You think you’re tough? Penny Schwegel lifts 90-ton boulders for a living.
An equipment operator for an Alaskan gold company, the 53-year-old Alaskan from Fairbanks drives an excavator, an immense tracked vehicle with a shovel on the front capable of moving tons of dirt at a time.
Sitting in the operator’s seat for 12 to 13 hours a day, she loads 250-ton trucks. She uses all four limbs to direct the excavator’s direction and placement. Her legs control the massive shovel capable of lifting immense boulders.
“It’s jarring, it’s vibration constantly,” she said. “You’ve got these two engines behind you, you’ve got this vibration all the time.”
She’s had sciatic pain for almost ten years now, and suspects that the constant vibration and long hours in the driver’s seat has been a contributor.
“The jarring is from digging frozen dirt to hard digging, by boulders – I mean some of these boulders are, some of them, from 90 tons – and sometimes you can load them, sometimes you can’t,” Schwegel said.
She’s relied on cortisone shots to relieve the pain, but their effectiveness has dwindled over time.
“I was getting shots every three months, and the shots would only last for a month, a month and a half.”
As long as she avoided the constant vibration, she might get two months of pain relief.
She tried to hide her discomfort from her family, but they could see her pain, and knew when to lighten her load. She knew she needed to do something.
Still, the horror stories she’d heard of back surgery made it easy to wait, to grit her teeth and bear the pain.
“I was really scared about getting my back fused and worked on, because ‘What kind of movement and abilities would I get back? Will I be able to ride my horses? Can I go back to work?’” she said.
Ultimately, she landed on the “quality of life” side, and called The Spine Institute Northwest. She underwent a minimally-invasive lumbar fusion surgery with Dr. Solomon Kamson just before Christmas in 2016.
After a brief recovery, she’s back to her family and her horses – cautiously.
“I have to rein myself in sometimes,” she said.
She recommends the Spine Institute Northwest to anyone with back pain. And of Dr. Kamson and the staff at the Spine Institute Northwest, she says this:
“For what they’ve done for me, there are no words,” she said. “They’re great.”
Watch Penny’s testimonial in the video below: