot quicker recovery. 1” portal retractor reaches the problem area of your spine it will remove all remaining damaged cartilage left at the lumbar/thoracic junction, then replace with a small bone fragment encapsulated inside a biopolymer implant, which will eventually in time fuse the joint. Lastly, I will extend two rods on already fitted hardware from the last surgery to hold the new joint in place”. Here is a small video clip to explain the procedure in more detail (click this link for video). XLIF

Photo by Anna Shvets

Edited by Shane Bingham