Repost: my surgery story, part 1

This was originally posted on my old blog, but this one I wrote in Word before I posted, so I still have it. It’s mostly complete. This is now part one, as it ends shortly after the surgery and doesn’t include most of my recovery.

My microdiscectomy took place on December 14, 2011. That’s the date which this whole thing centers around, so when it says “June” it’s June 2011 and so on…

It began, in all honesty, way before June. But before then, there was pain that I could deal with. Primarily, it was lower back pain from anxiety, mostly due to work, and due to the high standards to which I hold myself (and others). I’ve had some sciatic pain before, but it was mild and tolerable. In June, I saw my doctor (who is wonderful) about the lower back pain that was beginning again – I’d had only about a month or two’s respite from the last round in March when we barely squeaked by making budget at the store. We began my first real treatment for anxiety and that was good for a while. I was still stressed and chock full of anxiety, but it was finally at a manageable level.

Then in September, something happened. I recall it coming on gradually, but I could just want to remember it that way. On Tuesday, September 20, the worst thing that has happened in my adult life happened. I could not put my shoes on. There was too much pain. My husband, bless him, put my shoes on for me, tied them, and sent me off to work. I called the doctor and was given an appointment for the next day.

As I began to think about when it all started, there was a time, the weekend before that day, where I was lying on the living room floor in the only comfortable position I could find, crying. I could not lay on either side, the pain shooting down my legs (yes, both of them) was too much. I was laying on my stomach, my husband holding my hand while sitting on the floor next to me, wishing there was something he could do for me.

We went into the doctor’s office, my bp as high as usual. We discussed what was going on, all embarrassing details and so on. Dr. S gave me a week’s worth of prednisone to try, to bring down swelling around my sciatic nerve, to see if that would help.

The prednisone helped on my right leg, quite a bit. But it didn’t last long and came back quickly. About a week after my first visit, it came time to see what was going on. I had my first MRI on October 7. Dr. S took a look at it and referred me to a neurosurgeon. I got in on a cancellation and so was able to see him on October 14. I had x-rays at the hospital that morning and then some basic physical tests at his office.

After looking at the MRI and the x-rays and talking with Dr. C for a bit, I decided to try the conservative approach first instead of rushing headlong into surgery. I had a moderate herniation of myL4-L5 disc. So I was referred to Dr. L for pain management. I had an appointment within a week for my first epidural steroid shot.

The first meeting with Dr. L was good. I didn’t feel especially warm about him (I’m still unsure why), but he seemed competent. A little local anesthetic and a shot in the lower back (right side) later, and I was on my way home. I had taken a half day off work that day, and a whole day the next, I felt so off from it. And yet, I scheduled a second one for the left side on November 1.
I had some relief from the first shot on my right leg. Over the course of the next month and a half, I didn’t really have much more pain in my right leg at all. I got very little relief from the second shot, which is often normal.

It occurred to me at this time what an industry pain management really is. For my second visit, the experience was completely different. There was no personal attention, no feeling that every patient is important. I didn’t even have a room in which to wait before the procedure. I, along with a couple others, were sitting in this little area in the back with two recliners and a gurney, a folded up wheelchair and some machinery. I was asked if I had any questions and how I was as I walked into the room with the large x-ray machine and had to answer as I laid down on the table and had all the stuff hooked up to me. I felt like a cog in a machine that just needed to work as expected and get on with things.
I had my follow up appointment with Dr. C on November 11. He was happy that I’d had some relief, but let me know that surgery was still an option. At that time, I didn’t want to – I was scared. It was a few days later when I just couldn’t deal with it any longer that I decided I had no further choice.

I had my second MRI on November 21, just before Thanksgiving. I then had to wait until December 5 for the next available time to see my neurosurgeon. As an aside here, let me say that I very much appreciated my treatment by Dr. C. A lot of people feel that he’s not very personable, and I will acknowledge that his bedside manner is dry. But that no-nonsense approach to my problem and treatment was exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want someone to comfort me and say it’ll all be all right, as if this was nothing – as if I was just another person. I had plenty of people for that. I needed someone to do exactly what he did – lay out my options and let me decide.

My second MRI revealed that, a month and a half after my first MRI, my herniation was much worse. Definitely surgery time. Dr. C didn’t want me to have to wait until the next opening that he had (which was after Christmas) so they made time for me on December 14.

