Prayers for our faithful reader
We at David’s Way have a loyal reader who is going through a tough time recovering from some serious knee issues which has required a few medical procedures which have yet to provide the relief and healing where her doctor is able to release her for physical exercise involving the lower body. In the interest of privacy, I can not, nor would I divulge this wonderful individuals name, but you know who you are and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers for a full recovery. I know how rough it can be when all appears bleak, as if life will never return to normal again. I know personally the mental anguish of constant pain and suffering from a debilitating injury and how it can weigh on the soul, which is why I am penning this article in the hopes it gives you inspiration to keep pushing on towards recovery even during the toughest of moments.
My Injury and Recovery
In 2008 I re-enlisted into the military after being out for 11 years. I found out the Army National Guard would bring me back in at my previous Navy rank, and I jumped on the chance to finish my career. I had lost my Navy career during the force reductions in 1997 and this was a matter of remedying unfinished business. The military had been my life.
I was employed at this time as a concrete driver for a local ready mix company and really enjoyed my job and the great guys I was working with. Every day as a concrete hauler brings different challenges in getting your truck into locations in order to get the job done. I loved the challenge as much as I loved working outside year round. I will take this life over a cubicle or factory job any day, Life was going good, I had a great job, I was in great physical condition and being back in the service was bringing me a sense of being fulfilled.
Then Disaster Struck
Towards the end of July 2009 I was rolling back into our concrete plant from a pour when our plant operator came to me in a panic. Our main water line which feeds the plant had come apart at a union and had to be fixed as quickly as possible. Water is the life blood of a concrete plant and we had another big pour coming in about an hour. This water main had to be fixed expeditiously or we would miss providing concrete to a multi-million dollar construction project this day. The sense of urgency was so thick in the air you could feel it. We had to get the plant back up and running, no ifs and or buts. We had to make our concrete delivery happen.
The water main was in a deep pit. The line was 3 1/2 inch copper tube which came straight up to a 90 degree elbow, then lead to a coupling about 6 inches over, then another 90 degree coupling where the tubing went straight back down. This repair took being able to pull the tubes close enough together in order to rejoin the sections with a new coupling. The problem we had was we had nothing in which to pull the sections together, so it had to be done by hand. The sections were spread enough that the coupling would not just simply go back into place. Therefore, I jumped down in the pit, and pulled on one side with all my might in order to get the sections together. I was pulling hard, while my body was somewhat twisted, when I lost my grip which caused me to fall on my rear against the concrete edge of the pit. This hurt like hell, but we still ended up getting the job done. We got the big pour complete but the end result of this fall was a significant spinal injury.
Doc, my Leg Hurts
The next day after my fall in that pit, I hurt so bad I had to call in sick to work. I was in bad pain and thought being pretty tough, I would get over it and return in a day. The next work day, I made it through the day but with terrible spasms in my right leg. Being August, my first assumption, as well as that of my supervisor, was that I was maybe low on potassium and or dehydrated. I drank a lot of water the rest of the day and the next morning my leg pain had gotten so bad that I decided to go to the doctor to get checked out. I was still assuming the muscles knotting up on me was a result of potassium deficiency combined with dehydration, yet I had never had these kind of cramps last so long. Literally, you could see my leg muscles tensing into excruciating knots over and over.
I vividly remember the doctor telling me I had a spinal problem and me looking at her and asking if she had not heard me say it was my leg that was giving me trouble. In just as snarky of a voice as I had used on her, she informed me that she had heard me and that my leg problem was a spinal issue. I was then told I could not work until we knew how bad it was and then an MRI was ordered. I actually got in to one the next day.
About a week later, I learned that I had severely ruptured the disk at L5 S1. In the fall, I had squished the disk like a jelly doughnut and it was encapsulating my sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body and is intertwined through the piriformis muscle which is located deep in the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It runs diagonally from the lower spine to the upper surface of the femur, with the sciatic nerve running underneath or through the muscle. The piriformis muscle helps the hip rotate, turning the leg and foot outward which turned into a huge problem for me as my right foot want to drag and trail with every step I would take.
The first line of treatment was my doctor placed me on opiate pain relievers and muscle relaxers and referred me to a pain specialist who put me through a three shot series of corticosteroid injections into my spine in the hope the disk material would retract enough to bring me comfort. The pain specialist upon doing the first image guided lumbar epidural corticosteroid injection said by the appearance in the CT scan during the procedure that he did not believe the injections were going to help, but that no neurosurgeon would touch me until I had been through them. And he was correct. I received the third injection in October and he referred me to my neurosurgeon.
