So, about that spine …

June was eye month – six appointments, two surgeries, no more cataracts. Woohoo! My second eye is tired and showing flickering light, but I understand this is normal, or can be, and that healing is different for the two eyes. It really is a miracle to be be able to see so clearly in what seems to be no time at all.

July is shaping up to be spine month. I had my second lumbar MRI last week, full of ominous words like “severe,” “bulging,” “degenerative,” and even “scoliosis.” Today I saw my regular pain doctor, who has helped me so much over the last two years with injections, pain meds, and neurotomies. He read the report and said, “There’s more bad than good here, but we treat the patient, not the MRI.” He thinks he can help with some of the L5 level issues, but the falling and foot drop that I’m experiencing (did I mention that I fell again last Friday? yeah, fun times continue) are signs that surgery is in my future.

I have a referral in the works to a board certified neurosurgeon who I’ve checked out and who seems to be highly regarded by people I highly regard. We’re just waiting for insurance – oh, insurance! – to approve the referral. I want to research more of those scary words from the MRI report and to compare it with the report from an earlier MRI done two years ago. Because, yeah, I’m a research nerd and I like to understand what I’m facing.

I’m finding that I’m limiting my activities now. Heat is part of that, but I’m also really afraid of walking much on uneven surfaces. I went to the gym today and worked on the NuStep (my favorite machine) and did some back extensions to help stretch out the back. And I got a pedicure after the doctor’s appointment – but couldn’t tell if she was working on the right foot unless I looked, because I can’t feel anything there. The toes do look better, though, and after months of caring for my feet myself, it’s a relief to have someone else do it for a change.

I have a few clean-up projects to work on, including a serious weeding of my fashion jewelry, most of which I don’t wear anymore, and some reorganization of papers in the den. And there are a few pieces of furniture that may have outlived their usefulness to me, so I need to think about them as well. I’m also thinking about whether to paint the inside of the house, which isn’t essential but might be nice to do. The bathrooms and kitchen were already done 2 years ago with the renovation, but the living/dining rooms and bedrooms could use some refreshing.

But big stuff needs to wait until we know what’s up with the spine and what steps need to be taken to repair the damage of those big words. Just keeping my fingers crossed that this new doctor doesn’t think my BMI level is too high for surgery. That happened 2 years ago, right after they told me they were surprised to see I wasn’t in a wheelchair based on my films. Yeah. Crappy back, too fat to do anything about it. Hello, nice to meet you too. Fingers crossed this time.

I can see!

I woke up this morning and could clearly see the room. This sounds so obvious that you may wonder why I am mentioning it. But I’ve been profoundly nearsighted since the age of 9, and have worn glasses or contacts for almost 60 years to correct my vision. Waking up and being able to SEE was never an option without that.

But today I can see, at least out of my right eye, because I’m having cataract surgery with corrective lenses that radically change how I see. The first eye was done last Thursday; the left eye, the really bad one for vision, will be corrected this week.

It’s amazing. I’m so grateful for the technology that makes it possible to see clearly in bright, clear color. And I’m grateful for my brother who came up to take me to my appointments. I think I look weird without the glasses and am noticing the deep circles under my eyes. But I’ll get used to this new face, that I couldn’t see in the mirror just a week ago.

I can’t feel my foot

And let me tell you, it’s very odd to know it’s attached to your leg but not feel it when you walk. I went to the ranch last weekend, which involved about 4.5 hours total driving with my foot in the same position, and while it may not have caused any additional problems, it certainly didn’t feel right doing it. Then I fell again when I got home, walking across the carpeted living room in my bare feet. One minute I was walking and then bam! I was face down into the carpet. Nothing broken and only a toe bruised – but my pride and confidence were shaken. I was able to get myself up with a little work to get pillows in the right place to kneel on them but also trying to avoid kneeling on the bad knee. The cats were no help at all, sitting upright on the dining table watching me.

