I should start off and say that my initial photo is probably the worst I’ve looked and felt in my entire life, so please bear with me, LOL.
It has been 18 days since my surgeries, and I thought it was about time I wrote up a post to share with everyone how things are going. For my readers, I am not only sharing my recovery, but I am also hoping that other people who must go through an ALIF and TLIF may learn something from my experience. There are so many conflicting stories online that I was frightened by some and reassured by others. Someone had mentioned that a lot of people go through the procedure following an accident and are most likely exaggerating for lawsuit purposes, so my story will be an honest account.
Okay so let's get to it. I checked into the hospital on September 5, 2012 at 5 am. I was nervous, but everyone was very nice. My procedure was done in a new hospital that specializes in neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery, so it was small, intimate and everyone was very friendly. After my intake, they took me in the back room, had me change, set up my IVs, took some vitals and then knocked me out. The last thing I remember is being wheeled away and saying goodbye to my husband.
The next thing I knew, I was in a large, spacious room with a huge wall-mounted television and someone laughing at me because I kept wiggling my toes and exclaiming “I can feel my toes!”. That became a joke amongst the nurses because I guess in my medicated mind I was very affected by that. The rest of the first day was pretty much a blur, although I do remember my two children coming in to see me for a short time. The introductory photo is from their visit. You can probably tell by the lost-in-space look on my face that I have no idea what's happening, haha.
Because I was so loopy, they did not make me get out of the bed the first day. The second day was the worst. I woke up in a lot of pain, and it took them some time to realize that they were under-medicating me. I had been taking 30mg of Percocet daily, and they had been giving me 10mg. Even though I was in a lot of pain, I was a trooper because I was so eager and did get out of bed and walk a few feet. I’m not going to lie; there were tears pouring down my face the entire time. At that point, my husband told the nurse I needed the larger dose of medication. They came running in and gave me a straight shot of morphine, and I was out again for the rest of that day.
Although my outlook was fantastic, and I was motivated enough to be a favorite patient, my surgeon was not in any rush to send me home. By day three, they began loading me up with stool softeners and laxatives. I believe I took four. Trust me - that worked! I thought I would be able to go home on Saturday, but my surgeon wanted to keep me in for that fifth day. I agreed, for it was nice to just catch up on all that missing sleep I’d had over the past year of pain.
Sunday arrived and my docs came in to tell me they would let me go home that afternoon. I had already showered with a shower chair and was walking every day, so I felt ready. It’s strange, you do feel weak, but you also feel so much better without the kind of pain you had been going through. So I went home on day five.
The ALIF and TLIF surgeries require both a front and back incision. I have what appears to be a large c-section incision in my abdomen around my bikini line and then a four or so inch incision in my back. My understanding (and please don’t hold me to this) is that the approach surgeon comes in, opens my abdomen, pushes aside my intestines, clamps apart my vena cava and aorta so my surgeon could reach my back. From there, my back surgeon did the approach, removed the collapsed disc, ground down the two vertebra to insert the clamp. Then they rolled me over, opened my back, inserted the rods and screws, ground out the extra bone that had been pinching my nerves and used that bone as my bone graft to begin the infusion. They reported that everything went so well that I was done 2 1/2 hours earlier than expected – see everyone? I’m tough! LOL. When I originally came out of surgery, my abdomen was so bloated that I appeared to be about seven months pregnant. Since then some of the air has escaped, and the discomfort has eased. Initially it was a very strange feeling.
The incision in the front has steri-strips holding it closed, and there are a couple of tender spots there. Rolling out of bed has been what I’ve been doing for months, so that wasn’t too hard to learn to do. The back incision sometimes bothers me, as I spent a lot of time in bed sleeping. That one you can feel, so I’ve noticed I can’t really move much at night.
I wear a back brace 24/7 that I love. It’s not required to wear while you’re sleeping, but it’s so comfortable that I like to have it on.
I returned home Sunday afternoon and moved straight into my office where there is a day bed. It’s lower than my master bedroom so easier to get in and out of. The room isn’t that large, but my dogs joined me in there, and the bed is loaded with pillows to help support me. I spent most of the first week resting and watching some television. I didn’t attempt to get on the computer because I was still medicated. By the end of the week, I was actually considering moving from the walker to a cane, and then the sciatica in my calves started. The pain was so intense at first we thought I may have developed blood clots. To check that out, I put my TENS unit on the area, and the tingles went straight down to my toes, so I know it was nerve related. I had heard on other sites that it was not uncommon to have sciatica flare up. After all, they were jiggling my nerves and clearing the pinched nerves that had been so inflamed for over a year. I imagine it’s going to take some time to heal up. I went back to my walker immediately.
My friend, Kathy, brought me in to see my surgeon on Tuesday the 18th, and he said everything looked great. I mentioned the problem with my legs. He was a bit stumped and told me to keep an eye on it. I promised I would.
On Thursday, September 20th, I rolled out of bed and fell, landing straight on my butt. My legs had completely given out. I felt funny, because I was one of those ladies saying “I’ve fallen and can’t get up!”. Unfortunately, my middle daughter had already left for school, so it was just my youngest (who was still asleep), so it was up to me to manage to get up. I did after a few moments, and I ended up being okay. It was just a good reminder to make sure I’m moving slowly and not doing too much.
I have had many people come to visit me during the day and keep an eye out on me. It’s been very helpful, and the amount of kindness everyone has shown me has brought me to tears many times. A special thank you goes out to Kathy, Michelle, Jenny, Yvette, Naomi, Rocky, Megan, Betsy, Kristi and DeOnna for wonderful dinners, rides and support!
I also wanted to make a mention for the beautiful flowers and cards I’ve received. Again, they have brought me to tears (I think I’m just not used to people being so nice to me, LOL). Thank you to Danny and Michelle, my family, Linda, Ilil, Christine, Karen and Cheri. Also there is a thank you to Belinda, Vickie, Linda and Ilil again, Rosie, Joe, Stephen, Margaret, David, Mary, Elissa. You all have been so wonderful.
So the recovery is coming along, slowly but surely. My surgeon says I should be able to start driving in two more weeks, although I can only stay on local roads for 10-15 minute drives. I’m hopeful the sciatica in my legs will ease soon too.
Lastly, an especially giant thank you to my two younger children. They have been exceptionally helpful and understanding and I don’t know how I’d be getting through all this without them. While my oldest is in college, she’s been checking in on me every day, and that reminds me what a great family I truly do have. Thank you all for your support and well wishes!