I forgot about this post and don't frequent this site much anymore.
It's been almost three years since the post. I've been back to normal for a year or two and am backpacking as much as I did before the herniated disc. Time and physical therapy were sufficient to mend things.
Every day I do the exercises taught me by the physical therapist, and will continue to do them for the rest of my life.(new religion?) I'm also much more thoughtful about how I move, lift things, etc.
So I, like some of the posters who helped me, can encourage others to hang in there and get better.