I'm disabled. You can't really tell it by looking at me, unless you catch me in one of those periods where my pain is definitely showing in my face, and even then you probably wouldn't think much of it. Looks, however, are deceiving.
I have a number of problems, beginning with a bad back. I've got problems from my skull to my tailbone. The biggest problem is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis begins whenever the bones or joints have been damaged, and they add calcium in response. I've had two surgeries on my neck to have some of those deposits scraped away, to relieve the pressure. Each time, they've removed one or two disks, and fused the vertebrae together above and below where the disk was. This limits how much I can turn my head, or how high I can look up. The surgeries did relieve some of the pressure (and pain) each time, but it gradually returned.
I also had surgery on my lower back to correct "severe spinal stenosis". That's where the vertebrae grow extra bone, putting pressure on the spinal column and the nerve roots that come out between the vertebrae. The surgery helped a lot to relieve the lower back pain I had, which had become permanent, and unrelieved. I still get it from standing, walking, or moving, but it's nowhere near as bad as it was before the surgery.
My osteoarthritis is everywhere. There's not a joint that doesn't have at least some minor problems. One of my Air Force doctors said I was the first person he'd every heard about that had osteoarthritis of the collarbone. In addition to the osteoarthritis, some of my joints are "blessed" with bursitis and tendonitis, too.
I also have a problem called neuropathy
. Neuropathy (literally "nerve pain") is where the nerves are being trapped, rubbed, or pressed by the arthritic build-ups around them, or the excessive movements of the joints. The same problems that cause neuropathy also cause numbness, tingling, "dead" places where I have little or no sensitivity, and lack of coordination. One major problem I'm having right now is trying to discover whether particular problems are being caused by my osteoarthritis, or by diabetes, which can also cause neuropathy.
Another problem I have is degenerative disk disease. This is usually caused by the disk tissue not getting enough nutrients, and they dry out, compress, and even deteriorate ("degenerate"). That puts pressure on the spinal joints as the disks degenerate and the vertebrae rub together ("bone on bone"), or where the facet joints (the joints holding the spine in place) are strained. This, too, causes pain.
I also have Type II diabetes. I'm not taking insulin yet, but I do see that in my future, and perhaps not too far in my future. Diabetes does quite a number of things to your body, including causing degenerative disk disease and neuropathy, especially in the upper and lower extremities (arms and legs).
I also have a problem called sleep apnea, where I literally stop breathing for periods from thirty seconds to two or three minutes while I'm asleep. I've only found out recently that sleep apnea is a serious condition, and can cause loss of brain cells and memory. Luckily, it's not that hard to treat.
I have a few other problems, too. Some of them stem from the problems I listed above. Others are caused just from getting old (I'm 65+). One of the problems is tinnitus and hyperaccusis. Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears, and hyperaccusis is pain caused by noise above a low background level. They're both problems for which there is no cure, and very few successful treatments. I also tore the cartilage in one of my knees, and had to have surgery to have it corrected. That knee allows me to forecast weather changes far better than any meteorologist! I also had carpal tunnel surgery on one hand, and probably didn't need it - the real problem was some of that neuropathy I mentioned earlier. I also had to have cataracts removed from both eyes due to a nasty virus I caught somewhere.
My biggest problem is just plain old pain: headaches caused by nerves in my neck being pinched, pain in my upper arms, pain in my legs and feet, and pain in my neck, mid-back, and lower back from my spine. On a good day, I'll hurt for about six hours, reduced by medication to something I can tolerate. On a bad day, I never stop hurting, the pain medication I take reduces the pain to maybe half of what it is at the worst, and bad days can run together for more than a week.
I'm not going to 'get better' - ever. All of my problems are more or less permanent. I move in the opposite direction, since many of my problems are degenerative in nature. I've learned to live with my problems for the most part, except when they're really bad and not responding to medication. Luckily, or by design, I have a very high pain threshold, and I can still take care of myself, and do a few things around the house. A lot of the times, however, when I'm not on Facebook, when I don't update my weblog, or I don't respond to emails, it's because I just don't have the energy or clear enough thinking to do so. Pain can make you very, very tired!
I appreciate people saying they "hope I get better", but it's not going to happen. Just forgive me when I get grouchy and irritable, and smile and ignore when I screw something up. That's the best thing you can do for me!
Labels: disabled, neuropathy, osteoarthritis, pain, spinal stenosis