Damage Control

I’ve been having a few health challenges lately. 

I’ve kept the Facebook Hangout readers and everyone who has elected to receive BookFunnel emails sort-of up to date, but I’ve had even more news lately, and thought it was time to put it all into one post and bring everyone up to date.

I’ve murmured once or twice over the last year or so about pinched nerves and back issues, in particular, my neck, which was giving me a lot of grief.  On The Productive Indie Fiction Writer, I reported even more fully on the condition, which is a common one for office workers and writers like me who spend hours a day in a chair staring at a screen. [And if you spend your day at a desk, I strongly urge you to read it.]

But in May, things took an interesting turn, when I literally fell off a shovel and broke my forearm.  I reported on that here.  At the time I figured I was just going through a crappy run of luck, health-wise. 

I finally got rid of the splint and had the use of my arm back, then my back started misbehaving. 

More pinched nerves, more pain-killers, more out-of-it days.  Chiropractor appointments.  On and on. 

I spent most of my days stretched out on our recliner, working as much as I could on the laptop, trying to keep up with deadlines and posts and emails.

I stopped going to the chiropractor because it hurt more after visiting him. 

Instead, I researched the best exercises to rehab pinched nerves and forced myself to move more–particularly gardening and housework–to try to rehab my back and get back to normal. 

It was taking way too long, I was still heavily relying on pain killers, and I fretted for Mark was doing most of the heavy lifting around the house. 

A Diagnosis, At Last

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

Finally, I got a doctor’s appointment, which led directly to x-rays and a diagnosis.

The pinched nerves I thought I was dealing with were actually four fractured vertebrae and a fractured rib.

In other words, I have a broken back. (Not something I *ever* thought I’d say out loud and actually mean it.)

It was a relief to know what’s going on, because for weeks I’ve felt like I was being a gutless wonder because a couple of pinched nerves were keeping me chair-bound. I kept thinking that I was pathetic for not handling the pain better, when people with pinched nerves got up and got going after a few days and I couldn’t seem to.

For the next week I was on prescription pain killers, that let me sleep through the night (heavenly!), but also wiped me out during the day. So I’ve been getting steadily further behind on books, on conversations and more.

But for that week, I stopped trying to push myself to move, to do things.  Mostly because I was too out of it to focus, but also because I was now deathly afraid of hurting myself even more.

I’m no longer using drugs because the prescriptions were for a week, for highly addictive pain killers, plus everything I take increases my blood pressure.  Now I’m drug-free. But it’s taking a lot of energy just staying upright and moving around. On the positive side, I can think, at last. My mind is clear. And I’m starting to feel a but more enthusiastic about working.

The weekend just gone was a challenge, as I was scheduled to speak on four panels at the When Words Collide conference. I got through it, but Saturday was the tough one, as I had two panels back to back, and had to sit in the upright chair at my desk because that’s where the webcam is.  I was very glad to get up off that chair afterwards! But I couldn’t have attended the conference if it had been live, so there’s that.

The Latest Developments 

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Yesterday (from my perspective, writing this), I had a bone densitometry test, and that was very interesting indeed.

There are three “stages” of bone density:  Normal, Osteoporosis, and a phase in between called osteopenia. This is when a bone density scan shows you have lower bone density than the average for your age, but not low enough to be classed as osteoporosis.

I am in the osteopenia stage, which shocked the hell out of me. 

I had fully expected to be at the extreme end of the osteoporosis stage, because in between the x-rays and the bone density scan, I had learned some sobering facts.

Osteoporosis runs in our family.  My mother had a compression fracture in her back five years ago, and it hasn’t properly healed.  And my daughter had a compression fracture in her back just last year.  She’s only a bit past 30 years old.

The other thing I learned was even more scary.

I followed a ketogenic diet for years because research (and some very good copywriting) convinced me it was the diet for weight loss and health.   I also have a history of seizures (which stopped when I learned I’m allergic to alcohol) and the keto diet was first developed to control seizures in children.  So I was sold on the diet.

I stopped the keto diet in 2018.

In the week between the x-rays and the bone density scan, I tripped over a scientific paper and two popular science reports referring to a study in Australia, all of them published in 2019, that indicates that the ketogenic diet, animal products and, in particular, dairy products, saps the calcium from your bones.  In other words, it brings on osteoporosis.

