A Little Roadblock: Chronic Pain, Mysterious Spinal Fractures, the “Joys” of Living with Epilepsy

A week or so after I was discharged from my EMU stay in November, I started experiencing pretty intense pain in my left side, especially at night, and especially with certain movements. As is my way, I decided that the best course of action, at least in the short term, was to ignore it. I’ve got enough, erm, stuff to deal with, went my thought process. This will resolve on its own, and in the meantime, I can tap into my deep well of masochism/willingness to tolerate extreme discomfort in order to avoid doctors.

And so, I waited for it to get better. It didn’t. Finally, at the urging of my husband, I went to my GP, mostly because we were about to travel to the States and I didn’t want to have a true emergency while there and have to navigate the medical system and then deal with insurance, etc. In other words, my chief motivation was the fear of potentially having a bureaucratic nightmare on my hands. But whatever gets me the medical care I occasionally foolishly deny myself, right? #selfawareness

After examining me, my family doc concluded that my muscles had probably atrophied from spending so much time in bed while in the hospital (lovely), prescribed some medication to take as needed, and told me that I should exercise and see a physiotherapist if it didn’t begin to improve.

Over the next few weeks, spent in NC and in BC, things didn’t get better. In fact, by the time we arrived at my parents’ house for Christmas, I was finding it hard to function, which, considering my weird and misguided pride in how much pain I can tolerate, is saying something. So, I went to my mom’s lovely physiotherapist, who treated me but also suggested that I see another doctor. And then to a walk-in clinic, where I was told that I might have a kidney infection. Back in Toronto, now, I followed up with a doctor who announced that he thought that there was something wrong with the nerves between my ribs.

For me, a complication of pain can be epilepsy deciding to rear its ugly head since pain=stress=seizures, and in this case, increased convulsive seizures aggravated the situation with my side. My seizures had been better, but now they were worse—five, six, eight/evening. So much for “Netflix and chill.” It was after that night with eight (a mixture of partial and tonic-clonic) that we went to the ER: my husband hadn’t felt it necessary to call 911 while they were happening, but I woke up the next morning still confused and in enough discomfort that it was clear that action needed to be taken. Well, not clear to me, postictal as I was. But my husband, bless him, is a smart man, and he managed to coax my petulant self into a cab. I can only assume that the promise of Lego and frozen yogurt in exchange for my cooperation was involved.

A full day at the hospital served to rule out anything “scary” with my side, which was, of course, a huge blessing. However, a CT scan revealed something unexpected: compression fractures in my upper spine, which the neurologist that I saw in the ER (and who ordered the CT in the first place) told us are unrelated to the pain that I was having investigated. Since “people my age” don’t usually randomly get compression fractures, he hypothesized that my epilepsy medications might be causing bone density loss—a potential side effect of which I was unaware. I was told to follow up with my GP to arrange for a bone density scan and to see a specialist.

I didn’t think through my footwear choice very well. #epilepsychic

While it isn’t ideal that my skeleton might not be in top form, I’m grateful that if there’s a problem, we’ve caught it early and I can commence appropriate treatment to prevent further damage. I had my scan on Monday, and I’ll get the results in the next few days. In the meantime, I’m popping calcium and vitamin D supplements like nobody’s business and have stepped up my already strong Greek yogurt game.

I’ve got this.




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