I had big running plans for 2021. BIG. My race schedule was going to include a 50k every month beginning in March leading up to the finale of Run Rabbit Run 100 in September. I knew it was a hell of a goal but I was seriously ready. My mileage hadn’t been long but it had been more consistent than it had been in awhile. My schedule, although never easy as a business owner, had a lot less crazy after selling one of our businesses. I was ready to finally try and tackle the 100 mile distance again.
But on Monday, Jan. 18, just a few weeks into a training plan, everything changed. I met a friend for a short five mile recovery and nothing felt right. It was as though my right leg just wouldn’t cooperate and I misjudged rocks and roots by just enough to stumble again and again. I figured it was my SI joint issues. Nuisance yes but nothing to cause concern. A few days later I knew there was something more going on.
I can’t remember what I tried first. Chiropractic probably. Maybe a little massage. I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong. My SI. My back. There was a weird chronic pain at the top of my fibula. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely walk. I turned to dry needling (holy. fucking. amazing.). Then dry needling with stim (holy. fucking. painful.) In early February I sucked it up and went to my primary (and I use the term MY lightly since I never go to the doctor and had no history with the woman my crappy, self-employed health insurance stuck me with). After five minutes I was told “most cases of sciatica clear up in 6-12 weeks” and I was offered oxicodone, prednisone and a muscle relaxer. I took the muscle relaxer so I could try to get some much needed sleep, but there’s a reason there’s an opioid epidemic in this country. I (probably not so) nicely turned down the rest then promptly researched other primary doctors in my network and forced a change.
It took weeks before my new doctor could see me and I was in hell. I’m not a crier but most nights I couldn’t sleep at all and those I did were out of sheer exhaustion from inconsolable tears of pain. Never in my life had I felt anything like what I was experiencing. But ask me what was wrong and I still couldn’t tell you.
New doc is a triathlete. Primary reason I picked him. His immediate focus went to my leg since my primary pain point was still the very top of mu fibula. X-ray clean. MRI unusual. There was an edema but not the stress fracture he expected. He put me in a boot but a few days in the pain everywhere was worse. I nicely asked for a lumbar mri and he questioned it saying I wasn’t presenting like I had a herniated disc. But I had a feeling he was wrong and I pushed until he agreed.
There it was in black and white. More than two months after that five mile run I had an answer. L5/S1 herniation with extrusion. If you think of a disc as a jelly donut that sits between vertebrae, mine had bulged out and ruptured. And the jelly, or disc fluid, was hitting a nerve root with a direct line to, you guessed it, the part of the leg at the top of my fibula. I had an answer. Now I needed a solution.
So let me explain my insurance. I don’t get to pick my doctors. There is no real in- or out-of- network. There’s simply them. All self-contained medical centers of you get what what they give. I went to their PT. During my first appointment the ceiling started leaking from a plumbing issue and I ran around helping find trash cans to put beneath the water dripping everywhere. Seriously. Half my appointment was spent with the PT more concerned about the leak then me. And I was so happy that he made sure to tell me over and over again that most cases of sciatic clear themselves up in 6-12 weeks.
During my next, no surprise with a different PT, I was left on an extension table then pretty much talked down to about depression and how to seek help for the mental issues physical pain could lead to. All this awesomeness at offices an hour plus drive from our house. So I went out of pocket with my own PT.
I would try to walk. I needed trail time. But I was lucky if I could make it a quarter mile. I was popping 800 mg of Advil three times a day with 1000 mg Tylenol in between. I couldn’t sit on my couch and basically lived on a yoga mat on the floor. I bought an inversion table and hung upside down but could barely tolerate the leg pain. I read and researched and did daily exercises and stretches but eventually I knew I had two next steps; injections or surgery. Not one for the knife, I pushed my doctor to approve an injection and in mid-April he finally did. And when I called to schedule, I got the next slap in the face that the first available was ten weeks out. WTF. So out of pocket I went again.
Not long after my first epidural steroid injection I could stand up straight. I walked a mile. And then another. Not to be fooled, I pushed for the referral to meet with a surgeon. If I had to wait 10 weeks for a shot, I wanted to be ten steps ahead of the game if it came down to it. We agreed I should wait. Sometimes the body absorbs the disc fluid on its own. We scheduled another injection for a couple months out … just in case I needed it. And I did. All in all I went three rounds before accepting defeat.
I’m now two weeks post microdisctectomy. Surgery is another story in itself and recovery is bound to be as well but I’m hopeful and optimistic that 2022 will be my year.