Last Monday (June 6) it happened again.

As I bent over (part squat, part bend), I felt and heard the familiar pop, had the familiar panic of "Oh Shit, I'm About To Fall."  And my legs gave out from under me.  I didn't slip.  I didn't trip.  I lost feeling in my legs and gravity got me.

I've said time and time again that in regards to back pain "Until you know, you don't know." I can't even begin to describe the panic I felt as I crawled from my kitchen to my bed (where my cell phone was charging), picked up the phone to call my spine surgeon, Dr. Joseph O'Brien to get in and see him.  The GW MFA Spine Clinic informed me that he had left the practice.  I hung up the phone and spent the next 45 minutes crying.  I emailed my boss, texted my dad, and as a last-ditch hope, I started Googling frantically to try and find Dr. O'Brien.  And thankfully, I did find him, but he couldn't see me for a week.

In the meantime, I called back the GW MFA Spine Clinic to see if Dr. O'Brien's colleague, Dr. Warren Yu (who treated me back in 2007 for my back issues) was available.  Sadly he was in surgery all day.  So they offered their new chairman of orthopedics, Dr. Rao in the hopes we could get some images done and the ball rolling.  To quote the email I sent the GW Patient Experience team:
I found him to rather dismissive of my back pain.  He said to me "Don't worry. I've had back pain before and it gets better."  I asked him how long it lasted and he said "A year."  I've been dealing with my back issues for nearly 20 years.  Not once, not twice, but three times he asked me if i wanted more narcotic pain meds.  Each time I told him that I don't like pain meds (they don't actually help, and I'm still recovering from gastrointestinal issues/recent Celiac diagnosis). He didn't suggest any alternatives to the narcotics. 
After he performed a cursory examination and looked at prior MRIs/X-Rays/CT scans, I explained to Dr. Rao my back history and that Dr. O'Brien and I had a plan for my lower back (which was supported by the file that I keep with all of my medical records).  Dr. Rao was once again dismissive and said "I have to be convinced." I feel that he could have honored the plan at the same time as forming his own opinion.  For that he wanted a more current MRI.  
My insurance required pre-approval.  Once i received it days later, I went to the imaging center at 2121K Street.  The 1.5T machine was old, got very warm, and vibrated more than any other machine I had previously been in (including a 3T machine).  The MRI tech was quite lovely, though. I left with a copy of my MRI.  
A day later, Dr. Rao's nurse manager, Jami, called to say that Dr. Rao compared the 6/9/206 MRI with my 2014 MRI (ignoring the scans that I had in 2015 after a discogram), and said that he saw no changes warranting action and would I like to have a follow-up appointment with him to discuss? 
Over the many years that Dr. O'Brien had been treating me, he knew that I was not a fan of pain medication and that i often declined any offer of narcotics.  He also knew that I prefer to be proactive rather than reactive with my care.  Efforts to stabilize my spine over the years have helped, but the general trend has been towards more pain, less stability.  This was my fourth fall because nerve signals to my legs had been disrupted.  The second fall was in a shower and I knocked myself unconscious.  
I'm not expecting Dr. Rao to be Dr. O'Brien, but I do expect him to have respect for my already-established relationship with Dr. O'Brien.  I do not appreciate the fact that Dr. Rao's office staff was not forthcoming with information that Dr. O'Brien was still practicing in the DMV Metro area (only yesterday did I receive a letter announcing Dr. O'Brien's departure, but it didn't contain any information about how to find him/his new office).  I do not appreciate that Dr. Rao himself was not interested in hearing the surgical plan that Dr. O'Brien and I had (an ALIF at L5-S1)).  And I do not appreciate that Dr. Rao himself filtered my pain and my experience through his own experience of back pain; it wasn't empathy, it was dismissal.
In other words, there was no way I'd ever go back to Dr. Rao again.

Armed with a new MRI and my Metro card, I went to see Dr. O'Brien in his new office.  I can't even begin to describe how thankful I was to see my friend, my champion.  We caught up as to what's been happening.  We looked at my new MRI together and talked about the symptoms I've been feeling (namely, the ever present tingling/numbness on the top/sole of my left foot and down my left quadricep and to a lesser degree the tingling in my right foot).  He said it's classic presentation of nerve root compression at L5-S1.
At Dr. O's office after getting xrays. 
We're back at surgery (I was scheduled to have an anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) on May 5, 2015.  As I approached that date, I was feeling pretty good, so I called to postpone and he was in accordance with that.  I love that Dr. O'Brien is supportive of my instincts).  Dr. O'Brien mentioned that I could possibly do a disc replacement at L5-S1, but when he investigated the facet surfaces of the L5 and S1 vertebrae, there was just too much arthritis/erosion.

Fusion is my only option.  Either we wait and my body will eventually do a natural fusion, or we're proactive and do the fusion, clean up the bulging/herniated disc, and make sure everything is in alignment (the L5 vertebrae shifted when I fell in 2014). The way I look at it is that I already wrapped my head around having the fusion last year.  I got an extra year out of my spine.  But I'm also really tired of being afraid that I'm going to fall, the numbness down my leg, and I'm tired of being sidelined by the injury.  I'm ready to address it head on.

The good thing is that it's not emergent.  I don't need to have the surgery today or tomorrow.  But Dr. O'Brien would like me to think about when in the next 3 months I want to have the surgery.

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<3 Robby