The Two Words No Person With A Disability Wants To Hear

Heather M. Jones
(Heather M. Jones)

I was 36 when my legs surrendered. I was diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease and arthritis a decade earlier, and it had finally progressed to the point where my spine refused to continue supporting my ungrateful body, and my legs put in their notice.

It came as quite a blow. I had always been an active person. Until mere months before becoming disabled, I was walking my children all over the city, staying out from breakfast until dinner. The all-day adventures of my 36th summer suddenly became limped walks to the nearest park by fall, and I struggled to make it to the backyard by winter. It caught me by surprise, and it was terrifying.

I had first sought a diagnosis in my 20s when my back would go “out.” I would have a few days here and there when my back would be acutely sore, and then it would get better. When my doctor handed me the words “degenerative disc disease,” I immediately grabbed onto the word degenerative. Would this mean I would one day be paralyzed? My doctor assured me it would not. She told me that the disc would eventually wear away completely, and my spine would fuse. She even said that once this happened, the pain would likely get better.

This gave me hope. Each time my back would flare up, I reminded myself that this was par for the course. It was painful, but not worrisome. Then came the day it didn’t get better ― or at least, not in the same sense. My occasional but extreme pain from temporarily slipped discs had morphed into pain whenever I stood for more than 30 seconds. The pain from my back had shifted into my legs, and even walking down a hallway or standing in line at a store became unbearable. This was completely foreign to me, and it scared me. But I still didn’t yet believe it to be permanent.

An MRI confirmed that I did have the degenerative disc disease, which afflicts many people and is not generally this major a problem for most people ― I am an unlucky exception. It also showed a bulging disc, arthritis...

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