On that Wednesday, I was very nervous. I knew fairly well what to expect from both my doctor and reading medical sites on the internet. However, nothing told me everything I wish I’d known.
We were asked to arrive 2 hours before the surgery, to get some bloodwork done and get all the paperwork straightened out. Once I spoke with all the nurses, the phlebotomist, the anesthesiologist, the nurse anesthetist, my surgeon (and I’m sure a few others), they rolled me down to the room. The best part after that was they then put a set of warm blankets on me (that felt so good). Then the hooked up my drugs and put a mask on me. The last thing I remember was the smell and thinking that it smelled funny/bad.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up. My surgeon was there and asked me how I was doing. All I could do was give him a thumbs up. It turns out that a former co-worker of mine (she worked at the college bookstore during nursing school where I manage the shipping and receiving department) was just leaving shift on the anesthesia ward when I was waking up. It was very comforting to hear a familiar voice as I was coming out of that confusing slumber.

I had been very worried about the anesthesia. Now, having “been there, done that” I wondered why I was so freaked out. Just the very idea of having a tube down my throat is what threw me into a spiral of panic attacks the few days before my surgery. Fortunately, it happened just as my nurse said it would. I’d be asleep before the tube went in and still asleep when it came out. The only remnant from it was a sore throat for a few days and a couple cuts in my mouth. It made eating a little unpleasant for a few days, since one cut was very long and shallow, but a week out from the surgery, it was nothing more than a ridge that I can feel with my tongue and no pain.

I didn’t feel terrible coming out of the anesthesia. I hadn’t given it much thought, beforehand. The most interesting thing was the pulsing massagers on my legs. These large air bladders like in blood pressure cuffs were squeezing my legs, first one then the other. I managed to ask the nurse watching over me about it. They were to keep clots from forming. It was actually pretty cool.

Once I woke up enough to know where I was and what was going on, they took me back to one of the little rooms and got my husband. The surgery took longer than expected and Dr. C talked with my husband after he finished working on me. He said he took out two large pieces. I could tell immediately after waking up that the pain in my leg was almost gone. (I hadn’t been able to take a pain pill that morning since I needed to take it with food.)

We went home shortly after (the nurse said I had to stay until I could urinate) – I’d say maybe an hour or so after I woke up. The discharging nurse gave my husband, as the responsible adult, instructions to care for me, especially regarding my Aquacel wound dressing. She helped me get off the gurney, reminding me that I would have to get up by rolling onto my side and then lever myself up without twisting my back. Fortunately, I’d been having to do that already to avoid pain in the morning, so that was no problem.

The most painful part of the “getting out of the hospital” section of my day was having the other nurse take out my IV. The tape just did not want to let go of my skin. RN said he’d never seen it stick so much to anyone before. Then he helped me into the wheelchair, which felt much better to sit in that on the gurney. It hugged me and made me sit still, which felt good.

We drove home, ate, and went to bed. I slept on my side, dozing off and on, taking my pain pills ever four hours as instructed. The first time I tried to walk, because you need to walk a lot after this surgery, I had just woken up from about two hours of sleep and I was so stiff, I had to take baby steps up and down my short hallway. I did this every few hours all night until it was time to go to my parents’ house to be babysat while my husband went to work.

No one told me that I would probably feel so bad as to wish death the day after surgery. I hurt so badly and no one told me it would happen. I mean, I knew it would hurt being cut open, but dear Lord in heaven, I didn’t know that just breathing would make me want to cry in pain. OK, I may be exaggerating that a little, but I felt horrible the day after surgery. It hurt to sit still. It hurt to move. It just hurt. I slept most of the day, waking to walk and take my pain pills and eat. Husband took me home after he was done with work and I went to bed again and slept some more.

The second day (Friday) was much better. Most of the pain was muscular, since some of my muscles had been detached and moved around and so on. I was getting cramps from other muscles that were trying to take as much of the strain off the sore bits as possible. When I walked, I felt like I needed to keep my hands on my lower back to hold myself together (it made my arms look like chicken wings). More walking, more pain pills, and more sleep.

I had some discharge that seemed worrisome on Friday. I ended up calling my nurse who told me to go ahead and change the dressing, even though the Aquacel dressing was designed to last a week. The reason it appeared that there was excessive bloody discharge was due to the structure of the Aquacel bandage itself. The discharge was not being absorbed by the gauze pad inside it. The incision looked good and the discharge had stopped but my steri-strips had come off with the original dressing. That evening, my surgeon called me back and after talking for a few minutes, he decided that I could go without the steri-strips, but just to keep an eye on it.

Again, the next day was even better, pain-wise. I managed a shower, which helped my mood greatly. I had to have help from my husband to get dry and get dressed.

Sunday, I spent the whole day at home, without having to travel anywhere. Still feeling better pain-wise. However, I think a lot of my mental recovery came from spending the day at home.

Part 2, coming soon…

One Thought on “Repost: my surgery story, part 1

  1. Pingback: It’s not actually 9 months… (part 1) | jenrevenant

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