The next morning I almost fell again, stopping myself by grabbing furniture (the cane was in the car). Again, nothing hurt, but I did notice as it was happening that my big toe was kind of dragging instead of being properly picked up when I step, unless I’m paying close attention. Which is weird to have to do.

Next Tuesday I’m going to Jacksonville for another spine MRI which will be compared with one done two years ago. I’m expecting that things will be worse. My primary care doctor will send me to a neurologist, I think, but the pain doctor also wants to see the MRI results. I’ve been seeing him for almost 2 years, getting injections and nerve burns which have helped. But I still have this foot thing which is getting progressively worse. I want to know what Dr. S thinks.

I think surgery is probably in the cards. I don’t want it, but if that’s how to get relief, then it’s what I need to do. But first I have to get through seven additional medical appointments already on my calendar this month, most of them for cataract surgery with follow-ups, a return visit to the pain doctor, and the dentist for fun. In the meantime, I have the cane and am being started on new medicine that hopefully will help.

Now if I could just sleep for more than 3 hours a night, I’d be in good shape. But on the other hand, I got purple highlights in my hair so at least I look good.

Family time

It’s always a treat to head to my brother’s ranch, especially when other family members are gathered. This last weekend I had a chance to see my nephews Bill and Rob with their wives and children as well as my brother and sister-in-law. After a week of VBS, I was used to the activity level of a bunch of little people, but this time we had a baby, too. Here are some pictures:

The Big Toe’s Connected to the Spine

On my way home from my Boston trip two years ago, the big toe on my right foot went to sleep. And it’s still asleep, along with the rest of the foot, the ankle, and now moving up the leg. The toes on the right foot are curling a bit, and I can’t feel the big toe at all. There’s pressure around the foot, ankle, and lower leg that feels like being in one of those compression stockings. In fact, this is actually called “stocking” for obvious reasons.

I had an MRI of the lower back in 2019 and a super-fun visit with a neurosurgeon to follow up. The doctor came into the room, looked at me and said she was surprised I wasn’t in a wheelchair after looking at my films. Oooph. Followed by a remark that I wasn’t a candidate for surgery because my BMI level was too high. Well, hello, it’s nice to meet you, too. I wasn’t there because I expected surgery, I just wanted to know what was going on – and that I wouldn’t be losing my foot because I know of diabetics with peripheral neuropathy who HAVE lost a leg.

Nothing’s really changed except I ended up seeing the pain doctor and getting shots and neurotomies to reduce lower back pain, which was really a huge help. The foot and ankle kept bothering me, but it was Covid, and my visits anywhere were limited. And I was preoccupied by knee problems. Then the weird sensations started moving up the outside of my leg, and more than just feeling like pins and needles, it started burning. It’s messed up my sleep and my confidence walking, and it’s been more than just weird: it’s worrying.

The original MRI showed that I have severe spinal stenosis in the L3-L4 and L5-L6 levels. In the 2 years between then and now, I tore my right knee MCL and have fallen several times, including that memorable crash onto the concrete garage floor. Today my doctor told me that she suspects those falls are related to the stenosis, which can mess up your gait and balance. Plus falling itself probably didn’t help it. So I’m now getting a follow up MRI to compare to the original one to see progress or lack thereof. The burning, stocking, and neuropathy I’m experiencing follow the classic path of the nerve that connects to the area where the stenosis is worst, along the outside of the leg, crossing over and running down to the big toe. Bingo.

This really can’t wait, so I’ll fit the MRI in there somewhere, along with the seven other medical appointments already on my schedule for the next month. Five of those are for cataract surgery, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. And then there will be a referral to either a neurologist or neurosurgeon. Left untreated, severe spinal stenosis can lead to severe physical limits, and I’ve started thinking about whether that means moving somewhere that could be more ADA compliant than my home. Not a step I want to take if doing a little “roto-rooter-ing” of the spine to clean out some of the stenosis would relieve a potentially serious problem.