On the Mend

February 25, 2010
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I have been fortunate to have a wonderful career in ceramics for over 40 years. I have taken care of my body and my health, observing the necessary precautions yet never being overly consumed by a culture of fear regarding the materials I work with. I wear a respirator, and keep a clean studio and glaze lab. I have always lifted correctly. My studio and home are in the same building in a “live-workspace” and I don’t want to track ceramic materials into my living space. I can control a great deal of how I operate my studio. What I cannot control are the effects of aging on my body. I never had any work-related accidents related to my back.

I was recently diagnosed with several herniated disks that impinged on the nerve going down my left leg. This was not sciatica. It was way worse! This was nerve pain accompanied with foot drop (no control over my left foot/ankle). The pain was excruciating. (Read EXCRUCIATING and shout it out loud and that is how painful it is. Crawling on the floor painful!) I thought that over time it would heal itself and just go away. The usual drugs were prescribed, and over time I would be able to resume my recreation, my life and my studio work.

This time, the MRI showed pretty significant narrowing of the area within the vertebrae caused by the bulging disk impinging on the nerve. I made a decision to have a microdiskectomy. Also known as a microdecompression of the offending disks, the surgeon would perform microsurgery, remove the herniations, clean out any other junk that was in the spinal canal, and provide more room for the nerve to seat in its own space without any obstruction. I could resume a normal and pain-free life.

Yes, I was petrified to have even the most skilled of medical professionals operate on my spine. But the downside was to have the same condition reoccur and not get any better as I age.

The surgery is complete and I am now on the mend. There is some considerable pain, but it is well managed. My movements are extremely limited for a few weeks-no BLT (bending, lifting, twisting), so my studio activities are also limited.

I have learned to slow down and take it easy, and to ask friends for help. I have learned to pace myself and ratchet down my expectations as to what I can or cannot do for my daily activities in the studio. I can still draw, think and plan out what I need to do once everything has healed. Mostly I can thank my friends, colleagues, and my incredible wife Dorothy for their help and assistance. Now mind you, all this happened right during a major birthday! I still feel like I am 30 years old, yet I am chronologically a bit older.

I won’t be able to finish this year’s ski season, but I will certainly be able to ski many more after this one. I will be pain-free and grateful for the many years I have ahead of me to continue my work without worrying about my back.

Lessons learned? Even with the best of preventative care and careful working in the studio, the body ages and things go wrong no matter how good a shape you are in. I survived prostate cancer in 2001. I will certainly heal from this surgery and be stronger and even more diligent in treating my body with continued respect.

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On The Mend

Gina
March 19, 2010
Thanks for this excellent article. It really hit home as I go for physio on my neck and back. I too have followed what I believe to be an excellent life style; diet, exercise, studio practices, etc. yet as you say with age comes problems. I can change my lifestyle but not my genetics. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

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