‘Pamela’ lives in eastern Iowa, prefers remaining anonymous, and enjoys reading this column in the DeWitt Observer.
Over the years, she’d had a number of physical challenges, including osteoarthritis in her lower back and carpal tunnel syndrome, but the spinal stenosis doctors diagnosed her as having in 2000 was just too much for her to handle.
‘I worked at the University of Iowa as a program assistant for twenty years,’ said Pamela in a telephone interview. ‘I worked at a computer and sat most of the day.’
After she began having arm pain at work, doctors in early 2000 diagnosed her with spinal stenosis in the neck. A National Institutes of Health website reports that spinal stenosis is ‘a narrowing of spaces in the spine (backbone) that results in pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerve roots.’ Doctors said she also had arthritis and bone spurs in the neck because of the spinal stenosis.
She said, ‘I remember this one day in July 2000 when I was taking notes at the University of Iowa and my hands just locked up. I couldn’t write. Two weeks later I couldn’t use my arms because I was in so much pain. I couldn’t use a keyboard either because the pain was excruciating. When I quit working I was actually dictating to someone who’d do my typing for me.’
One doctor suggested up to three surgeries at the end of which Pamela would have a fused neck. A second doctor disagreed and prescribed potent medication that somewhat eased the nerve pain. She permanently chose that option. After taking medical leave, Pamela tried returning to work in September 2000 at age 58, but lasted only a few hours before the pain returned.
She said, ‘We always thought that maybe with time my back would get better, and I could go back to work because I had no intention of quitting that young. I had planned on working to about age 65. But it never got better.’
Work had been such an important part of her life, she said, and she was confused about what to do next.
‘Then in the spring of 2001 I finally began accepting my condition,’ she said. ‘I told the professors I’d worked for that I wouldn’t be returning.’ After giving up that career, she eventually succeeded in carving out another life for herself, she said.