Six weeks before I was supposed to hop on the PCT last year (2013) and begin the adventure of a lifetime, the disk between my fourth and fifth lumbar ruptured. I had already been living with back pain for years. So, when I felt a sharp pull in my lower back that day I ignored it, and I proceeded on with my eight mile flat hike on the Stevens Creek Trail in Mountain View anyway. The walk went fine. Pain, yes, but I was used to it. My husband and I drove back to our apartment in San José. When I got up out of the car, there was a sudden explosion of pain in the lower left side of my back, then nothing. I took a step, then another. By the tenth, I was no longer able to move my leg without screaming. The pain shot up and down the left side of my body like nothing I’d ever felt before. And it just got worse. There was no position I could put myself in to make the pain stop.
When I finally made it to the doctor, he told me my disk had ruptured. I didn’t realize how serious the injury was. “I only have six weeks to heal,” I kept telling the spine doctor. “I can push my start date back a week or two, but that’s it! How do I speed this up?” To my doctor’s credit, he downplayed the magnitude of the injury because I was motivated to heal and he wanted me to maintain that attitude.
Obviously, I was in a fair amount of denial. Three steroid injections that first week, I still thought I was going to make the start date. I couldn’t bend or squat—I couldn’t even walk very far—but I was convinced that all I needed was mental fortitude and I would be hiking the PCT with no problem.
A month later, I told the doctor that not only was my back not healing, but something seemed to be wrong with my left leg and foot. It felt like dead weight half of the time. He started using phrases like “a rupture this size” and “the gravity of the injury.” He showed me the MRI, which did not look good. All the soft stuff squirted out around my spinal nerve. The doctor was actually impressed with how much I was able to do, which was just limp around the track one lap at a time. Not a good sign. My conviction that I’d be hiking the PCT began to crumble. But I held on, right up to the end when I finally had to admit to everyone that, yeah, okay- it wasn’t happening.