Wednesday, July 22, 2020

physical therapy after lumbar fusion

When I talked to my orthopedic surgeon about recovery from the lumbar fusion I was about to have, he didn't go into all that much detail. I asked questions, of course, and he answered them, but I didn't think to ask much about physical therapy. I knew I'd have to have it, but didn't know for how long or what kinds of things I'd be doing. All I knew is it wouldn't start until at last a month after the second surgery, would be at least four to six weeks, and it would start out slow and very low impact.

I started physical therapy April 28, twice per week, and have completed almost three months at this point. At my first appointment I had no idea what to expect since I'm not allowed to bend, twist, or lift more than 10 pounds. What could they possibly have me do that didn't involve any of those things?  The answer is:  not much, but something.  I started off with supine ankle pumps, quad squeezes, glute (butt) squeezes, marching my legs, ball squeezes using my knees, and transverse abdominis bracing, which basically means "suck your abs in and let them out." This was all why laying down on the table. They also had me use stretchy bands, which look like a jump rope, to do lateral pull-downs and rows. I also did hamstring stretches using a strap since I can't sit up and bend forward like I used to, at least not yet. I've now progressed to other things to give me more of a workout and target some problem areas, like my hips. I'm doing clam shells, side steps and "skaters" with ankle bands, more arm exercises, squats using a chair as my landing spot (harder than one might think!)--sometimes holding a one-pound ball and sometimes not, among other things. I also do most of these things at home the other five days of the week, using my home gym of course! I generally do physical therapy, whether it's at home or at the PT office, everyday. Though I do occasionally take a day off, especially when they have me do something new or they work my hips a lot.

Has it helped? Yes, definitely.  

I feel better the rest of the day afterwards and it keeps me somewhat active given what's going on these last few months. As you all know, we've been dealing with a pandemic for months. Things really started picking up in my state in the two weeks between the two surgeries (March), with many things starting to be closed/cancelled while I was in the hospital for the second surgery. (The news alerts were so frequent that I finally turned my phone on silent; normally it's on "vibrate," but I couldn't stand even that anymore.) I came out of the hospital into a world that literally changed almost overnight. Masks weren't yet required, but many things were closing or being cancelled. Eventually non-essential businesses closed; restaurants either moved to curbside pickup or takeout, or closed completely; business hours were significantly reduced for essential businesses; companies started having employees work from home; and masks were mandated when out in public. As a result, I feel like recovery has been much longer and slower physically than it would normally have been. I couldn't get out and start doing normal errands, going out to eat, and going into the office.  Even though places are now opening up, I'm still nowhere near as active anymore and I'm now working from home permanently.

Not only has physical therapy helped me physically, but it has helped me mentally. In the beginning it helped because it got me out of the house twice a week. Up until then, my life was visits to the pharmacy and the grocery store. That's it. And now it helps me feel "normal" to be able to go out to my gym, put on my music, and do my physical therapy. I'm an introvert, but all that means is I recharge by spending time alone. And though I do tend to keep to myself and not socialize all that much, it doesn't mean I hate people.  Never did I think I would miss talking to and seeing people. Any people. I miss going into the office and talking to my coworkers, and just having that routine in general. Things are getting better now that I've mostly adjusted to working from home, though I don't yet have a home office--that's coming soon and there will be pictures. And I'm working on getting myself into a routine that's more than "get up, feed the cats, sit at the computer reading work blogs while drinking my homemade iced mocha latte, start working, take a shower at some point, then work some more until whenever." Even just getting back into the routine of taking my vitamins has been a big struggle. 

I'll end this here. There's lots more to talk about in regards to recovery from surgery, which I'll cover at another time.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

a hello and two goodbyes

I started this post a while back. It took me so long to get back to it, we now have had two goodbyes.

First, the "hello."

We have a new kitty, and his name is Caesar. He's another kitty from the Stratford Cat Project. We got him in December, just a few days before Christmas, and he was about seven months old at the time. As you can see, he's a cute Tuxedo kitty. He seems small; however, I admit most of my cats are quite large. Not necessarily fat, just big. 

