Microdiscectomy – Two Weeks Overview

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I hit the two week mark this week.  It is truly incredible how much things have changed in just the past week.  At this point following my shoulder surgery, I could not even walk until the end of the block without turning gray and needing to sit down.  Even though back surgery is scarier than shoulder surgery (again, it’s your spine…gaaaaack), I think the recovery portion has been less painful.  Although the stakes are higher — nerve damage, paralysis, permanently living with a poo bag — there is less cutting and moving of actual muscles and tendons and thus the recovery seems easier.

Here’s my journal from the first day and the first week following my microdiscectomy at L4/L5.  And here I am after two weeks:

Day Eight (July 9)
Celebrated one week today!  My mom came over to visit and I felt pretty good.  Tired and weak, but basically good.

Day Nine (July 10)
My back is still sore where the incision is, but I’ve been able to start doing some things gradually myself, like washing my hair in the shower, using the bathroom, and getting my upper half dressed.  The bottom half is still dependent on PCA.  I try not to think too much about my foot and my toes, except for doing exercises with the resistance bands every day and trying to push my big toe up and down against PCA’s hand.  I’m so glad he’s here to help with everything and mostly to keep me positive because the numbness is scary.  Doing this surgery at such an “in flux” time of our lives (no jobs, in the process of moving across the country, no home and no stability) has been a real challenge for both of us.  We don’t talk much about Atlanta because it still seems pretty far away and we’ll have to wait for doctor’s clearance before I travel.

Update: went in to see the doctor for a follow-up appointment.  My surgeon was out of town so I saw someone else in his practice.  It’s a bit vague on who this guy actually was — orthopedic specialist? — he wasn’t a surgeon and he didn’t seem super knowledgable about the surgery itself.  When I told him I had no feeling in my foot, he said, “fantastic!” in kind of an absent-minded, autopilot kind of way.  It was weird.  He did say that the numbness can be normal and that the feeling SHOULD come back.  I want to believe him but it’s hard.  Especially because he said, “sweeeeeet” when PCA told him he was a helicopter pilot.  I just don’t really want my doctor to say, “sweeeeeeet” when I’m already freaked out.  PCA was amazing because he very clearly expressed how disappointed we both were in the complete and total lack of pre-surgery or discharge instructions, and the fact that the surgeon just disappeared after the surgery when I had many, many questions.  And the fact that the nurse gave us conflicting instructions.  Like don’t ice.  Who is ever told “don’t ice” after SURGERY?  So the doctor listened and said he would relay.  I wish I could learn to speak like PCA does. He never gets emotional or angry (or cries those awful “I feel sorry for myself” tears that I do during confrontations like this).  He just makes his point effectively, and moves on.  He even manages to make small talk afterwards, thereby diminishing all the awkwardness in the room.

The other good news is that the stoner doc said I can fly in about two weeks.  So we can make our plans for Atlanta!

Day Ten (July 11)
The kids came over today.  They are all hopped up on summer, and giddy about an upcoming trip to Magic Mountain this weekend.  We looked at all the rides on YouTube and they are SO excited.  I wish I could go too!!!!  It’s supposed to be 99 degrees at the park though, so I guess I’ll just lie here appreciating the cool breeze in this room.

Day Eleven (July 12)
Amazing news today!!!!!  All of the sudden, I could feel the carpet beneath my toes.  Prior to this I had no feeling at all and could not tell where the floor was or what I was standing on.  It felt like I had a wooden block on the end of my foot.  Today, I could feel that I was standing on carpet.  Then I went outside and could feel grit on the warm pavement.  It’s fantastic and gives me such hope that it will just keep coming back!

Day Twelve (July 15)
Sleeping much better.  I still take either half an Ambien or half a pain pill.  I nap whenever I feel like it — a luxury that I am sure I will look back upon fondly when I’m back to working full-time.  Hopefully my future employer will understand that every day around 4pm I need to take off all my clothes, climb under a blanket and zzzzzzzzzzzz…

Day Thirteen (July 14)
Viva la France!  Ou est le bibliotheque?  Ah, Gerard Depardieu.  Foux du fafa!  Bastille Day!   I still feel like my foot is wrapped in cotton but it’s getting stronger.  I have no pain in my back at all.  Amazing!  I’m noticing how much easier it is to stand up straight.  I was so crooked — like a sideways “S” — before the surgery.  I could not roll over in bed without indescribable pain.  Stretching, sitting, driving, walking and all daily activities were out of the question for over a month.  So for me, the way I feel now is incredible.  I baked an Orange Creamsicle Cake.  I wanted to make something using just the ingredients in the house.  It took all day (there were a lot of breaks) but it was delish!

