Tag Archives: back surgery

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…

Microdiscectomy Journal: Week One / Day One

First off, I’ll stay away from the “why me?” questions, as I went through that hell a few months ago with shoulder surgery and I don’t feel like going to the dark place again.  Suffice it to say that another surgery — and a second spine surgery at that — was not what I wanted to happen two weeks after getting married and in the middle of a cross-country move.  But, it happened, I did it, and now I’m recovering.  So I thought it might be helpful to write a little bit about the microdiscectomy, if only to track my own progress.

Day One
I went to the surgery center (The Beverly Hills Penthouse Surgery Center, to be exact) knowing more or less what to expect.  I had a microdiscectomy done in 2005 on L5/S1 and this time I was going in for a microdiscectomy on L4/5.  A microdiscectomy is where your disc has ruptured or herniated and the surgeon moves aside your muscles and nerves in order to get to the disc and “shave off” the part that might be pressing on a nerve and causing pain.  It really fucking freaks me out to think about someone in there manipulating my spine, so I won’t write more about the actual procedure because gaaaaaackkkk.  Typically they won’t do this surgery until you’ve tried all conservative methods and/or you have started to lose feeling in one of your legs.  That’s a sign that the bulge is pressing on a nerve and potentially causing permanent damage.  For all the millions and millions of people who suffer from back pain, it is still not so easy to pinpoint exactly what is causing specific pain and therefore surgeons are reluctant to operate because there’s no guarantee that you will wake up with the pain gone.  My neurosurgeon explained it to me that there are 30 moving parts in the lower back and any one of them could be responsible back pain.

I arrived at the surgery center at 6:30am.  Weirdly, I had worked in the building before — producing the series “30 Days” with a production company called Actual Reality.  My episode had been about a mom who binge drinks for 30 days straight.  So it was a little weird to be in the same building but now be wearing a backless gown.  The nurse made me put on compression socks, took my vitals, and made inane small talk about reality shows (“are they really real??”) with me and PCA until the surgeon came in.  More inane small talk (“feeling steady today?” “Hope there are no earthquakes, ha ha!”).  When I get nervous I do this high-pitched cackle that makes me sound like a moron.

In the weeks leading up to the surgery I had been listening to a guided meditation to help healing before and after surgery, and it had really assisted in keeping my pre-surgery fear and anxiety under control.  Meditation was not something I had pursued consistently before, but this series was simply wonderful.  I’m a believer.  As I was waiting I kept reciting some of the affirmations and trying to stay calm and positive by imagining my family and loved ones giving me support.  Soon enough it was time and I said goodbye to PCA.  It would have been sadder if I could see his face but I had to take my contacts out for the surgery and they had already removed my glasses.  I remember being wheeled into the icy OR and seeing my surgeon-blur.  For some reason we chatted for a minute about the Dyson fan (the one with no blades).  I made some absolutely stupid joke about those fans being made for surgeons since there was no chance a hand could get cut off by the blades and his hands were worth more than most (CACKLE CACKLE CACKLE) then I fell asleep.  One wonderful woozy part was that I felt my Aunt Susie’s presence near me.  She had just passed away a week before the surgery after many, many health battles which decimated her body but never broke her spirit.  She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known and I felt certain that she was with me.

I woke up in the recovery room and couldn’t feel my right leg.  At all.  I started crying.  People kept coming in and out and I kept telling them that I couldn’t feel my toes or my leg.  The surgeon came in and ran a little spiky thing across my foot but I couldn’t feel it.  I could see PCA’s face — he looked very worried.  The surgeon said that it was “alarming” and left the room.  I think I dozed.  I remember crying a lot.  This was my worst fear, as I had ended up with nerve damage from my 2005 surgery and I had hoped not to have any more.

My throat hurt a lot and it tasted like I had swallowed a helium balloon, with that powdery rubbery flavor.  I felt really lucid but in retrospect I was high as a kite.  My back didn’t hurt at all, but I felt stiff and uncomfortable in the bed and it was raised to an almost-sitting position.  The nurse did not seem to have a clue at all.  She kept telling me the surgeon was going to come back to see me because of my “complications.”  We couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone.

Then they wheeled in a plastic surgery patient next to me.  She was an 18-year-old girl who was getting a boob job and a nose job: a graduation present from her mom.  Oh, LA…there are some things I just won’t miss.

I wanted to leave.  I was miserable and completely believed that I had just made the worst mistake of my life.  The surgeon called from his car phone.  He wasn’t coming back. PCA asked him if my numbness and complications were normal and he said they were not typical.  I got really upset and wanted him to talk to me face to face.  He said that he saw no reason why I shouldn’t get feeling back in my leg but his response meant nothing to me.  I was in full panic mode by then.  My sister was there and she was worried too and I just generally felt awful and mad and worried and dramatic and like a difficult patient that everyone was either ignoring or patting on the head.

PCA and the nurse helped me to the bathroom.  This was probably only an hour or two after waking up.  I could not walk as my right leg kept buckling.  I couldn’t feel the floor and so I didn’t know where it was — it was really scary.  I spent the next few hours alternating between freaking out and pro-actively diagnosing myself online using my iPhone, then mapping out my recovery strategy.  There is really nothing worse than an incapacitated producer.  I kicked everyone out of the room so I could feel even sorrier for myself.  It was not my finest hour, mentally.  There was wallowing.  Eventually the nurse fitted me with a back brace and helped me get dressed in sweats and a camisole top with a zip-up hoodie over it.

Finally, around 4:30pm I was discharged.  The nurse wheeled me to the car and it was a  challenge to get in.  We had placed a trash bag on the seat so that I could slide on it easily to pivot without twisting, and a pillow to put behind my spine, and we had the seat reclined back as far as it would go.  PCA drove us home and I made him stop at Jerry’s Deli for chicken broth.  We got home, made it up the driveway with me leaning on him and hobbling along, and he helped me into bed.

Someone had posted on Facebook about a documentary on HBO called “Miss You Can Do It,” and it followed a beauty pageant that had been founded by a woman who has cerebral palsy.  The pageant was for girls with disabilities and suffice it to say I cried through the whole entire movie.  I truly do not think there were more than 3 minutes out of 90 where I wasn’t sobbing. I was lying on my back and tears were just running unchecked into the pillow.  It was a wonderful documentary and such shot of perspective right when I needed it.  Yes, I was scared but I had come through the surgery safely and had to focus on that.

I had come home with prescriptions for Oxycodone, Ambien, and an anti-inflammatory.  I took the Oxy every four hours on the dot, trying to stay ahead of the pain.  I didn’t sleep much the first night because I can’t sleep on my back and my leg felt so weird and foreign — like I had a wooden leg — that I couldn’t drop off comfortably.  I think I slept in two three-hour segments and that got me through the night.  I woke up feeling pretty good and with only minimal pain, but my leg and toes felt the same.  The first thing I saw was the orange tree outside my window and the hummingbird feeder.  I had made it through Day One.