What can I say about Caesar? He's a little quirky. He likes to chirp. He's been known to watch TV. He gets startled easily. Although he knows us and has been here for six months, he tends to run when he thinks we're walking too close to him. He'll be eating dry food and if we walk into the kitchen, he takes off, usually dropping dry food on his way out. Maybe he's afraid of feet? He likes the bathroom sink for some reason. At first he liked playing with the running water, but now he seems to like stretching in the sink. Kitty yoga fan maybe? Kind of weird, but that's what he likes. When I feed the cats, I line up the dishes on the entertainment center (they get fed in the family room because I have 12 cats and the kitchen is too small--OLD house). As I open the cans and put the food in the dishes, he stands partly on the cat tree and partly on the entertainment center and licks the empty cans. Sometimes he gets up on the entertainment center and sneaks around the back so he can start eating from the dishes. He can't seem to wait long enough for me to put the dishes on the floor. 

And now for the "goodbyes."

I always hate having to write these posts, since I usually cry the whole time. In both cases, these were kitties that we wanted to "save."


Our first goodbye was Tigger. Tigger showed up on our doorstep somewhere around April 15, which was about a month after my second back surgery. At that point I was up very early everyday, usually around 4 am or earlier--it was definitely still dark outside. Well, he showed up one morning, crying for food and acting as though he lived here. Me being the soft heart I am when it comes to cats, I decided to feed him. He scarfed the food down like he hadn't eaten in weeks. He was so skinny and was dirty, too. He looked as though he'd been outside for awhile. He was very friendly, though. He purred like crazy and wanted so much attention. Once he has his fill, he left. He then showed up the next day for the same routine. He didn't come back again until around May 15 and it was the same routine. This time he was skinnier, if that was even possible, and had obvious mouth pain. Bob and I both said we should put him in the spare bedroom and then bring him to the vet the next day. 

We took him to the vet and he was there for more than a week. They calculated his age to be 12-15 years old. It turns out he had many health issues:  double ear infection; hyperthyroidism, which is why he was so skinny; kidney disease; and congestion that wasn't improving. The mouth issue was thought to be either an abscess or possibly a tumor. In order to inspect it, they would need to put him under anesthesia; however, because of the other health issues he was too weak to do that. Another option was a needle biopsy, but no matter what it turned out to be, it was in a hard-to-access area, which meant he would go through a lot of physical trauma in order to fix it. I didn't want to put a senior, very sick kitty through that when it was likely he might not even survive surgery. And if it turned out to be a tumor, we would lose him anyway. 

We made the decision to put him down. Thankfully we were allowed to be there for it. We both cried a lot. I cried probably more than if he'd been my cat his whole life, probably because I was convinced I could save him, and he came at a time when I needed something to focus on while recovering from surgery during a pandemic. And I think what made it worse was that he clearly recognized us when we walked into the back office where they had him in isolation. He perked right up and started prancing around. We spent some time with him and then we helped him over the Rainbow Bridge. 

We have his ashes and will bury him in our garden. I think he came to us because he knew he would get the help he needed, even though it came in the form of euthanasia. He needed his suffering to end, one way or another. By coming to us, he didn't die suffering and alone. 


Last year Tessa came to us with her brother, Toby, from the Stratford Cat Project. They had been adopted out of the Project as kittens; however, they were returned last year in a semi-feral state:  very aggressive, fearful, and unsocialized. Given their state, they weren't adoptable again. The choice was to euthanize them or to make them "barn cats." Me being me, I volunteered us to be their caregivers--we do have a barn, after all! 

We were lent a couple large dog cages and we set them up in the barn with their cat carriers, food, water, litter and blankets. We covered them with moving blankets to keep in some warmth (it was starting to get chilly at night) and also to make them feel more secure. We spent the next several weeks feeding them and cleaning their litter.  Very, very carefully, I might add. Any time we got our hands too close, we got a hiss and a growl, and usually a swipe of the paws. I began using a stick to pull the empty food and water bowls out of the cage, as well as pulling out the litter box. After a few weeks we let them out of the cages. We put out food and water in the barn, and Bob built some cat shelters so they'd have someplace warm to sleep. Eventually we moved the food dishes to the patio. 

We saw Toby only twice after we let them out of the cages; however, Tessa came around to eat everyday. We often saw her sleeping in the barn window or hanging out under the bushes. She seemed content. We were never able to approach her; however, we eventually were able to get within about eight feet of her before she would retreat. 