Day Fourteen (July 15)
The successes just keep on coming.  Of course, my description of success is all relative…but still.  I feel like the Tiger Woods of back surgery.  Just breaking records left and right in my own little world.  So today I walked up and down a flight of stairs.  This is a huge deal because it has actually been very difficult to navigate stairs, especially walking down.  Either I have to plant my numb foot on the stair below, which feels extremely unsteady, or I step down with my good foot and it feels like I’m going to pitch forward and tumble.  But with PCA’s help, and clinging to the bannister, I managed it.  The reward was taking a shower in my sister’s bathroom — she has a huge walk-in shower with two jets and even a little bench in the shower itself.  I could have stayed in there all day!  I still can’t bend to shave my legs.  Oh how I wish I had been able to get them waxed before surgery but driving was out of the question.  I also walked for about 30 minutes today, very slowly and on flat ground.  PCA and I strolled around the neighborhood just chatting.

Day Fifteen (July 16)
Two weeks today!  What has changed since last week: I can feel the floor and tell what texture I’m stepping on.  I can lift my toes off the floor and walk on my heels across the room.  I can walk up and down stairs; it’s not easy yet but I can do it.  I can shower by myself and use the bathroom (and reach to flush the toilet).  I no longer use the walker or the cane.  I seem to have a bit more feeling across the top of my foot.  I can wiggle my toes, although they still feel stiff and weird.  I can walk up and down small hills.  I am just generally moving around more, standing up straighter, and able to do more before I get tired.  I can sleep through the night (with help from either a sleeping pill or a guided meditation before bed).  I can do a low squat to pick up something off the floor, if I keep my back straight.  I can sit for short amounts of time — about 30 minutes, tops.  I can stand for long periods of time.  Today I baked cookies AND cupcakes!  PCA says my scar looks good and it’s healing.

We took a 1-mile walk today along the bluffs today with limoncello vodka spritzers to celebrate the two-week mark.

I feel really good, all things considering.  I hope I can make this much progress over the next week too!  And I need to remember that I’m still in the super danger zone for re-herniating.  It would be horrible and out of the question to have to go through this all again, so I am going to be super extremely wrapped-in-bubble-wrap careful with myself.   I really hope that the surgeon allows me to get in the pool at the 3-week mark, as that is probably something I’m looking forward to most.  I just want to do slow walking laps around the shallow pool and build up to very gentle swimming.  It will be a bit disconcerting to expose my Beluga body to the general public but oh how I want to be in the water these days…

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  • Andi Lucas

    You’re an amazing human Monica – much love to you darling, please just keep smashing these records and taking the steps to full recovery xxx

  • Tulsa Guy

    How is the recovery coming? Full strength in muscles yet?
    I Just had a microdiscectomy last week. Concerned about ankle weakness recovery.

    • mmmartino

      Hey there, Tulsa!
      The recovery is up and down. I’m 3 months out. Some days I feel great, and then I’ll go to do something that I think would be good for me (like going for a leisurely bike ride) and I’ll have to spend 3 days on the floor recovering. That happened last week. I must have wrenched it somehow when I lifted my handlebars. It’s always a fear that I’m going to reherniate and then it slowly starts getting better again. PT has helped a lot, especially with the nerve damage. I feel like I’m getting more strength back but (as I’m sure you have heard) it……….is………….so…………slow. My therapist told me that first the strength comes back first and then the numbness goes away. In other words, an increase in strength means more likelihood that feeling will come back too.
      Is your ankle numb and weak or just weak? If just weak, I would say the prognosis is really good that you will get strength back. When do you start PT?
      Hang in there. I would have accepted any side effects to have the back pain gone. I hope you feel good and are happy you had the surgery done.