Disability Kicked My Butt

Note: This is a public blog posting of something I put on Facebook ... I'm mostly posting this in case someone is searching for similar information on conditions they are suffering from and ESPECIALLY to help people considering Epidural Steroid Injections / ESIs for Spinal Stenosis. Find the section near the end talking about Arachnoiditis and know that if you are suffering from Stenosis I personally recommend NOT doing injections. The risk is small but once you've got it you are stuck with it. The closer the injection comes to your spinal cord the greater the chance of something going wrong.

If you have stopped by and want to ask any questions related to my conditions please leave a comment or email me

Well it is official. Many of our close friends and family know, but plenty of others do not. I'm "Retired". Or rather I'm on Disability for the forseeable future (and have been since January 2013). Today marks the end of my 18th month on Disability benefits from Cisco and I've been contacted by Cisco to let me know they're putting my severance letter together and closing out my HR stuff. A heart-felt thanks to Cisco for being best-in-class with regards to how they treat their employees (and a giant sigh of relief that I went on Disability exactly on the day that, had I not, I would have been transferred to Belkin ... which provides noticeably less benefits in cases like this). Absolutely no sarcasm in that, Cisco treated me excellently.

While the circumstances are unlucky no matter who they happen to, I have been extremely lucky in the process. I have income protection insurance through Cisco that covers about 50% of my income at the time of termination (technically 67% of my base, but didn't count my bonuses/commissions, stock grants or health insurance costs). Darien and I have been able to make that workable for a year now and soon she'll be seeing positive income from her new business so we are optimistic that we'll continue to be comfortable. It is definitely a huge step back from what I was making and that is a large part of why we chose to sell our huge house in the mountains and move. After multiple back surgeries over the years with significant complications (I'll give a summary at the bottom of this for the medically curious) I just can't keep up with even a desk job, even after investing in ergonomic equipment and having a home office for a decade. And all of that plane travel I did for a couple of decades? Absolutely no way. I got to the point where I needed 12 hours laying down after a plane flight just to relieve pain and let my legs work properly again. 

The luck comes in to play that my conditions are recognized as permanent and disabling without my needing to fight constantly to prove it. MetLife approved my benefits through retirement age without my even asking (I was going to, but I didn't need to) last November. The government recognized the same thing and approved my SSDI through retirement age in February (I don't see additional income from SSDI as it just lowers what MetLife pays each month to meet my income insurance level but in a year it will provide me with Medicare). I'll still need to be examined every few years just for them to cover their policy requirements. And maybe someday I'll get REALLY lucky and they'll find a magic bio-solvent that will remove the scarring and nerve tethering in my lower spinal cord and I'll be able to return to work. 

Until then I'll be continuing to work on things here and there. I might take some contract work. I won't likely see any additional income from it since it would need to pay me more than my income protection insurance provides ... instead if I get paid by contract work it will just come out of my disability payments. But it will help me stay mentally active and trained on skills. One project I'm definitely going to be doing will be helping improve and maintain Custom Cranium's (Darien's business) electronic presences ... though that will just be a few hours each month and not provide any direct income. 

I really do wish I could keep working. I loved many of the jobs I've had over the years as well as the great people I've met through them. Some days I can get a fair amount done before I just can't focus or deal with the pain of sitting and concentrating on work. Other days, and they are random, I simply can't crawl out of bed for hours even with increasing pain medications. Towards the end of my active working my work performance was really suffering and I would have so much pile up that I'd have to crunch even more pills and pull all-nighters just to get mediocre work turned in. It wasn't fair to me to hurt like that and it also wasn't fair to my manager even though I never got significant complaints and until the weeks before my 2013 surgeries he didn't know how significant it was. Some co-workers did when they saw me squirming in meetings or using a cane to get from the car to the customer. I hate being "on the dole" but ... I crunched the numbers and I actually put nearly as much into my Social Security as I will be taking out. And I paid up on my income protection for 15+ years of work just in case it ever got to this point. 

I worked through the pain all of my adult life. I put off surgeries as long as I could safely do it (when I first started hurting they said to fix it would be a 20% chance of losing the use of one of my legs and 5% chance of losing use of both). 

So ... this is it. I'm officially declaring it. I'm a gimp and, at least for now, I'm retiring. 

I'm not saying all of this because I need a pity party. I'd have posted a lot MORE on Facebook or this blog if that was my style. I'm posting this to empower myself openly to slow down and experience what I still can. 

/Geoff Baysinger - 7/12/2014

PS. For the medically curious these are -some- of my permanent spinal conditions that eventually piled up on me. It isn't the complete list and doesn't count things like torn shoulder ligaments, ankle breaks, etc that are indirectly caused by back issues. It is just the parts of the list that really get to the heart of the matter. Some dates show onset of the diagnoses though obviously they had to exist earlier than that to present for diagnosis. Other dates show when I had surgery, which brought on complications that are actually what did in my ability to work. 