A couple weeks ago someone knocked on my door. He told me a cat had been hit by a car.  He described it and asked if it belonged to me. Based on the description, I was nearly 100% sure it was Tessa. It was. When I went outside she was across the street on the side of the road, still alive and clearly in a lot of pain. She was panting from the pain and was bleeding from the mouth. The man's friend was there, as was another friend of theirs. They had wrapped her in a blanket.  I ran in to call the vet; however, the doctor wasn't in yet so I had to take her to the emergency hospital. The man who wrapped her in the blanket helped me get her into a carrier and then into the car. She was scared and in pain, so she would occasionally hiss and try to bite us. 

Within minutes of arriving at the emergency vet, they called me to tell me euthanasia was the best option, as she had numerous fractures that would require extensive and multiple surgeries. In addition, she was having difficulty breathing. I gave the OK to put her down. Although I wanted to be there with her for it, the doctor said I wasn't allowed in the ICU and if I wanted to be there, they would need to remove her from the oxygen in order to bring her into an exam room. I didn't want her to suffer anymore, so I waited in the exam room while they euthanized her. They then brought her in when they were done so I could say goodbye. I decided to have her cremated and her ashes will be buried in the garden, too.

The man who knocked on my door that morning came back later in the day to check in and see how Tessa was. I was so touched by that, as not many people would do that these days, nor would they have even stopped to look for the owner of a cat that was hit by a car. And it wasn't just one person--it was THREE. And it turns out they live in my neighborhood, too.

Although I'm glad Tessa was cared for the last year of her life and we were the ones to do it, I really struggle with the fact that she was hit by a car and we had her for less than a year; I no longer let my own cats out because it happened to one of my previous cats many years ago. On the other hand, she wasn't adoptable anymore and she spent the last year enjoying the sun, being fed everyday, and chasing chipmunks.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

my home gym: it's purple!

I've been sitting on this for a very long time. Since last year, as a matter of fact. I had some things going on at the time and didn't want to advertise it. Then life (and back pain) got in the way and I just didn't want to sit down and write a blog post; sitting too long hurt. Then I had my two back surgeries in March and couldn't sit down to write. Well, it's now May and I'm able to sit and write, so it's time to reveal my home gym. Plus, writing this will hopefully keep my mind occupied for a bit; I'm really struggling mentally at the moment.

When my previous company was bought, I didn't get a job offer. Instead, I was given a nice bonus to stay on for a period of time and wrap up things. Fine by me! I didn't want to work for the new company for several reasons, and that bonus enabled me to build a home gym.

My previous company had a small on-site gym, which I used four days per week. It was SO convenient--literally 20 feet from my office!  I would eat lunch at my desk, go into the gym at 4:00 PM, and then go home right after. It kept me on track, because I didn't have to go to a crowded gym across town. Nor did I have to drive home, eat dinner, change, and then go to the gym. That would have resulted in my saying, "Screw it!" Having that gym was awesome. When I left the company, I then had to either pick one of those two options, or work out at home on my patio since the new company doesn't have a gym. For several months I worked out either in the living room or on the patio, weather-permitting. It was fine, but it limited my workouts since I couldn't jump around in the house and I couldn't really buy any equipment I wanted and needed. Not to mention it was getting too hot outside to work out comfortably. That's when I decided I'd use my sizable bonus to build a home gym.  

The first step was deciding where the gym would be. I had several options:  convert the existing shed, which would need work and was smaller than I wanted; renovate part of the barn, which is huge and almost 300 years old; build one from scratch; or buy a prefab shed.  The first three options would take too much time, money and effort, so I opted to buy a prefab shed. Expensive, yes, but it would be delivered already completely built and sided, and they would do the minimal site work for us. It was very much worth it to us to not have to do a ton of work. 

Shed delivered! This is the side entrance.

Front entrance. Behind it is our barn, which is original to the property.

Once the shed was delivered, the next step was to insulate it and install drywall, run electricity, install a mini-split heat/AC unit (also very much worth it), and then paint it. I chose purple, because that's my favorite color. The exact color is Sonic Plum by Valspar, which I got at Lowe's. We didn't drywall the ceiling and instead left the beams exposed, which I painted white. Even though we used a spray gun for that, it was a big job. We also installed horse stall mats for the flooring. They're so easy to install. You just drag them in and lay them down. No need to glue or screw them down. Not all that easy to trim since they're quite thick, but we got it done. The final item was the wall of mirrors. Those I completely shattered one by accident and then chipped another one. Rather than buy yet another mirror, I put that mirror in the far corner.

