Me and My Spine

So this year my parents, who I’m pretty sure are the Best Parents in the World — not that it’s a competition, mind you, but yeah, they’d totally win — are enjoying a pretty big birthday milestone. To celebrate, they’re knocking off some bucket items, and it pretty much sums up who they are that for his part my Dad wanted to take his Jeep Grand Cherokee through the famed Rubicon Trail and go backpacking on the Colorado Trail in the Rocky Mountains.

Because he’s a badass, that’s why.

I couldn’t do the Jeep trip, so of course I said I’d go with him backpacking. And so did my brother and two members of the next generation of Livingstons. I mean, if Granddad can blow up a trail, surely the rest of us young uns can, too, right?

Going into the event, I really only had one worry: I might have been born in Colorado, but these days I live in Charleston. If I go upstairs I double my altitude. And this hike was going to be 20 miles long, a couple thousand feet of elevation gain, starting around 11,000 feet above sea level.

Still, I’ve done far harder things. I figured I’d maybe get a little winded and have to take it slow. Otherwise, no problem.

As it happens, I didn’t really ever get winded. Oxygen wasn’t a problem.

This was:

Lo! my innards!

Lo! my innards!

What you’re looking at is an MRI taken back here in Charleston a few weeks ago. I’ve helpfully added an arrow and a proper emoji to point out the issue. That big stream of white is the trunk of my spinal cord with all the major nerves moving in and out of it. And see that darker blob in the midst of it, right where the arrow is pointing? Yeah, that totally shouldn’t be there.

I slipped a disc, as they say. The disc between my L4 and L5 vertebrae ruptured and smashed into the sciatic nerve strand there, thereby crushing it into the “wing” of one of my vertebra.

This hurt.

A lot.

I didn’t hear it pop. I’m not even sure when it happened. For all I know it happened not long after I loaded my 35-pound pack on my back. All I know is that as we hiked up the trail (always up), I felt a growing discomfort in my hip. A couple of miles into what had been converted into a 4-mile hike due to inclement weather at our planned destination, I confess things were getting mighty uncomfortable. So I was really happy when we made camp.

By the time night rolled around, the hip pain had become what I would describe as a “whole-leg charlie horse.” What I know now, but didn’t know then, is that the disc smashing my nerve had basically told all the muscles of my right leg to engage hard … and just sorta keep doing that. For maybe 24 hours.

The pain got to be pretty nauseating. I did everything I could not to scream in the night and bother my tentmates. I couldn’t have slept more than a few minutes at a time.

A few days later I went to the hospital in Denver. They diagnosed it as hip bursitis and gave me a happy shot.

Back in Charleston, though, things were still pretty painful. I limped to my GP, who opened the door to the exam room, saw me squirming in agony on the table, and before the door even closed said, “You don’t have hip bursitis.” A handful of quick tests later — Hey, look, you don’t have any reflexes in your right leg! — and she ordered the MRI and a regimen of steroids and painkillers to get me through life in the meantime.

I went to Disneyworld. Good things happened there, as folks on Facebook have heard (and I’ll post about here eventually), though I confess the pain was pretty wicked even in the happiest place on earth.

Alas, my options are fairly limited. I can have surgery — “The hole I’ll put in your spine isn’t that big,” said the neurosurgeon — or I can keep on trucking and hope that my body fixes this on its own without permanent nerve damage. At this point, I’m opting for the no-holes-in-spine option.

And my badass Dad? He came through smiling with no injuries at all.

Show off.


  1. It hurts just to read this, Mike. That X-ray really tells the tale. Here’s hoping your no-holes approach works.

  2. ::::reels in horror at the surgeon’s comment re: holes and spines::::

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