Surgery for Chronic Pain is Never a Good Idea

I’m back from my chronic pain group at the VA hospital. That’s a giant building where a bunch of good people are working on a bunch of hurting and ill folks from the military.

It’s always a gamble to agree to surgeries which bring knives in proximity to your body’s primary network cables in your backbone, cutting-tools slicing so close to our garden-hose of life, the spinal cord. Doing anything of this extreme nature is always going to be very risky. Unless you’re living in one of the Star Wars, Star Trek, or Starship Troopers universes, you’re not going to be able to have nanotechnology rebuild your body to original specs for quite some time yet.

If you’re willing to go behind the giant rack of gear that’s running your keep-me-alive-at-all-costs systems and start messing around with the cords back there, then you are both more desperate and more courageous than I care to imagine!

I’m not willing to go for it. Whoops, I already did. As it turns out, I’ve already exchanged one kind of discomfort for another, and it hasn’t gotten any easier to live with my pain since the surgery. I’m now in the camp of folks who wonder whether having surgery was the right thing to do? I know, it was 25 years ago, but still… I believed getting the surgery would help ease my discomfort and pain because the surgeon said it would!

It did not alleviate my pain. Maybe this has happened to you?

Why You Should Never Get Fusion Surgery for Plain Back Pain

Robert Langreth, Forbes


Surgery is always inadvisable for chronic pain

Today, the respectable Ph.D. head of the psychology chronic pain group for the Denver Veterans Administration facility told me that having surgery for chronic pain is always inadvisable. Excuse me? I’m not sure folks knew this just twenty-five years ago when I had shoulder surgery at the Chicago VA hospital.

By the time I had my surgery in 1994, I had already experienced about seven years of chronic pain. Between, 1991 and 1992, I fought for my rights as a U.S. Veteran to receive treatment for a service-connected injury with the state Senator. Working with the Senator’s office, I was able to get integrated into the VA medical system and was awarded a minimum disability rating for my right shoulder. Without persistence on my part as a twenty-five-year-old, I would never have received the disability reward, and never would have been given the much-anticipated discomfort-relief surgery for my right shoulder.

Back in 1989, a few months after being discharged from the U.S. Navy on early leave, I started working out and using my shoulders more than ever. It grew so uncomfortable that my mom set up an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to quiet my complaints (I lived at home for six months after the Navy). Within moments of examining my shoulder with his hands, the surgeon exclaimed, “Oh my God! You need to have surgery on this shoulder right away!”

Looking back now, I’m laughing. Of course, that’s what the surgeon would say! The surgeon said it with such conviction, I believed I needed surgery, and needed it right away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the $5k out-of-pocket at the time but soon found an alternative which was free. Somehow I came to understand that I needed to fight for my government-promised benefits because of the nature of my circumstances: I had injured my shoulder while in service, and the extent of the injury got misdiagnosed at the time.

Anyway, I guess these are the big thoughts that weigh on me whenever I think of my chronic pain today.  The circumstances of the accident, and the decisions which lead to eventual surgery. This story, which is still unfolding, also holds evidence that without the accident, the surgery, and the years of pain, I may never have been driven towards the discovery of my life’s most profound and rewarding work.

Time does not heal all wounds

We’ve heard time heals all wounds by burying the past, but that’s just a lie!

I think it does change the present to look at our past situations, because by facing it we ultimately decide to forgive everyone all the way around, including and especially ourselves. You’ve gotta make peace with yourself, man.  Letting go means you will not continue to hold within your bodymind what it feels like to wish you could have made a different choice, and perhaps be more pain-free today. There’s no reason to look back and be there again, feeling like you did when it first happened.

Except for one damn good reason: your bodymind holds that past pain inside the very cells which make up your arms, your legs, your skin, your organs, and your brain. It’s all part of a system that’s recording your experience and storing the most impactful events of your life. And you need to get your body to let go of original trauma so that your body will no longer use it against you.

The deep burden you hold inside yourself which makes you feel hate or rage or shame at whatever it is that has happened to you? It’s possible to dig it all up and let it all go. The ocean of guilt you might feel for all the horrible things you may have done to yourself in your life is something which can fuel and transform your hatred of the world into love for yourself and others.

When stewing in your filthy sewer thoughts about how you wish things could have been different is likely something you’ve heard many times before now. It’s easy for somebody to say, “So stop thinking about it, because you’re training your brain to focus on what you don’t like!” and not know HOW to stop thinking about it.

Finding our self-directed healing path

Before now, there wasn’t a clear and easy way to get yourself out of the dark-thoughts stew.

The relationship you make with your bodymind will help you see the separation between your awareness and your body’s autonomous intelligent systems which keep you alive. It will become easy for you to recognize when your awareness is focused on your bodymind-generated dark thoughts. These dark thoughts are driven by stored anger and fear, and they will erode your self-confidence throughout the day if you listen. You want to do everything you can to learn how to minimize these bodymind patterns.

It is impossible to see the horizon when your face is pressed into the dirt.

What’s going on inside your head and inside your body can all be turned around and calmed down, in the best way possible, by learning to bring your conscious awareness into command of some of your body’s automatic systems at will, despite the surrounding circumstances. It means you can learn how to turn off your animal mind and calm the fight-flight response mechanisms through the knowledge and practice of mind-body concepts. An example of one autonomous system your consciousness has control over right now is your breathing.

Here’s an easy equation for you:  Your Self-Awareness + Your BodyMind = YOUR WHOLE BEING. There are seen and unseen aspects to our intelligence. While no one can look at your thoughts, we can observe your behaviors. And while no one can see your pain, it can still completely consume all of your energy and awareness.

We can talk about your consciousness plus your bodymind without any need to complicate things further with “chemical imbalances” or “estrogen” or “dopamine” or words like that; we don’t need anything but logic to help clarify the apparent relationship between our self-awareness and our body and mind. The body is mind. Knowing this should change everything about the way we approach health and wellness.

As it turns out, there are hundreds of millions of people who do not know that drugs and surgeries should be considered “last-step” options after over 100+ other things they could try first. In our minds, when we believe an operation will help, it’s often the only thing we look forward to, especially when our doctors advise that’s what we should do!  But for many of us, after having our surgeries, we often think we made a big mistake. I would undo my operation if I could.

Although it feels good to share and let it go through writing, there’s no point for me to dwell upon it any longer.