My visit with the Neurosurgeon was interesting. She patiently described what surgery could and could not do for me. It had a good chance of alleviating the nerve pain in my leg and foot, but not the damage that caused numbness. That was most likely permanent. It also would not eliminate any actual back pain. In fact, since she’d have to drill a hole into my bone to reach the gooey stuff in my spine, she’d likely be making my back weaker than it already was. None of this would guarantee my ruptured disk would heal. Studies showed—she informed me—that while surgery leads to a bigger decrease in nerve pain, in five years time there’s little difference between patients who’ve had surgery and those who haven’t. Plus there’d be a moderate chance the disk would re-herniate. She was willing to do the surgery if I wanted her to, but she wanted it to be very clear what I should expect from it.
I had gone there begrudgingly accepting the whole idea of surgery, but before the appointment was over I was back to emphatically thinking, “No!” I don’t want my back to be weaker!
Then she brought up the elephant in the room: Me, as in, I am obese. Just losing weight could greatly increase the ability for my back to heal on its own without surgery. “So, I could be healed by this time next year?” I asked her, my mind instantly picturing the PCT. “I believe you can heal significantly in the next year,” she replied. “Enough to backpack for 4-5 months?!?!” I said. She paused. “Well…maybe.” I pushed further. “If I lost a lot of weight, and packed as light as possible, and went slow, maybe then I could, maybe, right?” I gave her my brightest smile. She smiled back. “I have confidence in you. You are obviously motivated. Try to lose weight and heal. I am here if you decide to have surgery. But go ahead and try. I think you can do it.”
All my dreams of the PCT came back in a big wave of emotion and determination. Before I’d even left the examination room, I promised myself that I would lose the weight, heal my back, and do my best to get on the PCT in 2015. I left the Kaiser building crying like a big baby—a big, happy baby!