Six weeks ago today, I had my lumbar fusion surgery. I now have four titanium screws, two pins and some sort of cage residing in my back. What, you ask, have I been doing with my time besides figuring out if I’ll set off metal detectors? (They say I won’t. I’m skeptical.) I’m not really sure, but it’s gone by a lot faster than I’d ever imagined. For those who stumbled this way looking for a fusion story, beware, I am a dog training and agility superfreak looking to find the fastest path back to the agility field running my pups. And for my agility friends, I promise to throw in a gratuitous Merlie picture every now and then just to keep things semi-normal.
But for those out there looking for a firsthand experience of the L5-S1 fusion surgery with a person determined to be active again, I hope to…well…give you some hope – all while I’m hoping like mad that my own fusion will be successful. It seems that 99% of the experiences on the Internet are written to scare the living crap out of you, by those who seem to relish dishing out doom and gloom. I suspect most folks after surgery heal, recover, and get back to their lives, too busy to visit back pain forums. While it would be easier for me to skim over these details and go right back to writing about something much more fun, (woof!) I realize sharing my surgery and recovery experience may help others facing the same fate, or any physical setback, for that matter.
“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” -Marilyn vos Savant
My stay in the hospital could have been quite brief. Shortly after being admitted, hooked up to various machines and started on what the nurse called the “you won’t care” drug, I suddenly and violently cared. I cared enough to clearly visualize flinging off all the machines and running screaming out of the building, gown flapping in my wake. Thankfully, clearer heads (and a heavier husband with excellent calming skills) prevailed, and I stayed put until the drugs kicked in, and then yep…I didn’t care. Thank you, drug provided oblivion!
In what seemed like three seconds after I was wheeled in the OR, I woke in recovery with a friendly nurse hovering overhead talking to me, asking me questions. But the only voice screaming in my head like a fire alarm was my own: “Do your &^%$-ing toes work??” Left foot – check. Right foot…hey right foot, yes, YOU! Check. <<Deep breath and silent thanks to a surgeon who paid attention in class>> But back to that nurse…thanks for the ice chips. I think you saved my life.
The next three days went by in a blur, more for me than anyone else. They said I was under for about 3.5 hours, and anesthesia really screws me up. For a while I was setting personal blood pressure records, some that may have qualified me as an honorary zombie. BPs like 75 over 57 made the walks I took several times a day quite interesting. I’d hobble out slower than a turtle with my walker, with my entourage of therapist, nurse and IV on wheels. I’d make it to the corner, start seeing spots, and come racing back like a Citroen on the last stage of the Dakar rally…usually on two wheels, and sliding to a stop back in bed. Thankfully, this wasn’t my husband’s first post-surgery rodeo, and he both expected and kept up with my I’m-going-to-faint-turbo-speed. The three nights weren’t bad…except for being awakened every two hours for vital checks by the nurses, (who rocked) and every other hour by a screeching machine that didn’t seem to do anything but wait until I was again asleep to screech. Then there were the pre-dawn vampires. Being jolted awake at 5:30 by a woman claiming she was from the lab wielding a needle and sub par vein-locating skills was not my favorite part.
Up to this point, I haven’t mentioned what the pain was like. I know what 10 on the pain scale feels like, and I expected something close to that. And…I didn’t. Yes, there was a constant pain, yes, it sucked, but it wasn’t impossible to tune out the majority of it most of the time. Maybe I was lucky and the drugs worked, maybe I had a talented surgeon, (and I believe I did) or maybe the back gods decided that by my third surgery I deserved a break, if not a frequent buyer’s card? Whatever the reason, I’m thankful. Sure, it hurt like hell to sit up and move around, I felt like my lower back had been replaced by something made by Cyberdyne waaaay before the T-101, and I wanted to boot every time I stood up, but I could handle it. Getting through this was my quickest route back to getting my life back.
To remind me of that goal, I brought a little photo album filled with pictures of the pups that would have put any grandmother to shame. I accosted any nurse who dared to come close enough for me to show them. One nurse who’d been around the block a time or two happened to be quite a dog lover, so she’d ask to see a new picture every time she came in. On my last morning, they said I could go home…after a therapist taught me how to climb stairs. But she’d not be back until afternoon. Having already been through two more minor back surgeries I was sadly familiar with the stairs routine. My new nurse friend winked at me, and before I knew it, I’d been shoveled into a wheelchair and deposited at the curb where my husband waited to take me home. Never mind that I only made it two minutes in the front seat before crawling into the back for the rest of the ride home. Never mind I recited a ‘don’t boot in the truck, don’t boot in the truck‘ mantra. I was home. With my pups. With my family. The worst was behind me, with a lot of healing to come in the weeks ahead.