Inside, before we finished it off.

Painting finished!

Finally, it was time to fill it with the fun stuff! I had enough money left from my bonus to buy a piece of commercial grade equipment: a functional trainer. It's the Inspire Fitness FT2. Yes, it was expensive, but it was worth it. It does everything I need it to and then some. It comes with a smith bar, which hooks into the dual weight stacks. I opted for the bench and leg curl attachment. (I wish I didn't get the leg curl attachment, since it's not really something I should be using with my back problems. But maybe someday.) I bought a lateral bar to add to it so I can do proper lateral pull downs. I also added a battle rope, plyo boxes, a mat, a step, slam balls, wall balls, dumbbells, and kettle bells.  Within the last week I've added small weighted balls and a stretching strap, which I'll be using as I do physical therapy.

As you can see, a lot of work went into this gym. Yes, it was expensive, but it was worth it. I can go out there anytime I want, it's heated/cooled, has all the equipment I need (for now), and has a very nice, LOUD Bluetooth speaker. :) (If anyone wants to know, it's the Ultimate Ears Megablast, which has built-in Alexa.) It's my own personal space, kind of an escape.  And since it's right in my back yard, I have absolutely no reason not to work out! Though I just had back surgery, so I won't be able to do too much out there for a while yet. I'm back to using it, though. I do my physical therapy out there, which is helping me feel like myself again. A tiny bit, anyway.

My new functional trainer. Ignore the dusty floor mats.
They're black and don't photograph well.

The finished product! I even have a mini fridge for my water. 

The main wall.

Ignore the floor. I hadn't yet swept. I added a nice Bluetooth speaker, which is on the shelf.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

lumbar fusion surgery preparation

I figured I'd finish a post I started two weeks before the first surgery, which I had on March 3. I started this post in mid-February and never finished. So I removed some of the references to time frames so as not to confuse anyone. I decided I'll write this as "here's all the stuff I had to do pre-op."

It seems like just yesterday I made the decision to have lumbar fusion surgery. But before I knew it, pre-op preparation was upon me. And now both surgeries are over and it's been almost seven weeks!

I started preparing probably about the second week of February:  everything from grocery shopping to cooking to blood work.

A couple weeks before surgery I headed out to the grocery store and the warehouse club to stock up on stuff like paper towels, toilet paper, and other stuff I hate spending money on; I'm so glad I did considering the COVID-19 pandemic that started taking off right around the time of the first surgery. Had I waited to get these items when we actually needed them, I'd be SOL on toilet paper. I also grabbed some ingredients so I could make up some casseroles and other meals to freeze. I'm made a Shepherd's pie; taco bowls (those are already made and are in the freezer); a ground beef base for sloppy Joes; and a huge batch of seasoned rice in the Instant Pot.

I also bought some items I figured I'd need after surgery:  a raised toilet seat attachment (turns out I didn't need this); a shower seat; a handheld shower head, which I installed myself; and two grabbers so I can pick up things from the floor and pull laundry out of the washer and dryer (these things are SO worth it--you'd be amazed how many things you drop after surgery!).

I had my first pre-op appointment mid-February. The nurse practitioner was really nice, and it turns out she's had back surgery, too, so it was helpful to hear about her own experience. She took my vitals (BP and lungs were good!), weighed me (I've gained 34 pounds in three year...not a surprise since my eating has been crap, but I still didn't like hearing it), and ran down a big list of medical questions. She answered some questions for me and really made sure I felt like I was being heard. She also went over pre-op prep, the hospital stay, and recovery afterwards. I have to say, although I knew going into this that recovery would be long--six months to a year before the bones are completely fused--it was tough hearing her say it out loud. I was told that my back will be my "newborn baby" for the next six moths to a year--no "BLT."  That means no bending. lifting, or twisting. She said I'll need to learn how to do everything from getting dressed and undressed, getting into and out of the car, picking things up, and pretty much anything else that would normally involve bending, lifting or twisting. In hindsight, it's really surprising how many things involve twisting and we don't even realize it at the time. She told me to bring clothes to the hospital so they can teach me how to dress and undress in this new way. She also said that once I get to my hospital room after surgery, the physical therapist will be coming later in the day to start PT...the SAME DAY AS SURGERY! I couldn't imagine how that was going to go, but it turned out that all I had to do was show that I can get in and out of bed without twisting (the "log roll"), walk, and do a few stairs.

