Twenty-six Inch Redfish

Remember the Six Million Dollar Man TV show from the 1970s? I bet most will. The show’s plot was that Steve Austin, test pilot, crashed a plane he was flying and almost died—almost being the keyword.  I can hear the words of the scientists and doctors working on him even now: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability.”

Here lately, I feel a bit like Steve Austin–and not the rebuilt model. To ease any potential worries, I have not been at death’s door like Austin, but it seems like once I hit 70, I did start replacing body parts! I am confident that I have bought my orthopedists at least one boat apiece from their work on me.

With today’s medicine, especially orthopedic medicine, we can be made better when our limbs and hips, and backs begin to wear down from arthritis. I have a new left knee. A fused spine where my lumbar vertebrae 3-4-5 were disintegrating and sending awfully painful messages down my sciatic nerve to my left leg. Each day it seemed I was creeping closer to living with chronic sciatic pain.  One out-patient back surgery to clean out the debris didn’t really work. Then I became well known to my pain management group. After a couple of minimally helpful epidurals, my pain management doc suggested that I think about a spinal cord stimulator that could be programmed to block the pain before it got to the brain. Damn, that really does sound like Steve Austin!  

A spinal cord stimulator is implanted just under the skin with two electrodes attached to my spinal cord just above. Or, is it below. Truth is, I didn’t care as long as it worked. The stimulator is implanted just below the skin, and its battery can be charged through my skin. The stimulator can be programmed to send tingles—small or intense—to different back areas that hurt. It is an amazing device, and let me live and walk and fish for two years before my spine really deteriorated and caused pain in my sacrum where the spine meets the hip. That was bad enough that I dragged out the cane I used after knee surgery. After unsuccessfully having a Boston Scientific rep try to reprogram the stimulator and several more epidurals, I was ready for the spinal fusion. After scheduling the surgery, the pandemic hit, and all elective surgeries were stopped.  It didn’t seem very elective to me, but that is a story for another essay. So, it was back to the epidurals again. 

Question: How do you know that the doctor has the needle with the steroids in the right spot? Your legs jump off the table like you are having the worst “funny bone pain” you can imagine. It is an 11/10 on the damn 10 point pain-scale every physician uses these days. 

The epidurals worked better during spring and early summer but started diminishing in effectiveness toward September. I called my spinal surgeon and told him I was ready to reschedule the spinal fusion, but I could not schedule it until after October. I had a fishing trip planned with my son, brother, and several other friends to redfish heaven in Hopedale, LA.  I scheduled the surgery on election day—something funny about that, but I can’t figure out what just yet. I open to your suggestions!

With visions of 26-inch redfish on the end of my pole, I had to do something. I could barely stand long enough to brush my teeth and shave. So, I made another visit to the pain doc in hopes he could convince my insurance that another epidural was required a month earlier than usual.  I also made a trip to my general orthopedist, who did my knee surgery and carpal tunnel surgeries in each hand, and pleaded for steroid shots in each shoulder so I could fish without pain. He is a fisherman, so he agreed! The pictures below imply my plan worked. However, not without some significant sciatica pain before the trip was over. 

The election day spinal fusion was hugely successful—no more sciatic pain down my left leg. However, I was left with a limp in my left leg, which Igor, my physical therapist, assures me that he can fix. Not one to doubt him, I think he is right. The limp gets less all the time, although he reminds me that recovery from spinal fusion surgery is a long journey at the end of each visit. He referred me to an Aussie pain researcher ( who says that we can recover from almost every kind of pain. His formula is twofold: (1) motion is lotion and (2) and do more than yesterday, but not much more.

As I recover from the spinal fusion, I am taking that advice, and I find that I seldom need to use the stimulator. However, I am not giving it up just yet! Not for a year, at least.

On Thursday of this week, I am going for cataract surgery on my left eye. Sure does scare me to have my eyes cut on. However, if Steve Austin can do it, I guess I can too!

For all you young whippersnappers who have run marathons and hiked mountains and played tennis and walked golf courses, YOUR TIME is coming. BTW—I have some excellent doctors I can recommend!

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