November 7th 2009, I underwent spinal surgery and then 2 months of physical therapy about 6 weeks later. Between surgery and physical therapy, my 12 weeks of FMLA with my job ran out and I was promptly fired when I could not return to work. By January 2010, I was flat broke and my home was going into foreclosure. February 2010, I declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy when not only was my home going into foreclosure, but my car which was damn near paid for was in danger of being repossessed one month before my final payment was due. Life was looking pretty bleak at this point. I was about to lose everything, still had pain issues with my sciatic nerve and only able to work part time at a job that required more out of me physically than my physicians would have allowed. I was also eating oxycodone like they were candy at this point in order to escape the pain. And, I was still having to learn to walk normal again as my right foot wanted to drag and trail with every step I took if I did not make a very conscious effort to make it track like it was supposed to. Literally, from the time of my injury, it took me a year before I was able to walk normal again without having to think about my right foot and leg.
By late July 2010, I was almost normal with my gait despite still suffering severe and chronic sciatic pain. I had finally got off the opiates after about a year and went through opiate withdrawals at home. They are every bit as bad as you may have ever heard. Sick and achy feeling like you want to die, then one day you feel better. I had considered getting a TENS Unit implant for the pain, but it was no guarantee to be fully successful so I opted to learn to live with the pain with no medicines at all, nor the TENS Unit. Being as I wanted to get my life back to normal, I began weight training again, but only with an empty 45 lb Olympic barbell for all my lifts. I began adding 5 pounds to my barbell every workout and struggled with squats, dead lifts and bench press in getting proper form. Yes, the bench press was an issue because using any leg drive would put pressure on the damaged sciatic nerve which had scarred over. This damage and scarring was confirmed through MRI, and will be a source of pain for the rest of my life.
Some would, and did call me crazy for resuming my weight training, especially with squats and dead lifts. Never the less, I persevered and worked through many painful tears in regaining my mobility in order to properly execute these lifts at significant weights. Why would I do a movement that would sometimes hurt so bad it would make me cry? Because I needed and believed my life could get back to normal or at least some semblance of normalcy. I could have gave in to the pain and accepted my fate in life as a disabled individual. My personal doctor had actually suggested I go on permanent and full disability because of the horrible pain I was still suffering. That was my final visit to her office. I was not about to give up and go on disability. By God’s good grace, a lot of work and several moments of shed tears, I was going to become normal again. And I have, despite still living with chronic pain in my right leg from my butt down to my right foot.
Today, my life is pretty normal, or normal for me. I am an over the road trucker who works 60 to 80 hours a week in a semi, delivering construction and industrial supplies across the state of Kansas. I eat healthy every day of the week and train with heavy weights no less than 3 days per week and try to go for a couple 9 mile brisk walks each week on my non lifting days. I know the struggles of recovering from a devastating injury, and I know up close and personal the challenges of working through tears of pain in order to regain my life. I know about finding my way and working through dark depression when it seemed life would never be worth living again. I have been through almost losing everything I ever worked for through no fault of of my own other than trying to be a good employee and helping my plant manager which resulted in a devastating injury which cost me a well paying job that I loved.
Friends, I want you to know that with faith in God and in yourself, that you can overcome much more than you may ever believe. Even though the road traveled to get better may be really tough and cause you pain, recovery is possible for most who work towards it. To this day, I have mad respect when I see others overcome challenges which are and could have been a permanent life changing events. Because of my own life experience, I will happily cheer on those I see working through recovery. In fact, one of my newest friends at my gym is a sweet 83 year old lady who works her ass off to recover from a debilitating stroke she suffered last year. The other day, I commented to Clarice it was good to see her in the gym getting her exercise in. She corrected me and told me she was getting in her workout, not exercise. I smiled as I knew exactly the point she was making to me. It is a great joy to walk into my gym and see Clarice getting in her workout. This little lady has tremendous heart to live her life normally and her efforts are obvious when she is using all the different weight machines and other equipment in the gym.
In closing, know that you can fly higher after a debilitating set back in life than you might ever think or imagine. You have to have faith and great drive. You have to put in effort during recovery even when it seems pointless to do so. Sure, you might put on some weight and lose some of your physical fitness after injury, yet that can all be remedied with a healthy diet and a mindset to do so. When the going gets tough, you have to learn to embrace the suck and drive on as we used to say in the military. Trust me, the pain of working through a recovery, no matter how bad it may be, is not as severe as the pain which will come from a life of regret for not trying to get better. When you are hurt, fix yourself and give others a reason to emulate your perseverance. The effort to overcome life’s obstacles is well worth the time invested.
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