Thursday, September 26, 2013

Back Surgery - The Recovery

This is part-2 of a 3+ part series of my TLIF back surgery for spondylolisthesis. 

Find part 1 here.

I woke up and was extremely happy I survived the anesthesia.

My right foot was still numb.  Not cool.

I asked the time.  It was 7-1/2 hours later.  My brain was having issues computing this info.  

7-1/2 hours.  

I was “out” for 7-1/2 hours.  The 5-hour surgery took longer than expected.  Oh no.

My right foot was still numb.  I got a little rowdy.  Actually, “rowdy” may be sugar coating it just a tiny bit.

They had to call in the doctor because I was so, well, hmmmmm, lets just say, "very unhappy."
The doctor assured me that the numbness would “probably” heal.  It would just take some time.  I remember arguing with the nurse and then I was “out” cold once again.

Note to self:  Don’t argue when you have an open IV line and someone else holds the drugs.  Yeah, totally don’t do this.

The neurosurgeon was only able to get my spine back in alignment to a 50% (slippage).  I will take 50% over 75% any day but still, I was disappointed.  I had high expectations.  My L5-S1 was fused together with two rods and four screws.  There was also a "cage" implanted with a bone growth type material.

It would take approximately one year for the fusion to, hopefully, take place - hence, the one year recovery.

Two hours later I was being wheeled to my room.  Everyone was looking at me in such an “interesting” way that I insisted mirror.  No one wanted to give me one but they finally did.  My face looked like a basketball.  I had been lying on my stomach and tilted downward to keep the blood flow away from the surgery site. 

Yeah, I had a balloon head but that didn’t upset me.  I just couldn’t seem to get past the numb foot.  I was still “in a bad mood.” 

The nurse came in the room and was messing with the bottle going into my IV.  I suddenly became very sleepy again.  NOTE TO SELF:  Be nice to those who control the drugs and to those who have the power to “shut me down.”  Apparently, this is a difficult lesson for me to learn. 

Once I woke up again, I was back to my sweet, charming self and ready to fight this blur.  I actually smiled.  I was thankful the excruciating pain going down my right leg was gone.  

The nurse said I had to get up and walk.  Aaaahhhhh, hmmmmm, yeah, I will walk if I can stand up without pukeing.  I had major nausea from the general anesthesia.  She put something in my IV.  Once again I went to sleep.  She said several times “You ARE going to walk,” as if I was trying to get out it.

She didn’t know about my goals.

Goal #1:  Get out of bed by myself from day one.
Goal #2:  Walk two miles two weeks after surgery

Since the nurse thought that I was such a big weenie girl I had to prove her wrong.

I love a good challenge, don’t you?

About 9 p.m. I decided I could walk.  She wanted to help me out of bed but I said, “No, I will to get out of bed by myself."

Off we went.  The nurse had one arm, the hubster had the other.  They kept trying to hold me back while I walked.  I finally said to them, “If you want me to walk, let me walk.” Geeeezzzzz people.

After two laps down the long hall and back, the nurse insisted I get back in bed.  She said most only make it to the door and back.  Guess I showed her that I wasn’t a weenie girl after all.

I went home two days later.  I wasn’t allowed to lift over 10lbs or bend over. I was allowed to sit down for only 20 minutes three times a day – to eat.  I had to lie down to pet my furry boyz.

When I was lying down, I could be at a slightly elevated angle.  My head/shoulders could rest on two bed pillows but nothing higher than that.

I found that I couldn't lie on my sofa.  It wasn't soft enough and caused pain.  When I wasn't up walking, I spent most of the first three months in bed reading or visiting with family.

The clam-shell brace was a monster all its own.  I had to wear it anytime I was out of bed.  After being “under” for so long, it took a while for my bladder to make a come back.

I "felt" like I needed to use the bathroom like, 100 times during the night so I decided to just sleep in the dang brace.  There was a lot of commotion to get it on.  By the time I got it on, I was wide awake along with the entire house.   

I slept in it for 2 weeks.   It is amazing what the human body can endure when necessary.  I mean, did you hear me people - I was able to sleep in that thing. 

This photo was taken on February 5th, one month after surgery.

