Months 5-7

I initially started writing this at the 3-month mark…three long months on the road to recovery. When I found out that I needed a 3-level fusion, my initial thought was that my body was betraying me. However, at my 3-month check-up and x-rays I, (along with my neurosurgeon) was pleasantly surprised to find that I was already showing new bone growth at the fusion cages. As he explained, this showed that I had very healthy bones—due entirely to my active and healthy lifestyle. This knowledge changed my perception, and while I did have structural failure in my back, I had to admit that perhaps my body hadn’t betrayed me after all. Perhaps it has more to do with not really listening to my body and changing activity when my back was hurting. It’s funny how just seeing those images, make me feel so much better—both mentally and physically. Yes, it looks like a little like the images one saw on Marvel’s Wolverine.

Now, those who know me will understand the words that came out of the surgeon’s mouth. “Your greatest challenge now is to NOT overdo it. You are STILL healing and STILL growing a new bone structure.”

CRAP! After years of back pain and nerve issues, I was used to pushing through and slogging away on whatever task had my attention. The rest of the appointment was all negotiation. Happily, we came to an agreement that I could start kayaking this summer as long as it was on a calm lake, and I followed the parameters of getting the kayak into the water. Now, just waiting for the weather to be agreeable. In the meantime, other restrictions and modifications dealt with how I would accomplish gardening and household tasks. We came up with a plan for hiking, hunting, and snowshoeing as well—those things that feed my soul.

Where I’m currently at: I’m sleeping much better though do use a cane for balance when I need to get up in the middle of the night. The wobbly feeling has more to due with the Gabapentin that I need to take for post-surgical nerve pain, which should dissipate over time. I still experience deep exhaustion and find myself taking a nap six out of seven days—normal at this stage of healing. My scar looks fantastic, thanks to vitamin E cream and a “breaking up the scar tissue” technique. I’m going to physical therapy every 2-weeks, though admittedly I still need to work at getting the exercises incorporated into my regular day. I am also back to monthly massages, which help. Do I still have pain? Yes, I do, and though each week it decreases, I can feel when we have rain or snow coming in. A fact that probably will never change.

Fast forward to a few weeks and I am just over the 4-month mark. I’m impressed at how I continue to feel better on a week-by-week basis. With this type of surgery and long road to full fusion, one cannot mark time by the day. Gardening and spring project season are well underway at our place and yes, I am wearing my working back brace to remind me what I should not be doing as well as lending a little extra support. After all, the full fusion won’t be complete for another 8-14 months. I tackled my first rough camping trip with a friend of mine over a long 4-day weekend. A camping trip that included sleeping on an 8 ” tall air mattress, gentle hiking for 5-miles, and a 4-hour kayaking session. Granted, we took a break for a leisurely lunch (and drinks) at a boat up/paddle up bar and restaurant. I was definitely sore for 3-4 days after, but it was muscle soreness, NOT bone pain as though I had damaged anything. The funny thing is that many people later commented that I must be fully healed. I’m quite baffled by that concept. Admittedly, you can’t see the pain another person is in; however, I tend to question whether people expect me to lay on the couch until I have a full fusion. Those who know me well understand this isn’t a concept that I could embrace—even if being as active as I am, increases the pain for a while.

Today, just past the 7-month mark, I can tell that week by week I am feeling better. I am, of course, back to my crazy “gardening and construction project” phase that comes with summer. I take more frequent breaks and get frustrated that those heavy tasks take longer than they did in the past. I won’t know until the 1-year mark if the nerve issues are permanent—issues that for now are covered with gabapentin. There are many days after doing hard labor that the pain is tough, but I learned many years ago how to push through. Happily, I am kayaking and hiking every chance I get. At my 6-month post-surgical check-up, the x-rays showed continued new bone growth and I was given permission to start working with my bow in the next month. Perhaps venison will grace our freezer this year—I hope!

Something we opted to do to help with the healing process and pain after heavy activity, was to invest in a portable hot tub since we don’t have a bathtub. I find that, with the exception of being gone for that camping trip, that I am in it every day. Sometimes I’ve even been known to sneak in twice. This water therapy has been my go-to activity at the end of the day. I pour a glass of wine and sit outside enjoying nature and the warmth of the water and massage of the jets. It’s the best form of self-care that I can imagine. I find myself thinking about sitting in it in the morning after waking up, just to ease the morning stiffness that is still occurring. Now that I am past the “Oh my gosh I need to nap” stage, I may be soaking over my lunch break—sans wine of course.

Avie Layne 2012