I remember the very first time I “hurt” my back.
I was a Senior in nursing school and had helped to move a patient in the ICU. I immediately felt something happen in my back. But with rest over the holidays and OTC Motrin, I recovered and really didn’t think much more about it. I would say having four ten-pound babies, working in nursing, and living life with 5 active men had an impact on my having intermittent lower back pain and sciatica over the last 32 years. As life went on, I would have more frequent bouts of lower back pain, increasing difficulty standing up after caring for a patient (gosh I wished I had learned to raise the stretcher), and more difficulty doing the things I found enjoyment in. I can remember the Anesthesiologist telling me how my “back just crunched” when he placed my epidural for my last delivery, 21 years ago. But every episode of back pain was fixed with rest, ice, and Motrin.
Then last fall, I again “hurt my back.” I woke up mid-November with excruciating lower back pain. And while I went to work that day, I’m sure my peers wished I had just stayed home! The pain was terrible, the strength in my back was gone, and my left leg felt numb with deep burning thigh pain, which had begun in September. But here again, I thought I could fix it with ice and Motrin… until I couldn’t. I spent Thanksgiving lying on the floor when my family wasn’t around. I forced a smile at the table for the obligatory picture. But I was holding in the tears. I wasted three weeks trying to “fix” it myself until I gave up and saw my PMD. I had never seen a doctor for back pain in my life, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I left his office with a prescription for steroids, Flexeril, and an MRI. I remember him going over the MRI results on Christmas Eve, and the reading wasn’t pretty.
Working in the PACU of Reston Hospital, I have the privilege to work with great surgeons. So, when my symptoms and MRI reading indicated I needed a spine specialist, I knew who I wanted to see. The Surgeons at Virginia Spine Institute have great patient outcomes and their patients love them. I had been bouncing my symptoms off Dr. Haines when I would see him in the PACU, but with MRI results in hand, I needed more than a PACU consultation–I needed an official office visit. In that first appointment, he listened to me and my symptoms, he went over my MRI, he looked at how I was tolerating my back and my pain despite the issues on the MRI, and we together came up with a plan to move forward, conservatively.
I did eventually require surgery, but we never discussed it until after we had exhausted all non-operative therapies. Dr. Haines gave my body as much time as it needed to heal the herniated disk and trapped nerve and the tools to help it do so. And he gave me as much time as I needed mentally to realize that the quality of my life was suffering because of my pain. I look back over those six months, from the first morning in November until I signed the operative consent, at all the things I had given up or altered in my life because of the pain. I had stopped driving my MINI, stopped sleeping in the same bed with my husband because I couldn’t sleep due to the pain, couldn’t lay the mulch in the spring even though I tried, couldn’t walk the dog and throw the ball, spent my shifts at the hospital standing on one leg to relieve the pain down the other, spent more and more time becoming less and less active, and spent numerous nights in tears out of frustration. I remember the day Dr. Haines said he hadn’t seen me smile in so long, and he was right. I hadn’t put an unforced smile on my face in six months. And he told me he could make this better. And he did.
Today I am back to doing many of the things I had given up, within reason. And yes, it would appear I will need Dr. Haines’ talent for many years to come. But building a relationship based on trust that your doctor will do what is right for you at the moment is huge. You have many choices in back specialists. I wanted someone who would treat ME and not just the MRI. And Dr. Haines did just that. I would absolutely recommend Dr. Haines to anyone who is looking for relief from back pain. It’s one thing to have a great clinician, but to have one that is also empathetic, compassionate, and patient all in one package…well what else could I say!