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Chronic back pain

Happy New Year! I have DDD!

DDD means ‘Degenerative Disc Disease’. It’s not really a disease though. Degenerative discs in your spine are part of the natural aging process. I never thought I’d have it at 46.

I’ve been dealing with some back pain for about the last 4 years. Each time I went to the doctor they told me it was just muscle strains. I stressed out anyway, hoping that it wasn’t my discs. Bad backs run in the family–BOTH sides of my family.

Early last year, when I got back from Hawaii, I started getting leg pain. My legs weren’t injured, but they hurt anyway. I knew that probably meant sciatica. I also knew it was time to see a specialist.

So I asked some coworkers that I knew suffered from chronic back problems and decided on Spine Nevada. This is a top-notch organization filled with professional facilities and employees. So I started our investigations into what was causing my lower back pain.

My moving x-rays showed that my vertebrae are good and that my bones and discs are moving properly. That’s good news. My back is still stable and nothing is slipping. My MRI showed what I suspected–that my discs are wearing out.

I knew that this was what was happening. My discs aren’t ruptured, thankfully. My discs aren’t slipping. My discs are just old and worn out. That’s the not-so-good news.

As we get older our discs start to lose some of their sponginess and shock-absorbing qualities. I like to think of it kind of like this: tires on a car. When your car goes over bumps the tires absorb some of the shock. Tires that are properly inflated won’t bounce or bulge very much, but underinflated tires will certainly do so. This is how I imagine my discs. My discs are underinflated tires that bulge out when I go over the bumps in life.

When my discs bump out they irritate my spinal nerves. This is where my pain comes from.

So I started physical therapy. I was giving a series of exercises to strengthen my back muscles, thereby giving more support to my spine and making it more stable…and taking some strain away from discs. This has been working–a little bit.

I had a good summer. I have back pain all the time, but thankfully I’ve had very few “zingers”. When I say zinger I mean that sharp, quick, intense pain that makes your want to drop to your knees and cry. So I had an active summer, I did some hiking and lots of fly fishing. I did my usual deer hunting trips. I mostly had chronic back soreness all during this time. I was hopeful.

Then in December, suddenly, my back pain started getting worse. More zingers. More sharp pains. I strained my back muscles by exercising too rigorously. My back feels weird and unstable. I feel like I have injured myself and I’m afraid that I won’t get better. This has been quite demoralizing.

I live in fear of my next zinger. And I fear that I’m going to get worse. I’ve come to realize that I’m going to have back pain every day for the rest of my life. I fear that I won’t be able to do the things I love anymore–like fly fishing and hiking. I fear that I won’t be able to work or even leave the house. This sucks.

I’m trying to be positive. I’m trying to rest properly, lose weight, and get stronger. It’s kinda hard when you’re suffering in the moment, however.

I always knew that, looking back, my greatest regret in life would be that I did not take care of my health. And that has come true. I wish that I hadn’t slouched in my computer desk chair for 20 years. I wish that I had lost this weight and kept it off for the last 20 years.

So many regrets. Don’t be like Tom, kids. Take care of your health.

Now that I live in the mountains I have experienced what other locals call “Local’s Summer”. After Labor Day Weekend all the tourists go home, go back to school, go back to work. And the mountains are quite empty, while the weather is still warm. So we get an uncrowded summer in September. As for Labor Day Weekend? Most of stay home.

In mid-September I start deer hunting with my buddies in California. For the last 15 years we have hunted opening weekend at Jimmy’s ranch. And it’s always 100+ degrees miserably hot. And then we do our big week-long hunt in late October in Trinity, where it’s usually cool. This year we flipped the script and did opening week in Trinity…and were rewarded with cool weather! Then we did the final weekend of the season in late October at the ranch…and got more cool weather! But not bucks though.

September on the Truckee River is glorious. The weather is still warm and the water temperatures have fallen, but not too much to prevent wet-wading. The fishing is still good, with plenty of evening hatches and dry fly fishing opportunities.

In early October we have Oktoberfest in most places. There is a nice German restaurant in Reno called Bavarian World that celebrates (usually the first Saturday in October). There you will find marzenbiers, oompa-loompa bands, chicken dancing, etc.

By mid-October the fall leaves are putting on their brilliant displays of red orange yellow green brown. This time of year I’m at Hope Valley every weekend.

In mid-to-late October I’m still fly fishing the Truckee River! I’m wearing my neoprene waders, though. And the dry fly fishing is pretty much over. I’m still catching fish!

In late October is Halloween, my favorite “holiday” when I was a kid for obvious reasons. As a young adult I enjoyed costume parties and bar hopping on the weekend before Halloween. Now that I’m an old man I turn out all the lights in the house and hide from the trick-or-treaters.

In November the weather is anyone’s guess. It could be warm Indian Summer or cold and snowing. It’s rather unpredictable. I could still be fly fishing, or have hung up my waders and gear for the winter. And perhaps I’ve done a short little turkey hunt the weekend before Thanksgiving. And then Thanksgiving feasts and family and friends!

December in Reno is cold, snowy, and beautiful. I love sitting by my kitchen window with a cup of coffee in the morning, watching it snow, fiddling on my iPad. And Xmas, while not the same without Mom, is still joyful.

So there you have it. Everything I love about the months that end with -ber. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf Lake is about 20 minutes South of Lake Tahoe. When I went, there was nobody there.

Granite? Yes.
Tahoe Blue water? Almost.

The road to get in and out of there is pretty bad. It reminds me a lot of the crappy little road down to Yosemite Creek campground or Kaiser Pass road outside of Fresno. Will I go back? Probably not. It’s nice, but it’s not Tahoe.

You just can’t replace Lake Tahoe.

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