The following week I had my blood work done. In the same appointment they did a nasal swab to test for staph, MRSA, and all the other nasty stuff that can run rampant in a hospital. They also blood-typed me since I'm new to that health network.  Then they took a urine sample. (That's always fun. I just love peeing all over my hand while I try to "do a clean catch midstream.") Then it was on to the EKG.

Next was the general surgeon. He's the one who works with the orthopedic surgeon to pave the way for access to the spine, as my surgeries involved placing a metal plate and screws on both the front and the back of the spine. He told me what he's going to do, which was basically, "I go in through the abdomen and move all your guts to the side, and you'll have a six- to seven-inch scar."  Pretty much in those exact words, too.

My last appointment was with the pain management doctor. I thought it would be to talk about post-op pain management, how they'll wean me off the meds, etc. Nope. It was just to say he's now handing me off to the orthopedic surgeon for pain management and hopefully I won't need to see him in the future, which obviously is the point of surgery. Normally I'd be thrilled with an appointment that literally lasted about three minutes, but I felt a bit let down, as the doctor was running about 45 minutes late.

So, that was it for doctor's appointments and lab work.

The remainder of my time was spent cleaning the house and preparing for my cousin to visit, which unfortunately didn't happen because the timing of the visit was right when Amtrak was cancelling train routes. That's OK. I'll see her at some point once COVID-19 is over and things start to return to normal. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

second surgery done! now, on to recovery.

It's been over three weeks since I've had the second surgery, which was March 17 (first one was March 3). Time to finally finish this post, which I started almost two weeks ago. (I can't sit for long periods of time yet.) And since it took me so long to get around to finishing it, it's going to be long! I also plan to do another post about recovery in general. Hopefully it doesn't take me quite so long to get it done!


My surgery was again scheduled for 7:30 am, which meant being at the hospital by 6 am. No food after midnight, clear liquids only until 4:30 am, and then nothing, not even water, after that. I again missed having my homemade iced mocha latte.

When I got there, admission was pretty fast and they called me into the pre-op area almost immediately after. (Last time they were on Day Two of a new computer system so it took a little longer.) They weighed me and had me give a urine sample to rule out pregnancy. Luckily I remembered not to use the bathroom again before I left the house, so giving a sample was easier this time. Then it was on to the pre-op prep room.

I wasn't nervous this time. I mean, I was on some level--surgery is a big thing after all--but I don't remember actually feeling nervous or being worried. My body would tell you different, though, if you were to look at me or hold my hand. As with the first surgery, I was visibly trembling quite a bit in the pre-op room. Kind of like when you're cold and you shiver uncontrollably. Same thing here, but you're hot and cold at the same time with a bit of nerves thrown in, and your hands are clammy. I seemed to have a little bit of control over it since, when I told myself to stop it, I was able to stop for about 10 seconds or so. Once I stopped actively telling myself to stop shaking, it would start up again. I just kept telling myself that surgery is going to happen at this point whether I want it to or not. I mean, I guess I could have backed out, but why do that? If I want my back to be fixed and I want to not have pain anymore, I need to have the surgery.  There's no other way to fix it; therefore, I have to go through with it.

The pre-op room is where you go to change into a gown (they pump it full of nice warm air!); have your vitals taken; give a rundown of your health, current meds, etc.; have your IVs started; talk to the doctor an everyone else on your surgical team; and generally just wait until it's time. I was in there for about an hour and half or so. With the first surgery it was time spent being nervous, but mostly upbeat. This time, while I wasn't as nervous, it was very uncomfortable physically having to recline on a stretcher with a thin mattress--not good for someone recovering from recent back surgery. Sciatica had set in the Saturday before and it was my whole left leg, from the buttock down to my foot. Since surgery was to take place the following Tuesday, they weren't able to give me an anti-inflammatory meds, which would have helped to calm the sciatic nerve.  Basically all I could do from Saturday to Tuesday is take my oxycodone and recline or lay down as much as possible. Most days it was so bad the oxy really only made it tolerable. (If you've ever had sciatica, you know how uncomfortable it can be. If you haven't had it, it REALLY SUCKS. The sensations range from pain, to throbbing, to burning, sometimes all at the same time, from you butt down to your foot and everything in between, and it can be really hard to get yourself into a comfortable position.) By Tuesday morning I was beyond ready to get into the OR and get the surgery over with just so the sciatica would stop. I told the doctor when he came in beforehand that I want to get to the OR and to knock me out ASAP. He laughed, but I was serious. Having to recline on that hard stretcher for over an hour when I was already uncomfortable felt like torture; I couldn't get comfortable at all, especially because I was still recovering from the first surgery, which made it hard to keep switching positions.

