Speed Bump

Dear readers, after watching my last post develop a life of its own thanks to your thoughtful feedback and generous contributions, I feel it’s only right to explain my absence from that extended conversation and let you in on some personal details that will impact the next chapter in my foraging career.

I took the above photo from my 4th floor hospital room the other night after awaking from a dense, dreamless swim through Dilaudid, Valium, Oxycontin, and Oxycodone. My mood was as somber as the skyline. Frankie calls these the wee hours, that lonely time in the pit of night when we feel our smallest and most insignificant. But I prefer Dylan’s counsel on the matter—that it’s darkest right before the dawn.

Remember the Amanita cocktail I mixed for my ailing lower back? It didn’t do squat. So, after five years of chasing remedies to the degenerating disc at vertebra L5-S1—from acupuncture to Feledenkrais, from chiropractic to Pilates—I finally gave the thumb’s up to the scariest and most invasive option of all: a spinal fusion.

I had the surgery last week. My lower spine where the lumbar meets the sacrum is now locked together with a couple titanium bars. A mulch of bone harvested from my iliac crest (pelvis) is housed in a cage where the disc used to be, hopefully fusing the spine as I type this. I’m back home and walking around some, though mostly I’m resting in a narcotic haze. Each day the pain recedes a little more. Yesterday I was able to stroll through my neighborhood for nearly an hour without any sciatica.

My timing was deliberate. January is the quietest month for both foragers and authors. I plan to lay low for most of the month and then gradually ramp up to my usual activities. This March you might catch me harvesting stinging nettles in a brace. If all goes according to plan, by the time the spring porcini start to push their rusty caps through North Cascades duff I’ll be out of the brace and hoisting a heavy backpack once again—or maybe chasing a Squirrel Gumbo up a tree.

Fingers crossed.

27 thoughts on “Speed Bump

  1. katie

    Sending good thoughts for a speedy recovery with no setbacks. And come nettle season, I’d be more than happy to harvest nettles from our nearly half-acre patch and make a hand-off in Seattle!

  2. Sara

    Good luck! I wish you all the best. My mother-in-law also has degenerative disk. She’s had the same procedure done. It’s so good that you could walk for that long without pain! Keep your spirits up…

  3. Magpie

    You know, when you started that post with an Amanita reference, I thought you were going to say it had gone horribly wrong…

    I’m glad it didn’t. I am enjoying your blog immensely and hoping to get out foraging more myself this summer, so consider yourself inspiration.

    Mend quickly.

  4. Jack

    I echo others in wishing you a speedy recovery!

    And if I can be of some small assistance, feel free to send me specific locations for all of your secret boletus, morel, and chanterelle spots and I’ll do the legwork to harvest them for you… 🙂

  5. Trout Caviar

    Geez, Lang, that sounds like no fun at all. Sorry you’ve had to go through that, but I’m sure it will be worth it in the long run.

    I thought of you as I was skinning a rabbit today. Hope you’ll be back on the hunting pursuit and have the chance to do the same before year’s end. Get well soon.


    p.s.~ Just got your book. I’m looking forward to tucking into it this weekend.

  6. Aaron

    Long time reader. Best wishes and a speedy recovery to you. I suffer from sciatica albiet very mild and pray it doesn’t ever reach the severity you have known. Good luck and keep on truckin’…

  7. LC

    Thank you, friends, for your support and healing vibes. I’m feeling it. This morning I donned the brace and took a walk to the coffee shop: zero pain on the left side, and while there’s some lingering stuff below the knee on my right, doc is pretty convinced it’s just banged up nerves from the surgery that will quiet down in time.

    I won’t be thrashing around in the woods anytime soon but I’m looking forward to simply standing at a stove and cooking without the usual stabbing pain down the leg. With all those salmon heads in my freezer I have a lot of Fish Head Soup to look forward to this winter!

    White truffle post coming soon…


    Perhaps this book review will help lessen your pain, Lang:

    Hope you sell lots of books–you did a great job!

    Quick healing…and let’s get out there this fall to get your squirrel fricasse!

    Heading out to Las Vegas this week to cover the ShotShow and get more advertisers for my show and column, but can’t wait to get back in time for ducks…just before the end of season.


  9. rhonda

    Now I feel like a whiner with my cold/flu and my blog post about sick days for bloggers after reading this. Speedy recovery to you. I’m halfway through your book and just found your blog. Although I blog about gardening, I occasionally veer off course to do some suburban foraging; wild grapes, fiddleheads and such. I eyed and wrote about a massive hen of the woods that bloomed in my cul de sac but couldn’t summon up the bravery to try it. Maybe next year, your book inspires!

  10. Hyak Market

    Breath deep. I have had two friends with the same surgery and was just out Monday with one xc skiing.

    If you can’t hoist the backpack I’ll volunteer as sherpa 🙂


  11. Carolyn

    Hi there,

    Long time lurker but haven’t commented before. I really enjoy the blog and your perspective.

    Just wanted you to know that I had the spinal fusion surgery done more than 10 years ago, when I was only 23. I’m fused T11-L3.

    The first few weeks are the hardest, because you’re trying to re-learn how to use abs to rise from a bed, chair, etc. My PT was mostly walking, building up to 5 miles per day. I also wore a custom-fit turtle brace for about five months, off and on.

    The bone removal site hurt far more than the actual fusion. All these years later, it’s also the only place where I have discomfort with any consistency. That’s largely because the muscles reformed slightly off-kilter. It’s very minor. I also don’t like the iliac crest scar being touched–there’s kind of a phantom limb feeling.

    But all of this is really, really minor. I have pain maybe once every three months for a few minutes. It’s been an incredible experience and one that I would repeat.

    Very best wishes for your recovery. Take your time! Your body will guide you.


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