Q&A: Learn How to Work Through Your Pain with Wear, Tear, & Care's Jennifer Kain Kilgore
Meet Jennifer Kain Kilgore. She's the inspiring health and wellness blogger behind one of the best reads in the chronic pain arena, Wear, Tear, & Care, a blog about chronic pain and related health conditions that illustrate Jennifer's 'wacky adventures in the health care system.
Jennifer spends her days with her close-knit family, including her fat cat and dear husband. This once-Boston-attorney-turned-blogger writes in an effort to bring about her creative self while inspiring other pain warriors.
The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg — proving that it's not about the circumstances, but what you are made of. And this woman is made of solid gold.
This is one person’s snapshot into what it's like living in chronic pain. It is with colossal gratitude that we share her words with you all. This is her story.
Q: Hi, Jennifer. Can you share with our community a little bit about yourself?
A: Hi there! Thank you so much for speaking with me. I’m Jen. I’m an attorney editor who now works from home. I’m from the Berkshires in Massachusetts. I’m an animal lover. I have a cat and we just got a New Zealand Bunny.
I went to Ohio University and studied Journalism. I attended law school in Boston because when I graduated, the journalism industry was imploding. I decided I needed a Plan B. I thought, “I’m good at writing, so I’ll go to law school.”
After that, I worked for three-and-a-half years as an estate-planning, real estate attorney, which was not what I envisioned for my life. I left the traditional work force and began building my business from home as a consultant. Some days I don’t know what to call myself. I work for so many different people and do so many different things. I wear many hats.
Q: What is your official diagnosis and can you share an introduction to your back pain journey?
A: I fractured the middle vertebrae of my spine in four places when I was 17 and one of those fractures never healed correctly.
We were rear ended by a driver in New Jersey at 65 mph while we were stopped in traffic. I was in the back seat, so everything in the trunk slid forward and all that impact hit me directly. The hospital didn’t even know that I had broken my back because the fractures were the kind that don't show up on X-rays until they start to heal. They didn’t know for about two weeks so they sent me home — with a broken back.
Q: Did leaving the hospital with a broken back affect your quality of life? If so, can you explain?
A: At first, I was completely unaware. I was on a train, in a cab, walking around — doing my normal routine. Now, remember, I was only a teenager at this point. So I had to take the SATs!
Q: Can we ask how that went?
A: I actually went up 90 points!
(As those words left her mouth, I let out a loud gasp. You actually went up?)
I was on prescription medication after the accident for the pain and I think because of that, I was less anxious and nervous. I remember drawing pictures of cats on loose leaf paper thinking, “I don’t know what’s happening.”
That same day, my mom picked me up and took me back to the doctor.
“Yeah, you broke your back,” he said. “You should not be running around like you are.”
Then, he put me in a brace. This was my senior year of high school so I wasn't looking forward to wearing a Robocop back brace. I ended up missing about a month of school. It was off and on after that. The pain just kept getting worse and worse, and no one could figure out why.
A year later, they discovered the fourth fracture. By then, it hadn’t healed correctly and it was in a surgically uncorrectable area.
Q: Now on your blog, you mention a second car accident. Can you share what caused it and how it affected your already high pain levels?
A: Flash forward nine years. I’m working as an attorney and this paralegal was late getting me some legal papers. In retrospect, if she hadn’t been late, I wouldn’t have been where I was in that specific moment.
I ended up getting rear ended again. It was a much lesser accident since the driver was only going 30 mph. Because I was already so messed up, it ended up making everything worse. I could see the driver and she was like, “Wait what?” as the EMTs took me away on a stretcher.
I remember thinking, “I can explain!”
I knew something was wrong after being taken to the hospital. As soon I arrived, deep down, I knew I'd have to make some lifestyle changes.
My trigeminal nerve (a nerve responsible for sensations in the face and motor functions) became damaged. There’s something wrong with that nerve that causes intense pain at the base of my head into the top of my neck. I get really bad headaches literally every day so I ended up getting two spinal fusions in my neck. Those were 2014 and 2016. On top of that, I have bulging discs in the lumbar region and nerve pain in my hands and feet.
Q: In regards to surgery, what were your pre-op experiences like?
A: I was so ready to go under the knife. People always say, “Oh my God, what if I die?”
For me, I didn't care if I did. I was in so much pain. I know it sounds dramatic, but I got to this point where it was untenable. I remember telling my family, “I am ready for this. I don’t care what happens. Let’s go.”
The first surgery was in 2014. I had to take a month off from work and missed tax season.
As far as the pre-surgery process, mine was fairly simple. I got to the hospital, they checked me in and then to the operating room, I went. I had an anterior discectomy of my C5 and C6 vertebrae.
