Befriending Evil Elves & Overcoming Nerve Pain
Remember Indian burns when you were a kid? My brother and I would give them to each other for fun. We would grab the other’s arms with both hands and twist, quickly in opposite directions, and then we’d fall over laughing about the brief pain it caused. Now imagine having that feeling all the time in your shins along with intense stabbing, like a toothpick was boring into your leg. I came to call this stabbing pain my “tiny, evil-elves.” I could see them laughing and poking me with little pitch forks. This is chronic nerve pain.
It was spring of 2011 and the snow season was a good one! We had just come back from a trip with out of state friends to Vail, CO. The back bowls were so heavy with snow our friends got stuck. It was one of those trips that keep you chasing fresh tracks and dreaming of cold smoke. I was starting to notice that I had low back pain, sciatica in particular. That’s the hot, radiating pain from your low back that spreads across your butt cheeks. I thought it was just from being at a desk for 8+ hours each day since I had been working at my 1st sedentary job in years.
Being a person who is pretty proactive when it comes to health, over the next 2 years I tried everything from chiropractors, massage, acupuncture, exercise physiology to prescription anti-inflammatories and pain medications. Everything helped, for a little while. I would feel great and the pain would go away, then it would slowly start to creep back in. These were elves I could live without.
In June of 2013, after dealing with my elves for over 2 years, I decided it was time to see a specialist. An MRI revealed a herniated disk. What caused it? Good question. With an L5, S1 herniation it’s really hard to say. That’s the joint in your low, low back that connects your pelvis to your spine. It’s the most common place to get a herniation. Disks are made up of spongy, crab meat like material. A herniation is when the lining that holds the crab meat in, ruptures and the crab meat pushes out into your spinal canal that holds all your nerve roots, thus the nerve pain in your legs and sciatica in the low back. It’s this particular area of the spine that the nerve roots come out of the spine and run down into the legs. So I had disc material compressing my nerves.
Can this be healed on its own? Yes, in many cases this is possible. However, since I had already done just about every conservative treatment available the less invasive methods were looking grim for me. More physical therapy was prescribed and then a cortisol steroid injection into my spine was tried. This was partially to diagnoses the kind of surgery I would need, as well as to relieve pain. Since sleeping was becoming sporadic the pain relief was welcomed! The decision to proceed with a micro discectomy surgery to clean out the herniation was made. I felt thankful for not needing a fusion.
I spent New Year’s Eve 2013 on pain medication recovering from surgery. Not an ideal party, but at least today I’m mostly pain free. Although it’s proving to be a long and challenging road to recovery, I am thankful for my health and know that it can always be worse. I was saddened to miss the season last year. But I’m super stoked for the coming one!
I’ve come to a place with my snowboarding and my back pain that has made me appreciate quality riding over quantity. I’m no longer a beginner just trying to improve on a groomed run. I’ve been there already. So what’s next with my great love of snowboarding? I believe the answer is backcountry.
As I spent my disability recovering from my tiny, yet huge, 2” incision I started to look into backcountry riding. I found tons of information and sites that offer everything from avalanche education, gear, guides to snowcat and helicopter tours. Wow! It’s overwhelming in fact. Intimidating is somewhat of an understatement. Do I need to be a professional to do this kind of thing? The information was not very centralized. I’ve spent hours researching and combing through all the sites. I feel like I have just as many questions as when I started. Then I had an ah-ha moment! What if I came up with something to centralize all of this information? I’ve always wanted to be self-employed and I am passionate about snow play. The idea for Snow Minions was born.
My vision for Snow Minions is that it will become the hub of backcountry resources and education. A central location for people to connect with what they need to fulfill their passion for powder. Why not share my learning with others so that they can progress too? So I’m building a website and blog that will create a place for people to learn and grow into the backcountry experience. This backcountry concept feels elusive, like it’s something meant for professionals or adrenaline junkies only. Snow Minions is the bridge between those that want to drop off a 30 foot cliff face and people like me, who are simply looking to have quality days on un-groomed snow. This is my chance to do something that both me and my body love.
I see an opportunity to reach out to all of the other people like myself that want more out of their skiing/riding experience than lift lines and crowds. I mean, there’s no way that I’m the only person seeking this change in their snow experience that’s feeling a bit lost in the backcountry conversation. I’m just not that unique. This seems to be the right idea at the right time. I hope I’m right.
So this is my shot at getting out of the “cube farm” career path and onto something more active. Something that will help my back get better and stronger, not possibly cause another surgery. It’s crazy to me that sitting could be the culprit. I may have to learn to live with some intermittent nerve pain for the rest of my life anyway. As I sit and type this story, my elves are back. I can hear them laughing maniacally. Ironically, this motivates me. I’m on a mission to heal my body, get stronger and happier even if I have to accept that these elves could be my life-long friends. At least I know they love to snowboard. Maybe one day I can consider them my friends, warning me of when I have done too much.
This is my journey on the path of health and recovery. Overcoming the Evil Elves has opened my eyes to dreams I was unaware I wanted to chase. It may not be pain-free, but I guess life isn’t either. I’ll see you at the next peak, chasing that cold smoke. Race you to the top?!
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