WTF: My Body is Betraying Me. Spinal Stenosis Recovery

I haven’t sat down to write for months as my time has been filled writing lectures and assignments for classes I’ve been teaching in a prison contract. Distance learning classes take just as much work as teaching in a classroom so my time has been FILLED.

I have taken time away from teaching in order to have back surgery. A TLIF (Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion) of levels L2-L5. After failing 2 ˝ years of conservative treatments and noting how rapidly the spinal stenosis was progressing, this was the best option to decompress the nerves and spinal cord as well as preventing further progression and restore some semblance of normalcy to my life. This ‘failure’ of my back, I have been assured, is not entirely due to overuse. Some of this is genetic, some attributed to body structure, and some is just the luck of the draw. Although I probably shouldn’t have been lifting 50# of chicken feed—EVER!

I have a core group of friends called, the “Non-Trad Squad Extraordinaire” who helped me come up with the idea to blog during this journey. Not only the physical journey, but also the emotional mental journey that inevitably comes with a life change based on health. There are strong, incredbily talented, women writers in this group and when they presented this idea as a challenge, I knew they were on to something. Whether these random thoughts over the next few months help anyone, I know that they will help me as I recover.

Spinal Stenosis: Just what is it?

The Mayo Clinic explains it this way:

“Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower back and the neck. Some people with spinal stenosis may not have symptoms. Others may experience pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. Symptoms can worsen over time. Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to osteoarthritis. In severe cases of spinal stenosis, doctors may recommend surgery to create additional space for the spinal cord or nerves.”

Adding to spinal stenosis, are two herniated disks and some slipping of one vertebra—issues which have been progressing. Issues, which have prevented hunting, kayaking alone, snowshoeing, and strenuous hiking. The back pain and leg pain has also begun to affect every other aspect in my life. So, it was time to jump in and have this taken care of…fully aware that the time to full recovery is 12-18 months. This summer, I’ll be back to hiking (gently at first). The fall, hunting. Winter, snowshoeing. However, it will be the following summer until I can kayak.

So today (January 21st) is the morning of surgery. Here we go. Time for the “carpenter” (aka neurosurgeon Dr. Terzic) to rebuild my scaffolding (aka back.) and make me into a titanium, bionic woman. In the time of COVID, there are no visitors in the hospital and I could only have one person accompany me from arrival to pre-op. Shawn was prepared, however a close friend had the day off and wanted to accompanying me through pre-op. The best friends are those who have your “back.”

Although this isn’t my first trip to surgery (it’s actually number 14!), I am terrified. Scared of how we’ll handle post-op pain with my poor track record of narcotic tolerance. Petrified of what the first 3-months will look like with no BLTs (bending, lifting, and twisting.) And, quite honestly, what will this dependence on my partner do to US? 

Now, bring on the relaxing drugs they provide in pre-op…and bring on that stupid cheesy grin that comes with it.


© Avie Layne 2012