“ You have a lot wrong with your back “ , not the words one wants to hear from an orthopedic surgeon. Yet satisfyingly validating after suffering for years and basically being told to suck it up, or keep using bandaid treatments rather than fixing the real issues.
My diagnoses included 3 levels of unstable Spondylolisthesis ( the vertebrae have moved out of place and shift with my movements). Multiple herniated discs that were compressing nerves, a synovial cyst ( from that shifting and rubbing) bone spurs and arthritis. I had tried all conservative treatment over a span of about a decade. In the 3 years prior to my surgery, I had upward of 16 different steroid injections. Typically only 3 injections are recommended per 12 month period. My quality of life was greatly affected and I was worried about the effects of all the steroids on my bones and connective tissue ( with good reason, it turns out). So hearing “ when did you want to have surgery?” was pretty much music to my ears. Despite my surgeon telling me that he only recommends surgery for about 20% of patients…he was telling me that YES he was confident that he could improve my quality of life!
The even bigger surprise was that instead of the single level fusion I was prepared for in my mind, he was suggesting a multilevel fusion. This would entail fusing 4 adjacent vertebrae to stop all movement from my 3rd lumbar level to my sacrum ( top of your butt). Due to the degenerative nature of my issues, a single level just would not hold up nor provide enough stability. It took a while for me to wrap my head around this news.
My biggest concerns were how this would affect my mobility and would I be able to continue doing the things I enjoy? When you fuse levels, they basically become one solid mass of bone. So instead of your spine being able to bend at that point, it is fused together and can not bend. I tell people it’s like trying to bend your thigh..it doesn’t 😉.
Thankfully, I had a wonderful online support group that helped me through all my fears and anxiety. I won’t get into any more nitty gritty details but on May 26, 2015, I underwent a 5 hour surgery in Boston. Recovery was tough. This is a major surgery and the path to healing is long. It can take up to 18+ months for a fusion to be solid.
I was fortunate to have in home physical therapy for my first few weeks post op which I believe really helped set the tone for my recovery. As with any situation, I truly believe in the power of positive thinking! I never let myself believe that things would not improve. I did my exercises, I followed my restrictions ( no bending, lifting or twisting for 4 months!) and listened to my body. I was diligent about eating well, enough protein to promote healing and taking my Calcium and Vit D supplements.
I was cleared to begin outpatient physical therapy at 3 months and made that my job! I’m blessed with a very supportive family and wonderful team of caring therapists. They knew my goals and assured me that I would reach them. Because of all these factors and of course my skilled surgeon, I was able to plan a weekend get away and even do some easy hiking at 4 months post surgery.
At 9 months post surgery, I boarded my first post op flight ( 2 flights actually) for a much anticipated Bahamas vacation!
That trip would set the tone and momentum for my future. Since my surgery, I am back to all my normal activities ( some with modifications) . Am I pain free? Nope, I will always have issues, but by listening to my body and taking appropriate action I’m able to move forward in a positive way. The key for me is not letting my physical issues define me. It’s acknowledging them and tackling them that allows me to keep on keeping on!
Before my surgery, I did not know what my future held. I was completely drowning in a cycle of debilitating pain unable to do the most basic tasks. My surgery not only gave me my life back but it showed me what I am capable of. Since my surgery, I have traveled to Italy twice, Spain, The Bahamas, DisneyWorld and Universal in Florida , Costa Rica and more. Highlights for me were hiking a skilled level trail in Cinque Terre and zip lining in Costa Rica!
My hopes in sharing my story is to inspire you to not give up. Use your mind as a tool, regardless of what you’re facing. Accept help from others when needed ( not always easy for me). Be grateful for what you can do rather than disappointed in what you can’t. And just keep on keeping on❤️
Happy travels and
Ciao for now!