I never liked running, but now that I can’t, I kind of wish I had tried it a little more. This is my new reality as someone with a (mostly) invisible disability. 

I woke up one morning in December 2022 with my left leg weak and numb. I remember thinking the issue was due to me being in bed in the fetal position the day before with Influenza. I was wrong. 

The next day upon the advice of one of my best friends who saw how I was walking — or not — I sent a text message to my primary care physician. He quickly texted back and had me come into the office that afternoon. This doctor is not only amazing at his job, but he’s also a compassionate person invested in the health of his patients. 

After examining me, Dr. H advised me to go straight to the local emergency department to rule out a stroke or some similar issue. The physician there asked me, “Why are you walking like that?” Yes, because visiting the emergency department at the peak of flu season a week before Christmas sounded like a good idea. 

A couple of MRIs and a CT scan later, a stroke and M.S. were ruled out. The hospital’s neurologist gave me my test results, which did not show any major findings, and told me to go home and “hope it gets better.” 

I’m no doctor, but I know that a 48-year-old female who suddenly has trouble walking correctly does not mean “nothing” is wrong. Lest I fail to mention, this neurologist after briefly examining me asked, “Why are you walking like that?” I was beginning to think that maybe I had accidentally gone to a car dealership instead of a medical facility, although the nursing care was exceptional. 

As I learned at the age of 30, you have to be an advocate for your own health. You know your body better than anyone. I researched and found a neurosurgeon recommended by a family friend. This referral along with very positive online reviews led me to Dr. J, who not only took a lot of time to answer my many questions but also clearly explained what was wrong and offered his recommendations for further treatment. 

Never did I think I’d have back surgery, especially as someone who never had severe or chronic back pain. As the neurosurgeon explained, though, a herniated thoracic disc had bruised my spinal column, and I would at some point become paralyzed in my left leg if I didn’t have the surgery. A second opinion confirmed this. 

So, on March 2, Dr. J and a colleague successfully performed a laminectomy and thoracic discectomy on me. I spent several weeks recovering with the care of my two greatest blessings: my parents. 

My neurosurgeon told me before the surgery that even though it was necessary, it wasn’t guaranteed to heal my leg numbness and weakness. I trudged on, though, dealing with severe leg cramps I didn’t have before the discectomy, waiting for the day I would return to normal walking without back pain. 

That day didn’t come, though, and I recently found out that it never will. It’s news with which I’m still trying to deal as a newly-minted 50-year-old. There’s a scar where my spine was bruised, and although it won’t get worse, it also will not improve. 

I’m not telling you this for pity but to share how using digital health tools — along with the care provided by two great physicians — made it easier for me to navigate this journey of mine. I write for Providertech about the many advantages solutions like HIPAA-compliant, two-way text messaging and real-time access to test results offer patients, but I can tell you firsthand how they have benefited me. 

Doctors are busy, and I know that, but sometimes patients feel lost in the shuffle. They may delay seeing their healthcare provider because it’s too hard to get an appointment, and therefore their condition gets worse. Or they want to avoid waiting in a germ-infested waiting area or spending up to ten minutes on the phone with the practice’s already understaffed front-office team. 

Being able to text my PCP when I first started experiencing my leg problems made it easier for me to get examined sooner and be directed toward the next level of care. I didn’t have to wait another day to call his practice and schedule an appointment, risking yet another fall. 

The same is true for accessing my test results through provider text messages and a patient portal. No waiting a couple of days for the physician’s office to call me or needing to contact my other healthcare providers to share those results for a collaborative care effort. When someone asks me for specifics about my condition, I can quickly access my care team’s notes and respond with information I probably would not have otherwise remembered as clearly. 

What I now know is that having a chronic condition takes a toll on a person’s mental health. I have become more forgetful and sometimes let this now permanent condition consume my thoughts. I took for granted my ability to walk without being off-balance and sleeping through the night without pain. 

Using text messaging to communicate with my healthcare providers means I can spend less time on the phone and more time working on ways to adjust to my physical limitations. Any frustrations with the United States healthcare system are fewer, and I know that I can continue this journey without feeling overwhelmed every time I need to contact my doctors or figure out a next step (pun intended).