My second surgery was on the C4 and C5 in 2016. They should have done them both at once, but the second one didn’t start breaking down until the first one had been completed.
Q: Do you have any tips our Backers should know before going under the knife?
A: A couple days after my surgery, I decided to have soy yogurt. I woke up in the middle of the night and my throat was closing. I couldn’t stop vomiting. It turns out if you eat anything besides clear foods for the first couple weeks, you produce mucus. No one talks about it. It’s not online, so people have been coming to my blog to talk about it.
Stick to clear foods only, such as broths, soups, popsicles or water.
Q: For our hair obsessed readers, what was grooming maintenance like when recovering from surgery?
A: I actually shaved my head for the second operation. I now have a pixie hair cut because I cannot stand dealing with my hair. Especially now that my neck hurts all the time. When I have to raise my arms, it hurts after 30 seconds.
Styling your hair, holding a hair dryer up — I can’t. I knew going into the second surgery that washing and drying my hair was going to be insanely painful. I said, “I’ll have three months where I can’t do anything with my hair. I can either have it grow out like a little Dutch boy or shave my head and have a pixie cut in three months.”
Since no one was really going to see me, I figured why not shave my head. So, I did it.
Photo Caption: Taken from Wear, Tear, & Care — this is a personal photo Jennifer shared from after surgery and her pixie hair cut.
For anyone who thinks like I do, you may want to consider getting your hair cut or invest in some dry shampoo. On the days when you don’t feel like washing your hair, simply spray the dry shampoo to the roots. It was my savior.
Q: Can you give us a rundown on the post-op experience? (i.e. what happens once the surgery is over, did you go home right away— things of that nature.)
A: For the first surgery, I went home immediately. “Let me leave,” I remember thinking. And they actually did.
The second time, I was OK with staying overnight just because I felt better about the whole experience. I was more comfortable. I had been through it before, so I had less anxiety. I didn’t mind the inflating pants on my legs making sure that my blood kept circulating, that kind of thing. It was a lot of sleeping. I was up in the middle of the night for the first time ever. I usually go to bed at 9 o’clock, so this was a new experience.
Q: Recovering from surgery can be just as hard as the operation itself. What was your recovery like? Did you find it hard to sit still and rest?
A: Oh gosh. I slept probably 20 hours a day for several weeks. When I was awake, I was exhausted. I was lucky to not get bored because I was asleep for a majority of the time. I didn’t really eat that much because I was mostly drinking my food. Anything I did consume was normally blended or straight up powdered medical food. My friends would come over and make me clear soup, which I was able to get down and actually enjoy.
The time frame on my recovery for both was about two months. I heal really slowly. I always have and don’t know why.
Q: Did you need a caretaker for your post surgery recovery? If so, what was that like?
A: I had caretakers 24/7 for two weeks. Most of that time, I was unconscious. My husband stayed home the first seven days. After a night of me throwing up and him taking me to the ER, he was eager to hand me off to someone older than either of us. And my mom just wanted to take care of me.
She helped out for a week so my husband could go to work. Then mom had to go back to work, so my older brother came who was able to work remotely.
Eventually, by the end of the two weeks, my brother asked, “Hey there’s a pair of shoes at the mall, let’s go and get them?” The mall was five minutes away, so we called our exertion a surgical strike.
After 15 minutes at the mall, I was pale, sweating and ready to go back to sleep. After another two weeks, I was able to take five-minute walks. After that, I'd have to nap for three hours just to recover from the light exercise. After a few days of that, the walks got longer — the naps got shorter. The huge bandages became smaller and eventually, the stitches come out.
I will say that without my family and their help, I don't know how I would have survived.
Q: What would you say to people out there right now who have lost hope in their ability to get healthy again?
A: There are always new treatments being devised. There is always something being worked on. There is always a new treatment that you haven’t heard about. And there is always hope.
Q: If there is one thing you hope that people will take away from reading this, what would that be?
A: Slow down. Listen to your body. Work with it and don’t work against it because as much as you don’t like your pain, it is a part of you. You get so much more done when you work with it than when you work against it.
Jennifer, truly thank you.
Some days, she has no idea how she'll do it, but every single day, it still gets done.
Are you guys feeling inspired? Do you want more? Maybe you didn't get enough of Jennifer? Well, if that's the case, we encourage you to check out her blog for yourself. All you have to do is click here and enjoy.
If you want to learn how this attorney transitioned from the 9-5 corporate world to her home office, tune in next month and find out if it's possible to work in an office environment with chronic pain.
Here's to conquering chronic pain, together.