Digging In with the DesMan

It’s apparent that I’m absolute crap at writing about my recovery from fusion surgery and Des’s debut in agility.  I have a reason, but not a very good one.  Each time I’ve sat down to write about the positive strides I’m making in my return to normality from getting four screws installed in my back, I worry I’m risking the wrath of the cosmic monsters and I’ll experience some epic joint setback.  So…I’ve been quietly drinking gallons of milk, sweating and swearing my way through rehab exercises and getting out there to play with the DesMan as often as possible.  As if I could resist this face??

Desmond, South Jordan, UT, May 2013.  Photo by Randy Gaines.

Desmond, South Jordan, UT, May 2013. Photo by Randy Gaines.

When my husband was on the Helena Hotshots their crew motto was “Opera non Verba“, which loosely translates to “shut up and dig“.  So, following that wisdom, since I can’t seem to find the words to explain how Des and I are doing, I will simply show you.

As you’re about to see…he and I are DIGGING this agility thing!!

For those who can’t view the video with music, here’s the same video in a version that should work for you.  I hope you enjoy!

Fusion Part 1: Nuts and Bolts

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.

Mama, get better soon!

Mama, get better soon!

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

Brotherly love at it's finest!

Brotherly love at it’s finest!

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.

THIS was my favorite part.  Many an ET joke was made...

THIS was my favorite part. Many an ET joke was made…

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.

DSC_2767

Plan B? Nah, This is Definitely Plan C…

Well, damn.

I’ve seen more than enough MRIs of the lower spine to know that the one I was looking at had a pretty screwed up L5-S1 disc.  The problem was that the image on the screen was, for the third time, of my own back.

This is just the latest chapter of a losing 13 year battle with this disc, including two previous back surgeries, and I was fresh out of options.  So, in mid December, I’m having spinal fusion surgery.

In the span of an hour, my plans for the next six months to a year have changed drastically. Instead of debuting my brilliant little boy, Des, I’m going to instead be inventing Rube Goldberg-like devices to be able to tie my own shoelaces.  The cool (and disturbing) part is that I’ll soon have titanium parts: screws, rods and bionic thing-a-ma-doodles.  You can bet the first time I run post surgery I’ll be making ‘na-na-na-na6 Million Dollar Man sound effects.  The not so cool part is that I won’t be able to even shuffle around outside with the Merlie Boys for a couple months, and if all goes well, not back to running at all until sometime next summer.  Gah.  I haven’t gone three days without working Des in a year.   Mr. Neurosurgeon, I think you’ve officially taken away my birthday.

How did I get here?  Well, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told “you’re too young to have xxx back surgery…”, (as if that fixes things) I could buy you lunch.  But since I’m a few years shy of 40…

Some would hazard a guess that it came from the years of hanging my arse over the side of a boat, my unofficial major in college.

That’s my said arse in front, in the blue lifejacket. San Diego Thistle Midwinters, January, 1997.

Others may speculate it came from hauling 1/3 of my (then) bodyweight across the countryside for weeks on end and spending days bent over digging as my means of employment with the St. Joe Hotshots?

A few years after my hotshot days, I guess the crew didn’t stop digging <ahem>to take pictures.

Or years later, dragging almost that much weight around for fun?

Mmmm….red rock canyons!  How I long to have red grit in my ears again!

Or maybe I’ve just been too stubborn to slow down combined with a bad draw in the joint lottery?  Whatever.

If you’ve read this blog before or know me peronally, you might think I lean towards a little ‘too’ positive (at least where agility is concerned and after I’ve had my coffee).  Well, now you know why.  Every time I’ve stepped to the line in the three years since my last surgery I’ve known two things:  to cherish each and every run with my amazing teammate, and that each day that my body carries me around the course is a gift.  Life is too short, too good and running Merlies too much fun to let this slow me down permanently.  So let’s screw this problem down (literally), and get on with things!  With luck, Des’s debut will only be delayed a few months, and I’ll be running harder and faster than ever come summer.  Because if you’ve seen the DesMan lately you’ll understand why that’s gonna be a requirement!

I have a few weeks left before my surgery, so I’m putting my time and mobility to good use.  I’m aiming to get Des to full height on his dogwalk, and his channel weave poles closed.  If we don’t make it, that’s okay, but goals are good.  Stay tuned for video progress!

I’ll apologize now, in the coming months, I may be posting a little more about surgery and recovery than about agility.  But I’ve learned there’s that there’s a huge lack of positive stories about surgery and a return to athletic pursuits on the internet to help others facing the same situation.  So I plan on documenting mine.  Because I’m determined that I’ll be back out there Running Happy as soon as the doc says it’s safe to do so.

Thanks, C for finding this, and you and G for getting this picture! It’s Dunc’s mantra!

It’s been a while since I was a professional dirt thrower, but some of the lessons learned on the line become ingrained for life.  Hotshots have a pretty straightforward mentality on tough assignments. Here’s the PG-13 rated version:

“The hill is steep.  So the heck what.  Quit your bitching and get going”.

I know this isn’t going to be a walk in the park.  But I’m going to get going, and keep going.