Surgery? Again? What IS it with you?!

It’s been 24 days since I had back surgery.  BACK SURGERY.  Two words I could have gone through my entire life without having to utter.  In some ways, it feels as though it’s been longer, and in other ways, it feels like there’s no way it could have been that long.  I’m glad we did it, although it was not a decision I took lightly, even for a moment.  In fact, I agonized over the decision, even up until the actual time of the surgery.  I remember being rolled into the OR and thinking, “is this really what I’m doing right now?”  (but then the sedative must have taken effect, because everything and anything sounded like a good idea.)

I have had a long and arduous relationship with my lower back.  Many times, I was convinced it hated me and was out to get me.  I’m still not confident that it likes me any better after surgery, but I haven’t really tested it much yet.  For the next 2+ weeks, I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, so I can’t even taunt my back to see how it feels about having been cut into and apart.  Memories of tweaking my back go as far as 2000, when I remember irritating it as I would bend over to pull clothes out of the dryer.  Back then, though, as long as I would relax and rest, usually overnight, it would reset itself and I would be good to go. Those episodes would come and go and be more of a mild disruption than anything else.
My first “real” back issue hit me in 2008, when Chloe was about three months old.  I did a seemingly harmless act (and one that I did just about every day, at least once a day):  I bent down to get a pot out of the corner cabinet in the kitchen.  When I went to stand up, however, I couldn’t. Pain gripped my back and was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.  It was frightening and debilitating.  With chiropractic care (and thankfully, a generous mother-in-law who came over three times a week at first so I could go to my adjustments), I slowly got back to normal.  Although for a while I still cringed when bending over, after enough time passed, I probably forgot the pain and went back to normal activities.  I tried back-strengthening exercises, but never for very long (usually because they caused pain).   In any case, I had a few more smaller attacks before having a serious incident in March of 2011. If you’d like to read a slightly more entertaining description of back pain, read this blog post.  This episode took considerably more time, more doctors, and more money to rectify, but it did eventually go away.  On any given day since then, you could probably hear me complain about back pain, but it was more of a reality of life rather than something that slowed me down.  So hopefully I did not complain about it every day.
That is, until July 8 of this year.  I will always remember that day because it’s when I threw out my back with a coughing fit.  Who does that?! I had been fighting the end of a cold, and after the symptoms of a cold are gone, I’m left with a hacking, dry cough that could sometimes last for weeks. You name it, I’ve tried it: honey and lemon, alcohol, Vicks on the bottoms of my feet.  But that morning–it was a Sunday–I was standing in front of my open closet, desperately trying to find something to wear to church, when I coughed.  And coughed.  And coughed.  And in the middle of one of those coughs, I felt a strange pain come out of my back in a way I’d never felt before.  Grumbling, I continued getting ready for church, and prayed that my stupid coughing wouldn’t cause me to have to leave the service during the sermon (it did).
By the time we arrived at church, walking down the stairs was a chore.  I tried to sleep it off that night, and felt minimally  better the next morning.  It was not to last, however, and throughout the week, my back’s condition quickly went downhill.  On Tuesday, I took the kids to the pool, rationalizing that the water would help to relax my back, since I had self-diagnosed myself with the same problem as the last incident: muscle spasms.  I almost couldn’t get out of the water when it came time to go home, though.  (I’m so glad I did.  Talk about hideous humiliation!)  I saw the chiropractor almost daily, but by the middle of the week, I was all but couch bound.  Every movement hurt and I could barely stand up straight.
The rest of July consisted of doctor visits, chiropractic visits, different medications, and mostly debilitating pain.  When the pain continued to get worse, not better, my doctor ordered an MRI to rule out any major problems.   Imagine my surprise when the doc called later that day to tell me the MRI found a herniated disc.  I was not happy, but then again, seriously, is it ever good news to learn that you are breaking down, sometimes slowly and sometimes at an alarmingly fast pace? We talked about options, which included time, physical therapy, possible pain injections, and surgery.  Some of those options sounded quite frightening to me, so we focused on PT first.
To make a long story short, my condition did not improve, but instead continued to deteriorate. By the end of July, the back pain had radiated down my leg and into my foot.  Oddly, in addition to pain I had numbness and weakness in my left leg.  I couldn’t lift my toes no matter how hard I tried and ordered them to move.  At times I was dragging my left foot when I walked. I felt like I was falling apart.   I saw a surgeon early on, and he also recommended PT and chiropractic… and time.  After my PT re-evaluation stated that I had not improved in any area except one, we revisited the surgeon again.  It was then that he, Todd, and I agreed that surgery was a reasonable option.  I still struggled with the idea, however.  You can read about microdiscectomy by clicking on this link.   I realized that every surgery comes with risk, but this was back surgery.  Doesn’t everyone shrink at the mere mention of back surgery?  I know I did.  In addition, it is a surgery that only takes parts away–no repairing or replacing.  Once those pieces and parts are removed, they’re gone forever.  What would that mean in the future? More pain? More problems? Did the potential benefit outweigh the risk?  I really pondered these things and read as much as I could.  The only thing I didn’t do was watch a microdiscectomy online.  Everyone has their line, and that definitely was mine.

Obviously, we went ahead with the surgery.  When I woke up in the recovery room, my leg pain and numbness was gone. GONE.  Although I haven’t spoken to the surgeon (I have talked with the assistant who was in the OR), Todd did.   The doctor concluded that the surgery was successful, but then again, only time would tell.   Nerve pathways are slow to heal, so it was quite possible that there would be residual pain for even months.  I am happy to report that pain has been minimal.  Every so often I will have a  slight bolt shoot down my leg, but it is nothing compared to before.  My back is still healing and I have “surgery pain,” but I can’t really tell if my back pain will be completely gone.  Like I said, I have been under inclusive restrictions (no bending, twisting, stretching for the first two weeks, and no lifting for at least six) so I have yet to test it out.  My instincts tell me that I will have a longer recovery than just six weeks.  After having six pregnancies with big babies, I’m convinced that part of my back issues stem from weakened abs.  But THAT is a story for another day….

On the whole, the recovery time has gone well.  I can’t really remember the first week and a half, thanks to percocet, but we were so incredibly blessed with help.  My parents were here for the day of the surgery and a few days afterwards, and friends from our homeschool group and from church lavished us with delicious dinners for two weeks.  (If anything, I now have more work to do to get back into shape thanks to the winning combination of good food and no activity!) Todd and my fellow homeschooling mom Tina took the kids to CC the first Monday after surgery, not only helping the kids to keep their regular routine, but allowing me an entire day of solitude and rest.  But now I’m able to shower without help, I have been walking around the neighborhood, and generally feeling more like myself.  I’m still not doing laundry or lifting and the kids have taken turns going to the grocery store with me–which is an adventure in itself!

I’m looking forward to what the next many weeks will bring and am prayerfully optimistic that recovery will continue and pain will be a word of the past.  Our insurance company is most likely hoping the same thing!

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