Saturday, November 8, 2008

How to Fix a Broken Back

Sorry, no pictures.

When Multiple Myeloma attacks the bones of your skeleton it does so one cell at a time. The resulting structure closely resembles a honeycomb, for want of a better comparison. When enough of the bone cells have been attacked the bone will no longer be able to bear its accustomed load.

When that happens, the bone BREAKS.

A sneeze can shatter your ribs. Bending down to tie your shoe can break your arm.

LIFTING A VW ENGINE can shatter your spine.

A Volkswagen engine weighs about 185 lbs. I am accustomed to picking them up and moving them around the shop with no problem. After I was diagnosed with MM I couldn't even pick ME up... and couldn't walk around my shop... unless I was braced with two canes.

I had crushed the third lumbar vertebrae in my spine. (Where's that? Put on a pair of skivvies, the waist band will fall right across the 3rd lumbar vertebrae.)

Being thicker, the top & bottom of the vertebrae was okay but the column between them was honeycombed and my normal activities -- probably lifting something -- crushed the vertebrae. Oddly enough, except for the initial fracture, this was not especially painful since it did not involve the spinal cord. So long as I assumed a posture that had me leaning forward, I was free of pain... until I had to bend or turn, in which case the pain could be so bad that there's simply no way to describe it. In time, this forward-leaning posture would have become my NORMAL posture, and the resultant pain would make my life a living hell.

To correct this abnormal posture I had to lay on my stomach and allow my spine to be stretched out to its original, pre-fracture dimension. This was quite painful but the pain was overcome with drugs.

The table on which I laid slide back & forth on a rail. There was an X-ray machine situated above the table and a fluorescent screen below the table, allowing the radiologist to 'see' my spine. The area above the fracture had been numbed with local anesthetics and I had been given additional pain-killers and tranquilizers.

The radiologist then inserted a large diameter needle (ie, 11mm or about 7/16") into the vertebra's crushed space, into which he pumped a fast-curing glue that served to straighten my spine and return it to is original dimension, or nearly so.

I was sent home after the procedure, higher than a kite from the pain-killers but literally feeling no pain. That was on Thursday the 30th of October. Today is the 8th of November and I'm feeling quite well.

The procedure is called 'vetebroplasty.' The procedure was developed in France in 1984 and is familiar to a number of Navy subscribers on this Newsgroup who have been using it to repair odds & ends of uncle Sam's sea-going machinery since the late 1970's, substituting JB WELD and a grease gun, instead of the more expensive medical equipment.

So... howz it working? It's a bit too soon to say for sure, but it seems to be a success, although I have to be careful whenever my wife is around, letting out a suitable moan or sigh and putting a hand to my back whenever she draws near. 'Cause if she thinks I'm getting better, she's got a list of 'honey-do's' as long as my arm... Ooops! Here she comes. I'll have to slip into Moaning Mode.

-Robert S. Hoover