I am living in a window.
I had a back surgery in July 2003. Yup, at 24. I wish it was a cool story, but I didn't do anything grand. I was working at a garden center during my masters program and picked something up wrong. It hurt all spring and through the summer. I went to a chiropractor. I babied it and it got some better. Then I bought a house. I moved things in and when I woke up the next day, I couldn't feel my right leg. At all. After rounds of doctor visits and an MRI, it was decided surgery was my only option. When I had it done, Dr. Nitka said "I give it 1-3 years before you are having another surgery. That's just how these types of injuries work." I didn't really believe him. I had the surgery, took a couple weeks off work (with some of the best colleagues I will ever work with picking up the slack -thanks guys!) and figured I could work hard and be vigilant about protecting my back and all would be okay.
I had another back surgery in October 2007. (If you are quick with the math you will see he was right on... 3 years). Didn't do anything crazy this time either. Went for a hike in Rock Bridge State Park on Labor Day and woke up the next day with shooting pain and no feeling in my leg. Dang! We tried to avoid surgery this time, too. I did it all. Steroids. Physical therapy. A nerve block procedure. Nothing worked and it was decided I needed surgery. This surgeon gave me options: I could do another small procedure and be back in 1-3 years or I could remove that disc, and fuse my two vertebrae, buying myself 3-10 years. After a whole lot of discussion, it was decided to fuse. (I was just beginning a 3 year PhD program and the thought of having another surgery during that was definitely a motivating factor). So I did it. Four screws and two rods holding L4-L5 together, with six days in the hospital, a month at Amy's house and two years of not feeling like myself at all (I put on 40 lbs and was both depressed and fairly miserable). I got over it. I am losing the weight and starting to feel like my old self.
The surgeon who did the second surgery guaranteed me two things: 1) I would not longer have any issues with the L4-5 disc (because he took it out!) and 2) I would have an issue with the next disc above or the disc below and be back on the operating table in 3-10 years. Again, if you are quick with the math, you can see what I mean when I say "I am living in a window". I have passed the 3 year mark. It is a waiting game.