The recovery really wasn’t so bad as long as I kept the pain under control.  If I did too much, it caused more pain.  I was used to being very active so "slowing down" was and still is difficult for me.

It was January and very cold.  I found out quickly that if I wanted to have a shower and have socks on my feet, I had to get up really early before the hubster went to work so he could be there while I showered and put my socks on.  I wore shoes that did not tie.  And no, they were not “velcro shoes.” The hubster made me a shoe horn with a yard stick duck-taped to it.  I still use it today and prefer it over the one we purchased.

I used a “walker” in the shower for stability.  If I dropped something, it stayed on the floor until someone else could pick it up.  And yeah, I dropped the soap quite often.  Thankfully, I wasn’t in prison with all the soap dropping.

Using the bathroom while wearing the brace was a challenge also.  I had a lot of anxiety about "bathroom issues" before the surgery but the nurse assured me that I would "figure it out."  I did.  I will just say that sometimes you have to learn new ways of doing things and it's not so bad after all.

I also had a walker positioned in front of the uuuhhhhh, hmmmmm, toilet.  I was a bit unstable at times and this helped tremendously for several weeks. Well, to be honest, several months.

One week after surgery I walked two laps at the mall.  It took 50 minutes.  Today is takes 30.

At two weeks out, my goal was to walk two miles.  That day came.  The Mommy came.  I reminded her that “today is the day” for the 2-mile walk.  She was nervous and didn’t want me to do it.  I told her, “You have three choices.  1. You can go home and pretend you don’t know what I am going to do.  2. You can stay here and keep your phone on…just in case.  3. You can follow me along in your car.”  She opted for the car.  So off I went.  It was funny watching her drive/park, drive/park along the way. Gotta love that Mommy!
I came home from the walk with my foot more numb.  But I didn't give up.

Walk 2 miles in 2 weeks. Check.

I continued walking daily and doing all of my PT exercises.  It didn't matter if I was in pain or not, I pushed through it. Type "A" people do stupid things like this.  

I could walk.  I could cook and I could drive after two weeks.  All while wearing the clam-shell brace.

Since I couldn’t bend over, I would have to squat or get down on my knees or use the “grabber thing” for any thing down low.  The oven required getting down on my knees.  The dishwasher required squatting. My legs were strong from all the exercises I did in preparation for the surgery. Otherwise, squatting and kneeling would have been a challenge.

I stood at my computer a few minutes at a time each day.  It was also "up high" sitting on plastic storage containers.  Constant standing caused pain so my computer time was very limited.  That is, until my sweet husband bought me an ipad.  What a difference that made.

The ipad opened up a new world for me.  I could attend church again - even my old church in Orlando.  I could take classes online, keep up with the news and email friends.

Since cooking was an up/down kind of thing, I could do it.  Anything that I needed that was down low, I would use my “grabber.”  Often getting several things out of the lower cabinets while obtaining the dish/bowl/pot that was needed.  When the hubster got home from work, he never knew what he would find in the kitchen floor.  I am so thankful for such a sweet husband who helped me more than anyone would ever know.

Once I could drive, I started going shopping and going to the mall and walking.  It was Winter time.  If there was snow on the ground I had to walk at the mall.  Driving was also a challenge because of the "sitting issue."  Fortunately, I live in a location where everything is very close to me - within a five minute drive. 

Walking helps the bones to heal. 

I ordered my clam-shell brace in black.  I thought it would look less obvious.  I was dead wrong.  

White = medicinal.  

Black = S & M. 

Yes people, it does. 

I got all kinds of weird and interesting looks and comments.  I finally started wearing jackets every time I went out.   And believe me, I am not one to care much what others think of me.  But the S&M look I was portraying was a little more than even I could handle.

I am constantly amazed at what the human body can endure.  I actually got used to wearing the brace and felt awkward without it.  Some people have to wear this same type of brace every single day of their life.

This photo was taken on February 21st, less than two months after surgery.

My sister encouraged me to do a painting for something productive. She loaned me her easel so I could paint standing up.  And guess what?  It just so happened that my niece needed a cool painting for her room that was being redecorated.  

