13 years ago I flipped an SUV five times, for two and a half complete rotations, while driving about 80mph on what we call the Interstate in Florida. A ladder fell off a truck in front of me, and at 18 years old I had basically zero defensive driving strategies.
I jerked the wheel, flipped the car, landed in oncoming traffic, flew in a helicopter, regained active memory about 8 hours later and within 36 hours was told to go home because I was fine.
I may have had a mandatory follow up of some kind. I don't really know. I was living with my parents, just started college, and generally had life to still learn about. I never went to any follow up. No one told me I was supposed to
7 years ago I was training MMA, as I've done literally my entire life major-injury free, and out of nowhere some really great contact was made from my opponent between his shoulder and my rib cage as he grabbed both my legs and we headed toward the floor. We stayed glued as we made impact with the mat and I instantly felt as if I were actually dying.
A noise came out of my mouth as I attempted to take in air for what felt like way, way too long. Before I could even breathe again I made peace with the idea that I'd be leaving in stretcher while that noise continued to come from my mouth all the way to the hospital.
Within 3 minutes and with the entire gym totally alarmed, I was able to breathe okay again, and within about 10 minutes I was able to walk it off.
I went to my doctor a few days later to get things checked out. Without a single xray I was declared to have strained a muscle and was diagnosed physical therapy. I didn't go because it hurt too badly, and I was too tired and in too much pain to do anything else.
12 months ago, I'd been pursuing safe and sane strength training for just about five years. Being aware of my previous back injury, I'd take things slowly and stay in tune with my body and never ever over-do it if I could control it.
Sometimes my back would "go out" and I'd be laid up for a few days before returning to almost normal. In the past two or so years I'd realized that I'm always in some degree of back pain, but didn't think anything of it out of the ordinary "I lived an active life and now I'm getting old" kind of stuff.
One morning in January 2016, I woke up at 5am, went to the gym, started teaching a lifting class feeling just fine. Halfway through the class I was feeling quite stiff and by noon for the first time in my life, I couldn't walk.
I went to the walk in clinic that night and explained my worry and surprise. I was told to go straight to the emergency room. From there, I got lots of pain killers and referred to an orthopedic doctor.
It turns out over my past traumas in the last decade and a half, I've broken some tiny bones in my back called pars which then compromised the structural integrity of my spine, which results in the bigger breaking of more and more pars, which ultimately led to a vertebrae slipping, which ultimately led to three vertebrae slipping, which ultimately led to them breaking, discs dying and nerves compressing.
Fast forward to now. It's been a roller coaster of a year. I spent some of it in a wheelchair between epidural injections, episodes of being able to lead an active life only to be put right back in my place by whatever was happening to my back.
I spent much of this year in an identity crisis. I JUST worked with myself to shift my paradigm from life and fitness being about what I look like to being about what I could do. But now I couldn't even do ANYTHING! I couldn't lift, I couldn't walk, most days I can't even put my socks on.
I'm so so so tired of being limited physically. I cannot even attempt to put into words the torture that takes place when you want to move your body and cannot. When you need to teach a two day workshop but can't stand. When you fear you might miss your plane because you were walking just fine two minutes ago when you were dropped at the gate but now you can't. When you wonder what people around you would do if you could scream loud enough to communicate the amount of pain happening from your head to your toes.
I am so lucky to be in the position where I can reverse this.
I felt like I hit the jackpot in December when I went in for my most recent epidural and the doctor got to see an update of what was going on in there. I then became a candiate for surgery.
Here's what my lower spine looks like now, next to an xray of a healthy lower spine:
Mine's on the left. Could you tell?
The black areas mean there's gas in there now instead of bone/cartlidge.
So anyway, a week from today I'm going under. Ready for the gorey details?
They're gonna cut me open in the front, clean out some dead gunk, put some titanium cages in where my discs should be with some bone graft material in them.
Then they'll flip me over, cut me open in the back, and rebuild some of the spinal structure with screws.
Then they'll sew me up. Over the next 12 months, my spine will grow some of its own bone matter to help keep things together and in place.
I have absolutely no idea what my life will look like 7 days from this very second. But I feel prepared for anything.
What other choice do I have?