Recovery: One Month After Spinal Fusion

Recovery: One Month After Spinal Fusion

Recovery from Spinal Fusion Surgery

Gray Sky in Riga
My work space

Here I am, lying in bed again at the end of January staring out the window at a grey Riga sky that seems to be clearing up. Maybe we will see the sun today!

I have had some people as me how I am doing and wishing me well as I recover from my back surgery. I am writing a post for myself to describe the process, and I hope some may find it interesting and helpful.

Pain

View from my bed

After I woke up from surgery, I could tell immediately that something had changed. I no longer had this electrical wire shooting pain in my left leg that had been plaguing me for several years. I just want to write this up front so you know that the surgery was successful in this way because the other pains that have followed may make it sound like it hasn’t been so great.

One surprising thing for me has been the lack of pain in my back. Everyone asks me how my back is, and it feels fine. There is some mild discomfort now and then, but I would compare that to the pain you might feel after a day of heavy lifting. The scars are still healing, and one spot has been stubborn to close up completely. Stitches have been falling out on their own, and everything seems to be okay in that regard.

Most of the pain and discomfort has been in my left leg. Just a little history. My left leg has been through a lot. In high school, I blew out my knee and never really rehabilitated it or anything. I destroyed my left ankle playing basketball in the Yutan Days alumni tournament when I was in college. These injuries caused me some hip discomfort later which I learned was from my labored walking because of those other injuries.

Fast forward to 2014 or so when I was trying to be a runner with my Vibrams 5-finger shoes. I was sprinting across a field near my home in Omaha when I felt a pop in my left Achilles. I fully ripped the tendon in a family football game a few weeks later. I had surgery to repair the Achilles, and never fully recovered after that. Somewhere along the way, I injured my back and had this pinched nerve for a long time.

So my left leg has been through a lot, and hopefully, after this surgery, I can rehabilitate it to the best of my ability.

My calf and thigh muscles are noticeably weaker on the left than on the right. I saw a physical therapist who really helped by teaching me how not to limp and how to strengthen my leg as I recover. She also taught Rita some stretches and massages that really seem to improve my condition.

Left Leg

Physical Therapy

I had been seeing a chiropractor in Omaha for 2 years after my Achilles surgery because I had this pain in my left buttocks. She diagnosed it as Piriformis Syndrome. I also have tight IT bands on the left side. Both of these pains have been significant during my recovery.

I also have this weird phantom pain on the outside of my left ankle. It is like a dead zone of pain that just comes and goes without any rhyme or reason. This one makes it hard to sleep because it comes on and nothing seems to make it go away.

I have been up and walking since two days after the surgery. From what I read, it is good to get up every hour and walk around, so that is what I try to do. I have also made some longer walks outside around the neighborhood. Rita and I even went to the art museum. I got really fatigued after awhile, but it was nice to get out.

Now that I am doing physical therapy and working on the left leg, I have a very specific pain just above the left Achilles. After walking for awhile, it gets really sore, and it is that scary kind of pain that makes me think I have destroyed the reconstruction, but I think it is just muscular.

Oh, fun fact, I learned through a nerve doctor that when I had my Achilles surgery, the nerve to my foot was severed, so I will always have a bit of numbness.

So even though it was my back that was operated on, most of the pain of recovery has been in the leg and not the spine.

No Sitting or Bending

Blaumaņa iela

I am still not sitting or bending… or trying not to. My daily regime is to wake up, walk around, then lie down, then get up, walk around, and then lie down. It is a bit awkward, especially when I try to do work or type blog posts.

I have actually been out to a few restaurants that have bars for standing, but after an hour or so, I just feel this urge to lie down and rest.

It has been almost two months now, and I am still lying in bed. I have attempted sitting, but it does seem to cause discomfort after only a few minutes so I don’t want to risk it.

Rita and I went for a walk to see Blaumaņa iela which had been closed for the day to cars, so there were pedestrian parties. When I got there, I stepped off the tram and took a photo. I dropped my new iPhone, cursed, and instinctively bent to pick it up without thinking. What a weird feeling. I managed to bend and retrieve it (unbroken, yay!)… but then I had to wonder, did I hurt myself?

I have this constant paranoia about whether or not everything is fine. Luckily, I have an awesome family doctor who answers my texts and helps me out without having to pay for an office visit every time. My surgeon is a bit less helpful, but I will see him in person in two weeks. I am hoping for the best.

The good news is that I can stand for long periods of time. I am hoping that this will have healthy side effects because some people say sitting is the smoking!

No Sleep

Death in the Afternoon

The worst part of all of this has been my sleeping pattern. After I got home from surgery, I could not fall asleep before 2 a.m. I would go to bed at a normal time, and just lie there twisting and turning trying to get comfortable. No painkillers or sleep pills seemed to help.

Since then, I have become a bit more normal, but I still have trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night and getting back to sleep. I am just hoping this is a side effect of all the stress my body has been through and in a few months, I will be back to a regular schedule.

Luckily, I am on sick leave from work, so I don’t have that insomnia-stress of knowing you have to work the next day but cannot fall asleep. That is just about the worst thing there is!

The good news is that I have done a lot of reading, and I now know more about bullfighting than I ever thought I wanted to, thanks to Mr. Hemingway!

Thank you!

I have had lots of people sending me good wishes and asking me how I am doing, and I want to thank you all! If anyone has recovery stories, I would love to get some feedback. It is hard to know what “normal” is!

 

 

Feelings.
My standing table

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