• Charles H Coutts

Personal Logs... How It Began

"Mr. Coutts, You Have A Full And Permanent Disability."

It all started with a dull ache in my right hip that would come and go. As an industrial maintenance mechanic aches and pains come with the job. You spend 8-12 hours climbing around on a five-story molding machine carrying tools and parts, you pull, pinch, smash or cut something on a fairly regular basis. Not to mention folding yourself up like a contortionist to get into the guts of that machine and replace parts tends to turn you into a piece of over chewed grizzle by the end of your shift.

I heard an old guy put it the best way possible in a single statement. "Man, my feet hurt all the way up to my ear lobes."

Sums it up pretty good so yeah, aches and pains were part of life but in hindsight, I knew in the back of my mind that this pain was different. But right about the time, I would be ready to get it looked at, it would go away and I would go back to work.

This went on for a couple of years and each time the pain came back it would be worse, deeper, and involving a larger area. I should have listened to that little voice in the back of my head but I needed to work. I had already gone through, knee, elbow, and shoulder surgery over the previous 3 years. Missed a lot of work, went through a lot of pain, and way too many painkillers. It put a huge strain on my wife with the loss of my income, hell, it put a huge strain on my whole family in one way or another.

There is nothing in this world that will test the strength of people's love for one another like a crisis. You may not each come out the other side the same people that went in but what is important is that you made it through and are still together. It was a hard time for all of us.

So with this hip issue I pushed it to the back of my mind and ignored it because as I said, I needed to work, my family needed my paycheck and I certainly had no interest in putting my family through all of that strain again.

Then the pain started shooting down my leg and a couple of days later I couldn't walk. My whole right leg felt like it was on fire and it pulsated like electricity was running from hip to toe when I put any weight on it. The closest pain I have ever experienced to this was when I ran over a hornet's nest with a bush hog and the inhabitants proceeded to make me fully aware of just how unhappy they were with me.

I thought that was the worst pain I would ever experience in my life until I got intimately acquainted with nerve pain. Unless you experience it first hand, you can never understand.

An MRI and a couple of trips to Green Bay later I had a doctor telling me that I had severe Spondylolisthesis which is a spinal condition that causes lower back pain. It occurs when one of your vertebrae, the bones of your spine, slips out of place onto the vertebra below it. In my case, the only option was surgery, or try to live with the pain from pinched nerves and the latter was not an option at all since I could hardly walk.

I had my first fusion performed in early 2019. 7 hrs of someone drilling holes and bolting my spine back together and hopefully back in the right place. To be honest, with all of the pain meds and stuff my immediate recovery after the surgery is a little blurry. I remember being stranded at the hospital for a week due to a blizzard, pain, going home and things are fuzzy for a while so I will just pick up when I went back to work.

At my job when someone was put on light duty they sit in the tower. It is a room overlooking the molding machine's main floor where the machine operator sits during production. I would sit up there and use the electrical panel to turn on the hydraulic pumps whenever someone needed to move an area of the machine to work in it during the downshift. Boring is not a strong enough word for sitting in the tower and unfortunately due to the three prior surgeries I mentioned I was no stranger to it.

It is also at reduced pay.

Once the Doc said I could go back to full duty I was chomping at the bit but also a little iffy about how my back had healed. It just didn't feel right but I wanted to go back to work and get back to full pay so I started doing inspections and light jobs like bench work, etc.

My back was always hurting and one night a little while after going back to full duty I was hurting so bad that I couldn't finish a job changing out some chains and wheels. I knew for sure then that my back was not right.

Back to the doctor, I went, and back in the tower, I went on light duty while they took x-rays and told me everything looked good... twice. I finally got fed up and told them I wanted a CT scan done on my back because I learned through some online research it is the gold standard when it comes to my particular issue. I knew it was not right but they didn't want to listen to me.

Well, when the results of the CT scan came back they were singing a different song. My back was anything but fine. So in Late 2019, December so Merry Christmas back into surgery I go for a second fusion even more involved than the first because everything the first guy did had to be taken out and the entire fusion redone involving more vertebra.

I was not a happy camper. Two spine surgeries in one year will not only push your boundaries physically but it has a profound impact on you psychologically as well. At least it did for me. Especially given that I had endured four invasive surgeries in the last five years up to that point.

For a man like me facing the realization that I was literally falling apart was a very "jagged little pill" to swallow. Depression was an inevitability and sometimes it got pretty bad but me being me, meaning I am not much of a complainer, I pushed that stuff down inside somewhere and ignored it. At this time right after the second fusion I still had hope that it would fix the problem and I could get back to work, put in my fifteen remaining years, and retire.

And there for a while, it looked like that was going to be the case until I went back to work again. When I started lifting things, climbing all of those stairs, bending and contorting myself it did not take very long before a familiar demon came to haunt me. The sciatica was coming back and a deep never-ending pain settled into my lower back. I would have pain down my legs every night when I got off work but after a night's sleep it would be pretty good and after a day of work, it would be back, rinse and repeat. and after a day off even my back would ease up on me a little bit until I started lifting things again. The more I lift, the more and longer it would hurt but bending was another big contributor to the low back pain.

I was not taking any pain meds at this time because that machine I worked on would take your life in a second if you did the wrong thing because of being doped up. Plus, I just do not like taking opiates, I don't like the way they make me feel and I had convinced myself that if this was as bad as it gets I can probably learn to live with it.

And then sciatica stopped going away after a night's sleep, the deep ache in my lower back started to become unbearable at times after spending any time bent over, doing something. Just take a minute and consider how much time you spend bent over in an average day. It didn't take long for that little voice in the back of my head to start telling me something isn't right again.

Back to the doctor, I went and back into the tower I went on light duty and reduced pay.

Not a happy camper.

Long story short, after all, is said and done my fusion is solid meaning the gap between the fused vertebra does not change when I bend forward or backward. The problem is that it fused with the L5 still out of alignment with the Sacrum. Anytime I lift something of any weight that uneven pressure with all of the scar tissue causes inflammation which causes back pain and pinches the nerves to my legs and feet.

The more I lift or bend the more inflammation I get which pinches the nerves even more until I literally feel like my feet are sitting on dry ice, a cold burn. The same goes for standing in one place for very long at a time and I have to recline throughout the day to relieve the pressure for a while from sitting.

After the test for function and strength, I heard the words that crushed my personal world like a drunk with an empty beer can.

"Mr. Coutts you have a full and permanent disability." I think somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it was coming but when that last doubt, last hope evaporated it left a cold emptiness in its place that I have to keep locked away in its own little room. It gets out sometimes and makes me depressed and that is one of the reasons I am writing this journal of sorts.

I am not any good at talking about things, I just don't have the tongue for it but I do a fair job at writing about things. Call it my personal therapy and if what I say helps someone else along the way then I call that a bonus. We are not all as different as people think we are and sometimes we just hear something that we can identify with, someone else is going through the same thing we are. Sometimes the simplest things can fill in a blank someone else needs an answer to, including me.

"Jagged Little Pill" is the third studio album by Alanis Morissette, released on June 13, 1995, through Maverick, Reprise Records

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