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January 18, 2013

See you on the other side — slice and dice on my spine today

Posted in: Blogging

We’re about to head out to the hospital for the dreaded-but-necessary operation on my back to deal with an awful herniated disc (the saga is chronicled on my personal blog), so I wanted to let folks know that I may be offline for a bit…

My disc herniation is at L5-S1 (low back); the surgeon, who does hundreds of these ops a year, said during the consult that  on a severity scale of 1-10 mine is a 9.5. Lovely, but it’s reassuring to know just how bad it really is on some sort of continuum. I’ve had 5 doctors look at the MRI and all say variations of “oh, that’s bad,” but this was the first time one put it in the perspective of their experience over thousands of operations.

At a 9.5 it’s no wonder that I can’t feel most of my weak left leg and foot ( my right leg is affected as well, just not as bad). He was actually surprised I had done the three rounds of epidural steroid injections considering the severity of the herniation; he would have just operated.

I’ve been in the midst of this sh*tty quality of life since late August 2012, when I suddenly had the acute, shooting, pain down my left hip and leg and then spent six horrible, fruitless hours in the Duke ER where they didn’t even do sufficient diagnostic tests to find the obvious herniation. That came a few days later, thanks to the intervention of my rheumatologist, who got me in for an MRI.

So what’s going to happen is that I will undergo a bilateral open discectomy – the herniation is so big that he will have to cut it away on both sides of my spinal cord at the location. I may be released same day or the next day, it will depend on the pain management – I cannot imagine not staying overnight. Dr. said there will be wifi in my hospital room…woohoo!

Major risks of the surgery? The usual – infection (1%), the surgery doesn’t “fix” the pain, etc. Many patients experience pain relief (the acute shooting pains from the herniation) after surgery, but that issues related to numbness, weakness in legs may not resolve for up to six months. There is a chance that this will never resolve. Also, the recovery from the trauma of the operation itself can affect the nerves since they have to be moved aside during surgery, which can mean more uncomfortable sensations and yes, even pain.

Full recovery I was told, is usually six weeks. Assuming there are no complications.

One recommendation is to get up and walk gently ASAP for as much as you can stand it to avoid scarring around the spine. am hopeful that the acute pain will be resolved, but I’m realistic that the weakness and numbness from nerve damage could likely remain.

After the operation there is a roughly 15% chance of reherniation. The key is not to lift more than 5-10 lbs and no twisting of the spine during recup. The chances of reherniation go way down if you allow it to heal for the full six weeks. My major frustration will be the limitation of not being able to drive as soon as I’d like. The doctor optimistically said if you can get into the car (by not twisting AT ALL) and not hurting, you can drive. I’m not going to even try for a good while.

It also means no lifting groceries or laundry; Kate’s going to take over my laundry lifting patrol; I’ll have to settle for just folding if I’m feeling OK. Fortunately we live in a ranch, so it’s all one floor, with only about 10 stairs to get into the house.

And since sitting is actually the last thing they want you to do, I guess I’ll stand at my kitchen counter to blog when I’m sentient.

My baristas will keep the Blend perking…see you on the other side.


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