Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Back Surgery - The Before

Part-1 of a 3-part series on my TLIF back surgery. 

Has your life ever changed in what seems like an instant?  Either in a good way or a not so good way?  It can.  It does.  And it probably will at some point.  Mine has several times.

Circumstances, life events, illness, death, job changes, etc. can all create a “WOW, it seemed like just yesterday I was...….” kind of moment.

The good, the bad or the ugly could possibly happen “today.”  We never know.

It is just the way life rolls.

My life made a change in 2011 which began waaaaaaay back in 1997 in my cousin’s brand new house.  When I first visited, the great room was so large that I immediately announced that I could do a cart-wheel and a back bend and land in a split and still have room left over. 

Then I proceeded to do it. 

I was 36 at the time and I was walking, running and biking weekly.  I didn’t think anything about it.  I didn't realize that just maybe, just maybe, I was a "little bit to old" to be doing gymnastics out of the blue.

It was not a good idea.

A few months later, my lower back started hurting so I went to see an orthopedic doctor.

When most people think of back issues they mostly think of sciatica, slipped disc, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease or stenosis.  All of which can cause pain radiating down the leg, low back pain and just very painful in general.

But me…..I was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis (sponda-lo-la-thesis).  Yeah baby, it is complicated. Complicated to say, complicated to spell and yes, the condition itself is complicated - just like I am.  Spondylolisthesis is when one vertebra slips out of alignment and causes pressure on a nerve(s) which creates major discomfort and pain.

I didn’t give the diagnosis much thought.  I went to physical therapy and learned how to do major core-strengthening exercises.  Before long I was doing 300 crunches in the morning and 300 in the evening.  I quickly learned that if I do the crunches I have no back pain. 

Simple fix.  Do crunches.  Life is good.

After moving from Florida to Tennessee in 2001, my exercise routine went down the tubes for an entire year.  “Change” can do that.  I got back on track but the 600 crunches never returned because of a brand new issue...neck pain.  A mere 25 crunches was all I could manage to do after the neck surgery.  The low back pain increased but I was able to live with it and it didn't affect my life.

In 2009 I had some routine tests done at St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the spondylolisthesis showed up once again in a scan.  They told me it was now at 50% slippage.  

And yes, some AML patients have been blessed enough to grow up to be adults.  St. Jude loves us old folks too.

Guess what I did?  I ignored the test results.  Life went on.

The next May I drove to Florida to visit some family & friends.  About half way into the trip, I started having difficulty “sitting” in the car.  I had some numbing, tingling and burning sensations going on in the back of my thighs.

I blew it off as a “fluke thing” and enjoyed my time in Florida.  I can be tough like that if I put my mind to it.

Driving home was absolute murder.  I had to stop about every hour and walk around.  I thought I would never get home.  The 11-hour drive took like 15 hours.  Splitting the drive in half and getting a hotel never crossed my mind.  I was just plain stu-pid, people!  That would have made it so much better.

That December I was sitting in the neurosurgeon’s office and my vertebra was now at 75% slippage.  Back of thighs burning, numbing, tingling.   Right leg in excruciating pain.  Right foot numbness most of the time.  And... I had a pain in my butt!  Geeeezzzzz.

And no, I have never asked what happens if it slips all the way.   I don’t think there is a good answer for that question.  Let’s just not “go there."

The decision to have surgery was mostly a no-brainer.  I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t sit down and when I did stand up I had to lift up my right leg to ease the pain. 

Not a pretty sight.

Picture a flamingo.

I laugh at one of our boyz, Joe, almost every day.  He does an uptight “flamingo” stance when he wants his snack, his dinner or my dinner.   He always knows when it is time for his food.  He holds up one of his front legs and tucks it under him all the while blowing and panting indicating he is not a happy boy.  We laugh about it every day.

I had turned into my dog.

Had I waited much longer to have surgery then there would be a possibility I would be writing this post sporting adult diapers.  And it wouldn’t be the little cute pampers or huggies smell good thingys.  For some reason, I really don't think my behind would look too good with Spong Bob or teddy bears splattered all over it. You, maybe, but me?  Not so much.  

The surgery was scheduled for January 7th.   I freaked out a little when I learned the surgery would take FIVE hours.  The surgery was called a “transforminal lumbar interbody fusion.”  "TLIF" (pronounced T-LIF) for short.  They would take the vertebra that was out of alignment and forcibly put it back into alignment and secure it with 2 rods and 4 screws.  The surgeon would also implant a device called a “cage” between the two vertebras.  This cage would house a bone growth material that would help the two bones, L5 and S1, fuse together and become one and that would, hopefully, produce stability  Since a fair amount of time had passed, I had some nerve damage that may or may not heal.  Only time would tell.

I would also be sporting a “clam shell” type torso brace for the following 3 months after surgery – anytime I was out of bed.  I could take a quickie shower but I had to wear the brace to the bathroom and put it back on in the bathroom. 

Geeeeezzzzz, that neurosurgeon, a tough one for sure. 

I had to get fitted for this monstrosity.  The cost was $2,000. 

My major concern about the brace was “the potty.”  How would I ever manage?  How does one "wipe" without somewhat bending?  Oh my.  How would I tuck my pants under the brace without taking it off every single time?   I stressed over this.  The nurse said I would figure it out. 

I had 3 weeks to celebrate Christmas, New Year’s and get my house and myself prepared for the new me.  Since I wouldn’t be able to bend over at all.  Everything I would need that was “down low” needed to be relocated “up high.”  I prepared the best I could to be as independent as possible.  I did not want to become a burden to those who would help me during the recovery process.

The night before the “slice and dice” I surprisingly slept well. 

We had to be at the hospital at 6 a.m. the next morning. 

It was a 30-minute drive.

The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.  I only needed 30 minutes to wake up and take a shower with the required dial antibacterial soap.  Otherwise, no coffee, no water, no lotions and potions, no hair - just me in the raw, BABY!  In the raw.  Not a pretty sight.

I did not want any time to spare that morning.  I didn’t give myself time to get stressed, think about the surgery, being “under” for 5 hours, the possibility of not waking up at all, being paralyzed or finding my final resting place on that surgery table.

Negative thoughts were not allowed.  I would beat this thing just as I had done many things in the past. 

Goal:  Get out of bed without any help.  Starting immediately.
Goal:  Walk 2 miles 2 weeks after surgery.

We arrived at Welmont Holston Valley hospital and I was both surprised and impressed that within, what seemed like, only a matter of minutes, I was in the surgery prep area, sitting on a stretcher, sporting a surgical cap looking at all the other people lined up in the surgery prep area, sitting on their stretchers, sporting the same surgical cap and wondering if I looked as stupid as they did.

It was finally my turn to go.

I was wheeled into the OR.  They allowed me only ONE minute to look around.  I remember talking.  They quickly shut me down.

I was snoozin’ baby!

Let's do this thing.

Thanks for stopping by.
Do something today that I can’t – like run, dance or bend over. 
Be thankful that you can do it.

To continue reading part 2 of my back surgery drama, you can find it here!

See you next time

1 comment:

  1. Donna, I now feel your pain. I am not able to stand, sit or lie in the bed without pain. I don't know what will happen next, but I feel your pain. I remember what a trooper you were in Wilton Class, some sitting, some standing and some just in between. I am happy to have met you in class and know that I can survive this thanks to you and your strength. Thanks for being a friend.