I put my pillow on the back of the chair and slowly sat down. Last Friday, I went to my first physical therapy appointment for treatment of a herniated disk in my lower back. (See blog post titled “Lifestyle Changes” posted on February 7th to learn how this began.) I glanced around the waiting room and noticed I was by far the youngest person in the room. This seems to be a common theme in my life. It reminded me of the days when I was hooked up to a dialysis machine. On Friday, I was engaged in conversation with an elderly woman when a man entered the room and called my name. “Valen Keefer.” I focused on the mechanics of standing up as I slowly eased myself from the chair and followed the doctor, Dr. Gus, to his therapy room.
Since it was my first appointment, it took a long time to go over my extensive medical history. I advised him of how this situation began and what has happened since I went to the emergency room on February 1st. Dr. Gus showed me diagrams and drew pictures to explain what is happening in my body right now. He gave me a very easy-to-understand yet vivid description of how the nucleus inside my disk has herniated and is pushing on my nerves, causing the pain and a tingling sensation down my legs. He explained how imperative it is to maintain an arch in my lower back and what positions are good and harmful to my healing. He also did different movement testing to help gauge my healing in the future. I left the appointment comforted by the knowledge I had gained but felt weighed down by the severity of what I have to deal with now and forever.
For the past few weeks I was in denial. I thought I would wake up one morning and feel better and this would be a thing of the past. After this appointment, it hit home. I realized that I had been ‘bucking the system’ and not fully listening to my doctors. I was sitting up for too long throughout the day and trying to do too much. Unfortunately, this is a long road of healing and in order to heal properly, I must be lying or walking on a flat surface, and only sitting for short intervals of time. I would much rather have him tell me that I have to do 100 push-ups a day and run 5 miles because then I would feel like I am accomplishing something. Plus, this came totally ‘out of the blue,’ as I was not in a bad accident; I just stood up from my chair. This is something that slowly happened over time due to the scoliosis surgery I had when I was 13.
It is amazing the ripple effect that can happen with things in our life. After fully recovering from my scoliosis surgery, I have not had any back pain. I thought that was one thing that was behind me and I could check off my worry list. However, our vertebraes work as a team in our spine and a big part of the team has been fused for a long time and has put stress on my lower vertebraes. I am now suffering the effects of that.
“Life brings us many challenges that we don’t understand. We need to surrender to the situation and find inner strength to move through it.”
Last Friday, I finally accepted what is going on and got over my denial. I was quite frustrated knowing how serious this is and how it will be a long road to recovery. I accepted that being stubborn in this situation is only going to harm me. Noah was wonderful and listened to me as I let out all of my emotions. That evening Noah taught me that it is ok to be frustrated, to wonder “Why me?” and to say, “This sucks!” It felt so good to let all of that out. At the end of our conversation, I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. By letting my aggravation out, I then quickly turned that emotion into positive energy. I committed to him that I would listen to the doctors and do my best to get through this like I have with previous health issues, with positivity and grace.
“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.”
Throughout our weekend conversations, we came to the conclusion that having this happen to me at age 30, while not ideal, may be a blessing in disguise. By having this brought to our attention, once I heal I will be proactive every day to take the best care of my back in hopes to prevent any future complications. This will be something that I will have to work at every day, just like I take medicine every day for my transplant.
I am going to apply the lessons I learned through living with PKD to this situation. I will accept this new health issue, I will listen to my doctors, I will follow their instructions, I will remain as positive as I can, I will stay strong not only for myself but for those around me. I am continually amazed by how much I learn about life and myself as I endure each new trial. This has allowed me to step back and look at my life. I feel like this is a turning point and that this will lead to something great, because I am confident that everything happens for a reason.
I would love to hear from all of you and would greatly appreciate if you would share with all of us your advice. How do you remain positive and/or cope when dealing with PKD or when handed a new health issue or challenge in life to overcome. We all have our own battles that we face and I believe we can learn so much from each other’s experiences.