After talking to the surgical team--I had some of the same people I had last time, which was nice--I was brought to the OR. When I got there, it looked different than the last time, but also felt the same. It turned out it was the same room. (They brought me from the opposite direction and it was arranged differently due to the robotic arm and other machines they needed this time.) I remember telling the guy sitting near the OR door when they wheeled me in that the operating table looked like a carnival ride, as the table had curved rails on it. (I was wondering if they would put me under and then move me to the table, or if I had to get on the table myself.  These are the things I think about before surgery, not things like, oh, dying on the table. Turns out they put me under and then moved me. Thank God--I don't know how I would have managed to get on that thing!) While I waited, a nice male nurse talked to me for a bit. We talked about real estate of all things. I'm so glad I had someone to talk to, because the trembling had kicked up quite a bit as soon as they got me into the room. When I mentioned that I didn't really feel that nervous, but was trembling so much, they said it's a fear response: I may not have been actively feeling scared, but I was feeling it subconsciously and my body was reacting. They must have started the sedation soon after, because I remember it stopped quite abruptly without my mind telling it to stop. Pretty soon after that, I was out. In what felt like the blink of an eye, I was in Recovery.

Here's a picture of what the table looked like. Obviously I got this from the Internet. It's not exact, but it's pretty close. I don't remember seeing the black canvas at the bottom. I think it was just the rails on top of the table.

Thankfully I was in Recovery for less than two hours this time, versus the five hours I was there last time. Apparently they didn't have a lot of orthopedic surgeries scheduled that day and the orthopedic floor was nearly empty. Actually, the recovery room was empty, too--I was one of only two in Recovery when I got there. Last time the room was full.

The second surgery took about three hours. The doctor placed the bone grafts, which they took from my pelvis; removed the temporary metal plates, which were put in place during the first surgery to connect the two vertebrae (L4 and L5) and keep them stable; put in the remaining rods and screws (the first set was installed during the first surgery through the front of the abdomen); decompressed the nerve; and cleaned everything up.

Pain Levels

While I wasn't yet in much pain right after surgery, I was really happy they already had me in my bed while in Recovery, which meant they just wheeled my into the room and parked me. I didn't have to be transferred into bed like the last surgery. My pain increased over the course of the day, which they controlled with oxycodone again. I also got a dose of dilaudid at some point. I also got dilaudid the following morning, because it was time to get my out of bed and moving, which was definitely harder this time. Not terrible, but not quite as easy as last time. When I saw the doctor that morning I asked about my pain levels. He said the anestesia stays in my body for about 24 hours after surgery and then the pain spikes about six to eight hours after that. He was right:  my pain spiked that afternoon right about the time they were sending me home. Thankfully I got a dose of oxy before I left, because the ride home, while fairly unpleasant, would have been much worse. We picked up my pains meds on the way home and I was happy it was again time to take them by the time we got home.

I definitely had more pain from the incisions this time around and it was difficult turning over in bed while I was the hospital. I managed, but it wasn't fun. And I feel like a lot of the pain was also from laying in bed so long in one position, both because of being on the operating table for three hours and also not being able to get out of bed until the following morning. Unfortunately the pain meds really don't help that kind of pain, so I spent my whole stay wishing I could be up and moving around in order to take the pressure off my back and hips.

Sciatica once again set in after surgery (Tuesday, 03/17/20), though this time it happened within a couple days rather than almost two weeks later. It started Wednesday night and was getting worse Thursday. I contacted the doctor's office and they put me on a steroid taper pack (six days of pills totaling 21 pills, tapering down day to day from six pills to one) to control the inflammation, which is what was causing the nerve pain. The leg pain went away for the most part, though my legs and feet still ached from time to time depending on how much I was moving around. I still had the incision pain, though it improved over the course of the week.

