2-Month Recovery Update

It’s been two months since the fusion surgery on my lower back. Two weeks ago, I went back to work on reduced hours, and Monday I progressed back to my normal 8-hours. The issues with short term disability worked out in my favor only because I dogged them. I have such a tremendous boss, which meant I was able to work two hours, clock out, and then back in for the last two. Even with that, the first week back really kicked my butt! The second week I was able to do the full 4-hours. This week, about mid-way into an 8-hour workday, I find I need to lay down on ice/heat for an hour. Still, even with that break, by the end of the day, I am exhausted. What I notice is that the surgical pain has all but gone on the upper half of the area with just some slight tenderness along the incision. The lower half? Well, there are still days when I’m pushing a 5 out of 10 on the pain level—especially after progressing to an 8-hour workday. I think it’s going to be several weeks before I can do more than 8-hours. I’m hopeful by the time the weather is warmer, I’ll be back to my typical four 9-hour days, which leaves a 4-hour day on Friday and that makes me feel like a 3-day weekend every week.

I’m out of the hard-shell brace except for travel or if leaving the house and the ground is slippery (it’s still March here). I’m working on some light physical therapy that is geared towards strengthening my core, increasing flexibility in my legs, and squats—since bending over at the waist is to be no more. I just know I will have rock hard thighs and buns of steel with all the squats I’ll be doing. Most days I need a nap and days where I have very little appetite. I was given the OK to start taking a weekly sauna again and although it will take some time before my tolerance is built back up to where it was before, it’s been heavenly.

After being in the house for nearly 2-months, I have cabin fever. BADLY! The only times I was allowed to leave the house was for appointments. I can go outside, however, I can only go on the deck until the snow is gone due to a fall hazard. Happily, the weekend before I progressed back to full-time, I had an out-of-town conference. I must be honest; the 4-hour drive wasn’t the most comfortable. I stopped four times on the way due to leg pain. The drive back was much better as I only had to stop once. I think having a lovely quiet room to myself and the ability to do lots of walking, not only brightened my mood considerable but also helped with the physical stiffness from the drive. It helped that I was able to walk outside since the snow was completely gone in the city where the conference was. Of course, the little gelato shop I found within a block of the hotel helped too. Happily, when I got home, more snow had melted and the paths to the chicken coop, shed, and burn barrel were clear. Once my truck was off-loaded (thanks to Shawn), I popped on my Sorrels and went outside to visit the chickens and burn the junk mail and paper that had been accumulating since January. Two days of being outside and now we have freezing rain for the next 2-days, so I’m sequestered to the house again. UGH! I can’t wait until I can start walking outside every day, though I’m certain I won’t be doing any speed walking anytime soon.

Six Weeks Out

Six-weeks out. In many ways the time has flown, while the first 3-weeks, spent in a pain induced fog, dragged by. The day I was scheduled for my 1-month follow-up and first set of x-rays with the neurosurgical team, we had more than a foot of snow dumped over a 2-day period. Not totally unexpected for Minnesota, and while we have a 4-wheel drive truck, Shawn didn’t think it was worth the risk of driving the 30-miles in a snowstorm. Fortunately, my appointment was only postponed by two days. Sadly, I was told I stand a good chance of something called Adjacent Segment Disease (ASD): a condition caused by spinal fusion where the level above or below the fused vertebrae degenerate because they are compensating for the lack of movement caused by the spinal fusion at the level that was fused. My x-rays show some ASD at L1/L2, which is immediately above the fused area. The neurosurgical team will be watching the area during the serial x-rays I’ll have over the next 18-months. Lowering my risk is something that is being addressed in during physical therapy, which for now, is aimed at restoring core strength, leg flexibility, and decreasing the nerve issues.

Honestly looking at the x-rays (Disclaimer* below is a picture of the x-ray showing the hardware), was a bit of a shock. While I knew as a nurse what had been place, it’s quite different to see the result. I wonder if Wolverine (X-Men) felt the same when he looked at what had been implanted in him? I’ve been asked if I can feel the hardware. Yes and No. Right now, I cannot feel the hardware if I run my fingers down my scar, that will probably change as inflammation continues to go down, due to my body structure. What I can feel is an odd sensation that is made up of muscles healing (they were cut during surgery) and a brick-like feeling, which is the hardware. There is a strange feeling as well which is the inability of that section of my spine to move.

Where I’m at today. I am sleeping much better with the increase in gabapentin toning down the left leg nerve pain. However, I still have bouts of unexplained insomnia. I have weaned off the walker finally, though am using a cane when needed, such as leaving the house or a day of increased pain and weakness. I have also put away the bedside commode. With those items put away, we were able to lower the bed back down to its normal platform height. I’m working on weaning out of the hard brace except for being out and about. I’m able to do much of the cooking now, though Shawn still needs to handle any pan/item over 5#. I had one of my besties up for a weekend of relaxing, movies, and just hanging out. That weekend I tackled sourdough bread with her putting the cast iron Dutch oven in and out of the oven for me. It felt like a huge accomplishment. Little steps toward independence feel like such huge triumphs and are helping with my mood, frustration, and temperament. The cranky attitude is getting better, though the “nasty woman” (nicer way of saying b-tch) rears her head from time to time. It’s March, and outside temperatures are rising, so I’m able to step out onto the deck for some fresh air, which reminds me just how much I miss being outside.

In three days (Monday) I return to work on a 4-hour per day restriction for 2-weeks. After that, my goal is jumping right into an 8-hour workday. Perhaps it’s quite ambitious and perhaps I’ll have to break that time up in two sets—just so I can nap in the middle. On the logistics side of returning with restrictions. Short-term disability—what a joke. They were great for being off but a partial return? Insurance companies are in the business of making money and sometimes that means they will deny part of a claim or ask for extra documentation in the mid-way point in the hopes that the client will give up. After verbally indicating a partial/half-time return to work would be covered, and after already receiving this information in writing from my neurosurgeon, they are now asking for additional information. What, a low-level insurance agent knows more about when a person should be able to return to work than the neurosurgeon who specializes in the case? <smacks forehead> Well, this is one patient who isn’t going to roll over. You want more documentation—you got it. I took that new form with me to my follow-up. I’ll see your queen and raise you an ace!

Avie Layne 2012