Yeah, I fell for that.

I stood up as long as I could and then I would lean on a bar stool.  Once the pain started, I would "call it a day."

Little, by little the painting came to life. I completed it on March 6th. 

I also decided that I could take a cake decorating class.  It was only one mile away so I enrolled just for something different to pass the time.  Baking is my first love and all the "real food" cooking was getting a bit boring.

I had to stand up through most of the class and it did cause pain but again, I pushed through it because I absolutely loved it.  It gave me a purpose during this time.  I was sooooooo happy.  I took all the classes they offered.

Later, they asked me to teach future classes but because of my sitting/standing/pain issue, I had to decline the offer.  They will never know how much it meant to me just "being asked." It made so many future days so much brighter.

My current Blur was making a turn.

It was March and the weather was getting warmer.  I am so thankful that I didn’t have to wear the clam shell in the summer time.  The plastic clam-shell was hot and wet, especially after a 2-mile walk.

A few days before my 50th birthday I had my final appointment with the neurosurgeon.  That day, I was allowed to “take off the brace.” 

I was free.  I don’t have the words to describe that feeling.

Life without the clam-shell on my back was brand new.  I had learned proper ways of bending and lifting. My posture was almost perfect.

I was allowed to do limited stretching/exercises while wearing the brace.  I think it was mostly because of my persistence that the neurosurgeon allowed this.

I was concerned that during those three months, I would loose all of my muscle mass and end up being a wet noodle once I took the brace off. In the end, it wasn't so bad after all.

This photo was taken on March 26th, a few days after the "shedding of the clam-shell."  These are a few of my first cakes.  Sad looking but I was so proud of them.  The best part of my 50th birthday was getting to make all those cakes.  We had originally planned a trip to NYC for my 50th but, well, it didn't happen.

Once I shed the clam shell, I immediately dove right into physical therapy and was so happy to be back to my planks, crunches and squats.  One thing that changed was I was no longer allowed to do squats without the wall.  I wasn’t allowed to lift any weight over my head either so all my weight work had to be done lying on my back.  There would be many more "can't do's" in the future, I just didn't know it at this time.

This photo was taken the week after surgery on January 16th.  My face still looked very bad.  Being under general anesthesia for almost eight hours definitely take a toll on the body.

I will spare you the photos taken of my back on January 13th.  I had five small incisions.

I continued on the path to recovery for the next several months and I had big hopes that I would be “back to normal” before year-end.

The numbness was almost gone by September.  I was finally able to put my socks on sitting on the bed instead of laying on my back with my knee up to my chest.  Big accomplishment.

I was on the road to a full recovery and I was so happy.

But wait.
In the middle of October "something" happened.  The pain seemed to get worse and the numbness returned. 

It scared me because I had followed all the rules from all the doctors and the physical therapist.   I just could not understand why, suddenly, things would get worse.

I called the neurosurgeon and he ordered another MRI and X-rays.  This time, I had to have "contrast" for the MRI because of all the metal and scar tissue in my back.  This "contrast" stuff was not so good - at all.  I sorta felt sicky/out-of-it for the remainder of the day.  Thankfully, I was back to normal the next day.

I will tell you about my final visit with the neurosurgeon in part 3. Hopefully, it won't take me as long to write it as it did part 2.  Writing about my back surgery is not the most "fun" thing to do.  There are so many facts and little details involved that it is difficult to condense it all into just a few pages.

Each time I proof read, there is something else to add or something to take away.  I could keep doing this for months.  But today is the day.  This is part 2, not the best I can do but the best for today.  I really need to "let it be what is is" and go outside and play. Like I said before, sometimes being a type-A is not so good.

Until then, take a moment to be thankful for your health - no matter what it is.

Many times when I have been a little "down" because of my situation, the best way to fix myself is to do something nice for someone else.

It works every, single time!

A personal note of extreme gratitude: I would have never, ever been able to make it through this difficult journey without all the help I received from my wonderful husband, Chip, The Mommy, my family and my wonderful friends, Mary Beth & Bill.  THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for all you have done and continue to do for me.  I am extremely blessed in the "love" department. I love each of you more than you will ever know :)



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