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Pain consumes the brain. After twenty years of letting back pain consume my life, I know it well. Chronic pain weaved its way through all parts of my life: every room in my world had pain in it. But, on the other hand, I had such an intense fear of surgery. I feared that if I went through it, I would be worse. After finally succumbing to my pain and having the surgery that I needed, however, my attitude has completely changed. Back surgery was a life-changing vortex. I had a remarkable experience. My whole world has opened up to me. I have experienced this huge coming out of the cocoon: I realize that I have this awesome life ahead of me, that I never thought existed, and my mind is clear and present for myself and my family.
My back problem started in 1978 when I injured myself lifting and squatting weights for football camp. I was eighteen years old. At the time, I didn't know it, but I had herniated a disc in my back. In 1978, there wasn't much technology to determine what the injury was, so they just put ice packs and heat on it, trying to get it to feel better. I was probably not telling the truth about the pain in my back anyway, and, at that time, there wasn't a lot of focus on health and the physical body. I didn't play football that year, but I did wrestle and play baseball. And I also took up soccer. I kind of worked through the year with some pain, just put it in my back pocket, and just dealt with it. I didn't want to have surgery. That was my main focus: I did not want to have surgery. My father had some surgery, and it was a very bad experience, and everyone I talked to who had surgery recommended that I do everything to avoid it at all costs.
I spent ten years just trying to survive my back problem. When I was young, I could live through it. In 1988, I started experiencing leg pain, a pinched nerve, shooting pains, and couldn't sleep at night. I was basically living with chronic pain. So I decided to do a little bit more about it, and went to see a doctor who was considered to be a well-known back surgeon in Denver, and he told me what he was going to have to do, and how I would be laid up, and how much time I would be off. A family man with three kids and a house payment, there was no way I could be laid up for that length of time, and other people that I talked to about the surgery recommended against having it. So I again refrained from having surgery, and got into Tae Kwon Do - martial arts, where what I did for the first time was stretched. I was actually able to put my palms on the floor, standing up, and what that did was give me another level of relief. I was strengthening my abs, strengthening my back, strengthening my legs, being more flexible and more mobile, which helped me deal with the pain. I did that for several years, but, really, it was just another way of postponing the inevitable.
In 1991, I opened my own contract glass business, working out of my home. By 1994, I had turned the business into a multi-million dollar company, yet not without paying an unhealthy price. I was taking a physical toll in the field. I was really busy. I had no outside connection with people except through work. I worked seven days a week, ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day. I wasn't going to fail. That started to take a toll on my back. As I got more and more business, my back became more and more of a problem, and it got to the point where I couldn't sleep at night. I lived in fear of my back. I lived in fear of the company going under. I had a whole bunch of fear around everything in the world because of my back.
So, in 1998, I went to see Dr. Scott Burk for some help with my back pain. He put me in touch with Health South, and I started getting some physical therapy - massage, actually. I would sit there and sweat in pain, but I knew that on the other side was relief, so I would sit there and take it two times a week for an hour. I would get stretched, pulled, poked, and pushed on - just a complete, unpleasant experience.
Over this twenty-year period, my disc crushed, it herniated, and then it didn't fit inside where it was suppose to. It ground and ground and ground, until it ground itself gone. There was no disc. It was basically the L4 and L5 vertebrae sitting on top of each other, bone on bone, and a nerve in between. And then what happened to worsen the case was that it started to slip. I had a spondylolisthesis on top of everything. I had a broken back! Yet I still tried to avoid surgery as long as I could. That's when I met Dr. George Frey.
Dr. Frey did a spinal back fusion on me. He took a piece of bone out of my hip, which he used to fill the two cages that he put between the vertebrae. He then put two rods with four screws holding the two vertebrae together. Dr. Frey also put a little strap in between the two vertebrae because I am athletic, and he wanted them to stay solid. I went in on February 23, 2000, and when I came out of surgery and they woke me up, the first think I said was, "I'm ready to go in." I could tell at that moment that there was no pain in my leg. I was out of the hospital in two and a half days. I never had to wear a corset or a back brace. I just had to wear a support. I was up and walking the day after surgery, and off of the pain medication in about 30 hours. It was really one of the most pleasant experiences of my life.
My whole world opened up to me. I couldn't believe what I could see on the other side. Prior to the surgery, my shadow in the world was fear, I was fearful of everything. I was fearful that I wouldn't keep the business together, fearful my friends wouldn't like me, fearful my kids would not love me. I was fearful of everything. That was the way I looked at everything. So when I came out of it, I realized that was all driven by something that wasn't true.
What I have done since then is been able to deepen my relationships with my children. And, the first year after my surgery, I doubled my business, and that's hard to do. The surgery catapulted me into this new arena of who I am, what I can do, and how high I can go. I have built a lot of confidence in myself from the surgery. It's just been amazing and my friends can't believe it! I'm very, very thankful that there are back surgeons that know what's going on, and that I had back surgery.