Stones in the Road, part 4: by Mike Plumb “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie”

stones, hardship, pain, sickness, faith, obsacles, getting old, disease, surgeries,disability, early retirementSickness can be quite a bother. Say you’ve just been struggling with hay fever or asthma for years and sometimes the sickness puts you out of commission for a week of so. Or you have a bad back like I had and every once in a while you throw out a disc or get a bulging disc. It can hurt like hell and put you on your back for a couple of weeks. There are many ailments many of us just live with and take our medication,  trust the Lord and we keep on keeping on. But when an ailment turns in on you and decides it wants your mind, body and soul; when illness wants to take absolute control; when life is taken out of your hands and some enemy (because he sure aint no friend) is now in charge, with weapons pointed at everyone around you — believe me, life changes. And the ailment becomes much more than a bother.

Or to put it a different way: maybe you are familiar with the county jail system. You visit prisoners on a monthly basis. You’re the kind of person that really cares and for some reason may believe if it wasn’t for grace you could be in jail yourself (not that you are doing anything criminal or

Life...with a small chance of parole

Life…with a small chance of parole

anything). But then one day out of the blue, while you pack up your guitar from the free space area of the jail and begin to leave like any other Sunday afternoon, suddenly a jailer and a few prison guards come up to you and say “HEY YOU,  come this way.” Immediately they ask you to strip, they throw your clothes into a bag, give you some orange jump suit and order, “Put it on.” Next, they say, “Follow me,” with some serious frowning going on. And to think, just an hour ago you thought they were friends and you were on your way to dinner with them. Last of all they bring you to this small cell that says “Solitary Confinement” over the door. Inside there is a folder with a judge seal and a signed charge. On the folder is your name and under your name it says “LIFE, with a small possibility of parole.”

We met with Doctor Hacker and he spent a good hour trying to show and tell us why my condition was such a big deal. He showed us the film of my spine (neck region) like a power-point presentation. He pointed out portions of broken vertebra and spinal bone that were wedged into my spinal chord like knives. The penetration into the nerves was causing the paralysis in my right arm and hand. What he wanted to do with this first surgery was clean, scrape and laser. He said he would do everything possible to speed up the date of surgery, because he knew the level of both pain and fear I was in. He also put me on a handful of new medication for pain, muscle relaxing, anxiety, mood control, heart and blood pressure, and sleep. He pretty much demanded my complete obedience and said he thought he could keep me out of a wheel chair but more than likely I could no longer handle even small amounts of stress because of the damage to my spinal chord near the base of my brain. He also said this breakage and canal shrinkage would only get worse.

Maggie, always believing for the best, asked him if this meant I could still do some kind of part-time ministry at our church community. He looked at her with all the encouragement a man of modern medicine can and said, there is always a chance. Then with a smile, said he was a Christian and believed that miracles occasionally happened. So I had a praying surgeon that would come to know me and my spine like family over the next ten years. The meds did slow the pain but had all kinds of side effects. I think overnight I went from being ADHD to being paranoid, majorly depressed and slightly psycho. One thing for sure, I was not the old Mike any longer.

Within the first week of my wait for a surgical miracle my eyes became clouded with a blackish material which began forming and oozing dark goo. I broke out with open sores all in and around my mouth. Maggie told me later that she saw this and thought, “My God, he’s being eaten up with cancer!” It was scary because we had no idea what was going on. I feared cancer as well, but neither of us mentioned it to the other. We found out from our doctor that it was most likely pain herpes.

After surgery, when I came out of anesthesia, the doctor told me he had to do much more than anticipated and ended up fusing three

"...and i lift my hands..."

“…and i lift my hands…”

neck vertebrae and scraping another disc. The surgery required that he go through the front of my throat and the back of my neck, both. He said, unfortunately, that all the invasive surgery may have affected my vocal chords. He was right. To this day I struggle with throat issues, some hoarseness and speaking problems and worst of all, loss of most of my singing voice. I still love worship and try singing even if I sound like Yoda from Star Wars. Hacker said my recovery may take three to six months, at least twice as long as he first thought. Of course it always takes twice as long as they say anyway, so I figured it may be up to a year of recovery. Even though I was now on a morphine patch, the pain ripped through the fog like a ten-wheeler going down the freeway at full throttle.

Post-surgery, I went in for another MRI in which they had to sedate me to keep my body still enough for the MRI pictures to work. Two days later I was back in Hacker’s office with Maggie at my side to hear the news. The Doctor knew the stakes for me and the church so he had another lady taking notes on a computer and another surgeon near his side. He was being overly pleasant which didn’t make me feel any better. He showed us the new MRI picture then explained that my spinal bone material was much more brittle than he had thought, which was not good. He said the fusion was a success but discs on both side of my fusion were going bad and it would only be a matter of time before I would need more surgeries. He said he was still hopeful that I would not be wheel chair bound, but that he had to say something: Unfortunately, my condition was such that he strongly advised I remove myself from all stressful situations, both physically and mentally. Retire. I would no longer be able to work.

When I was in my 20’s, the thought of an early retirement would have been pleasant to my laid-back self.. Not so with the active go-getter self  I had become. That, combined with my ADHD, made those words sound like a death sentence. Or,  life with a small chance of parole.

Leave a comment


  1. I feel ya Mike!


  2. I wouldn’t say you sound like Yoda, exactly, maybe Will Farrell pretending to be Michael Buble?

    Glad I don’t remember the pain herpes.


  3. Michael M

     /  March 3, 2013

    I like you Mike 🙂



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