So I went into the bone density scan, fully expecting to hear that my osteoporosis was so bad that just sneezing would risk fractures.

Instead, I learned I was only (“only”) in the osteopenia stage.  My hips are right in the mid-range of the mid-stage, while my spine is closer to the border between osteopenia and osteoporosis.

The technician gave me some crucial insights while the scan was happening, including a very interesting observation that compression fractures in the spine can take up to a year to properly heal, because there’s no way to immobilize the spine.  Which makes sense, in hindsight.  She also said that compression fractures are funny things—sometimes you can go weeks before you realize there is an issue.

All the research I’d done suggested that compression fractures of the vertebrae heal in 4 to 6 weeks.   Which meant I couldn’t put a finger on why the fractures happened in the first place (except that perhaps, the chiropractor did it – in the drawing room with the candlestick).

Onto Pure Speculation (for now)

Photo by Juan Rumimpunu on Unsplash

If compression fractures take up to a year to heal, and if I don’t have full-on osteoporosis, then that means that the probable reason for the fractures was when I fell off the shovel and broke my arm. 

They only x-rayed my arm at the ER, then put it in a splint.  So if I had fractures from the fall, they were easily overlooked, because the only pain I was feeling was in my arm. (And even that wasn’t much, as long as I didn’t move it). 

I remember lying on the ground after the fall and feeling numb all over for a minute and wondering if I’d paralyzed myself.  But I could sit and move fine, after that, so figured I’d got away with just the broken arm.

It’s possible I’ll never know for sure how this happened. 

At the end of this week, I’ll be doing a full bone scan from top to toe, to find out if there are any other issues.  There might be further insight from that. 

But I already know enough to know I have to swing into recovery and rehab.  Most of the literature says that there’s no way to “cure” osteoporosis or osteopenia, but there are some alternative sources that suggest that diet, weight-bearing exercise (especially walking), and carefully selected supplements will help rebuild bones.

I have nothing to lose by trying.

Mark and I are rejigging our daily routine to incorporate a mile walk every morning after breakfast. Which doesn’t sound like much, but I find it incredibly challenging right now.  Actually, it freakin’ hurts, but I huff and puff through it, because every single resource tells me walking is the best thing I can do for myself right now. 

When my back is fully healed, I’ll get back into some gentle yoga, too.

We were already eating the best diet possible.  We switched to an oil-free plant-based diet a year ago.  Now we just have to tweak it to increase calcium rich foods and the one natural food with Vitamin D in it: mushrooms (which I love).  The rest of my Vitamin D will have to come from a supplement as living in Canada means acquiring enough via the sun is next to impossible.

Also, I’m into full-on Damage Control

Photo by Nate Isaac on Unsplash

One of the reasons I’m boring you with my health woes is because I’ve had a lot of time off lately, and my book release schedule is suffering.  This week I failed to keep up with posts and emails, too (although the Hangout guys were very understanding about that – thanks, everyone!).

I’m slowly easing my way back to a normal schedule.  I can sit at my desk for longer and longer each day, before my head, neck or back starts shrieking, and then I head for the recliner and the laptop.

In the next few days/weeks, I’ll be able to figure out how much work I can reliably complete each day, then I’ll have to address the production schedule (that is, the books I plan to write, and their release dates), and most likely adjust it.

That means there might be a short hiatus toward the end of the year (because I write that far ahead) when no books are released, to give me a chance to catch up.

If you’ve emailed me, or posted a comment, and I’ve failed to respond, know that it’s not because I’ve been ignoring you.  It’s likely I just failed to see it.  Things have been a bit slippery and, well, fractured around here, lately.

Feel free to tap my shoulder and draw my attention to your original communication.  I’m just starting to dig into my enormous backlog of writing, emails, posts, etc., etc., so I will make sure I address yours.

2 thoughts on “Damage Control”

  1. Wow, Tracy, that’s a massive heath challenge for you, thanks so much for sharing. So glad you are getting a diagnosis and a plan so that you’re no longer having to just grin and bear the pain!

    1. Thanks, Ingrid!

      Still working on building the formal, medical expert directed side of the plan, but I’m already making changes on the homefront.

      Looking forward to being as pain-free as possible….


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