... 1989 (age 18) - Herniated discs (L4/L5 & L5/S1)

... 1992 (age 21)
  • Spinal Stenosis (L4 - S1) ... masked by herniation pain and likely present from late teens ... told at that point about surgical risk of losing leg function and that I had stenosis of a level the doctor hadn't ever seen in someone younger than 45 and usually in age 60+, which is why they never thought to look for it.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease

... 2003 (age 32)
  • Surgery: Laminectomy L4-S1 (removal of bone to open nerve root canals) by Dr. Cathleen van Buskirk in Boulder, CO... failed due to invasion of scar tissue that made the nerve root compression worse than prior to surgery and causing 4 neurosurgeons to refuse to do further work and for me to expect to live with the pain and progressive loss of my right leg function until I finally found an Orthopedic surgeon who would treat me in 2004.
  • Failed Laminectomy Syndrome - yep, that's right, turns out that surgery has a high enough rate of failure that it has it's very own diagnostic code. Sometimes the "conservative" procedure is the most damaging one of all. 

... 2004 (age 33)
  • Surgery: TLIF (360 degree Fusion) L4-S1 (aka my pelvis and bottom 2 vertebrae are now one large piece after being opened both through the back as well as abdomen to add reinforcing hardware via moving my intestines to the side to reach the spine from the front ... yes ... ouch) by Dr. Ken Kurica in Colorado Springs, CO. 13 hours on the table, 7 of which were spent working on my right Sciatic nerve cluster. My right leg still works, mostly, thanks to that extra work.
  • Myelopathy (aka "dead/dying nerves affecting muscle function") causing paralysis of my right Soleus muscle in my calf. Means I can walk and "fake" a normal gait but can't push upwards to tip-toe with my right foot/leg and makes running properly impossible. Caused by the Sciatic nerve impingement from Stenosis and Failed Laminectomy Syndrome.
  • Neuropathy (aka "dead nerves affecting skin sensations and pain") causing burning/tingling/numbness in various locations (feet/toes, left outer thigh between waist and knee). Caused by Stenosis. 

... 2012 (age 41)
  • Cervical Kyphosis C4-C7 (aka, nerves being crushed from spine in lower neck due to vertebrae being rotated front-to-back instead of back-to-front). Caused by years of overcompensating for lower back pain by tilting my head and shoulders badly. Onset was mid-2000s but finally bad enough to be treated as it was causing the loss of my hand and finger coordination as well as Neuropathy and Myelopathy in my arms and shoulders.
  • Spinal Stenosis L3/L4 (natural progression a decade after fusing the levels below). 

... 2013 (age 42)
  • Surgery: ALIF (Fusion from the front of my neck) C5-C7 by Dr. Matt Gerlach in Westminster, CO on 1/21/2013. Required to correct Kyphosis C4-C7 (C4/C5 not fused as it was opened up once the 2 vertebrae below were corrected).
  • Surgery: XLIF (Fusion from the side below ribs) & Laminectomy L3/L4 along with removal of old hardware from L4-S1 by Dr. Matt Gerlach in Westminster, CO on 3/8/2013. Stabilizes the L3/L4 level to relieve Stenosis.
  • Surgery: Emergency repair of Dura Mater and Arachnoiditis mass removal by Matt Gerlach on 3/22/2013 ... during the surgery on 3/8/2013 where they fused my L3/L4 they also removed accumulated scar tissue on my Dura Mater (the soft tissue outer casing of of the spinal cord). However they didn't realize how weakened the tissue below the scarring was and at some point shortly after sewing me up a 1 inch hole blew out of my Dura Mater causing 2 weeks of spinal migraines and allowing over a liter of spinal fluid to leak from the spine and fill the surgical cavity opened during the XLIF procedure.
    [surprise finding: fully formed Arachnoid mass in Cauda Equina (see next). This was removed hoping it would not reform but imaging a few months later showed the mass had reformed and later imaging showed the degree of scarred nerve tethering was inoperable]
  • Arachnoiditis ... simply put the spinal fluid in my lower spine, Cauda Equina, had coagulated/solidified into a jelly causing the nerves inside the spinal cord from L2-S1 to twist into a spiral and be permanently tethered to the walls of the Dura Mater. Likely present for 8-9 years prior to diagnosis. Possibly due to Epidural Steroid Injections done in 2002 or due to leaking via pinhole tear in the Dura after my surgery in 2003. Will never know what caused it.
 ... 2014 (age 43)
  • Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction ... the joint connecting the sacrum (mine being fused to my lumbar spine) to the pelvis has begun to deteriorate and cause pain both walking and resting. Just in the beginning phases on this and luckily treatment for this has been advancing significantly in recent years. Not doing anything about it for now but ... someday it will likely need work. 


  1. For folks looking for information on these conditions and want to find online support, Facebook has been very valuable. "Spinal Stenosis Sufferers United", "SACRO-ILIAC JOINT SYNDROME / SI JOINT DYSFUNCTION - SIJD" and "Arachnoiditis" are all groups related to my conditions that may help you navigate discovering information about yours.

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