I was doing OK until the following Monday, which was about a week after this surgery.  The sciatica started up again and was worse the next day. I suspected this would happen as I tapered down the steroids. Unfortunately I can't take NSAIDs because it will slow down the bone growth, and I need the bone to grow so it fuses together--the whole point of the surgery. I also can't take NSAIDs because I've had gastric bypass, so those will always be off limits to me anyway. I also can't take another steroid pack so soon. I contacted the doctor's office and they put me on gabapentin, which is supposed to help with nerve pain. The only down side is that it takes one to two weeks to be fully effective. I started with the lowest dose, but had to ask them to increase it since it didn't seem to be helping. The higher dose seemed to help.

I'm also using a cooling therapy machine, which is like an ice pack, but it's ice water instead. A cooler holds water and ice, which of course you need to refill every day, and it pumps ice water into the pouch. You just put the pouch wherever you want it to get pain relief. It has a power switch so you can turn it on and off.

It's now been almost four weeks since the second surgery and now I’m left with pain pretty much only when I sit in my desk chair for more than 10/15 minutes, or when I take a car ride.  The car tends to kick up the legs aches and burning sensations in my feet for a couple hours, which is annoying, but thankfully it’s nothing like what I was dealing with a few weeks ago.

They’re starting to taper down the oxycodone this week and it makes me nervous that, in a few weeks, I’ll really have nothing left for pain relief if I need it: Tylenol is useless, as I’ve taken SO MUCH over the last three years for my back pain that it doesn’t even really help a headache anymore, which means it’s not going to help nerve pain; I can’t take NSAIDs because it will slow bone growth, which I need to for the bones to fuse; and everything else is a narcotic as far as I know, which I assume they won’t give me since they’re tapering me off the oxy. The gabapentin I take isn’t fast-acting pain relief–it has to build up in the body and stay at a consistent level to work, and even with that I still get the sciatica.  So what's left if I need it? I have no idea. I emailed the doctor's office today and I expect I'll hear from them tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2020

one surgery down, one to go

Surgery #1 is done, and surgery #2 is tomorrow, March 17--I'm SO ready for it so I can get on with recovery.

Here's a rundown of what's been going on.


The first surgery was Tuesday, March 3. I had to be at the hospital at 6:00 am that morning, with surgery scheduled for 7:30 am. That meant noting to eat after midnight, clear liquids only until 4:30 am, and then absolutely nothing after that except enough water to take any pills I needed to take. I thought I'd be hungry, but I wasn't. I was nervous, so I'm guessing that's why I wasn't hungry. I did, however, miss having my daily homemade iced mocha latte. I made one to have in the fridge for when I returned home.

Surgery was about two hours and 20 minutes, which is pretty fast in my opinion.  The doctor removed the affected disc; placed a spacer between the vertebrae; injected some of my own bone marrow, which was harvested from my pelvis; and installed temporary plates to hold everything in place.  According to my husband, the doctor said he "cleaned up" a lot of arthritic tissue in the area. I knew there was arthritis there and that it had progressed, which explains why I was feeling worse the last six to eight months, but it sounds like there was more than he expected.

I spent about five hours in Recovery, as did many people. They were waiting on an available bed. Plus they were on Day Two of a new computer system. They wouldn't allow me to get up for the bathroom, so I had my first experience with a bed pan--that was fun. But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do! And I had a busting-full bladder, so it's not like I could just hold it. The down side to being in Recovery that long was that they don't allow visitors like other hospitals do, so Bob spent many hours in the hospital just waiting to hear something.

The hospital stay was fine, but uncomfortable. The discomfort I had really wasn't post-op pain. It was pain and stiffness in my hips and back muscles due to laying on the operating table, followed by hours in bed. (Unfortunately I never got rid of that pain until I got home--pain meds didn't help with that at all.) They brought me for a CT scan that night, which was so the doctor could see what the bones look like and help him prepare for the next surgery. The next day the occupational therapist and physical therapist made visits to make sure I can walk, get dressed, do stairs, and just function in general.

I spent one night in the hospital, which is good for several reasons:  it means I'm doing well, it means I can get home to my own bed, and it means no more being woken up every couple hours for medications, check on vitals, etc. Everyone was very nice, but it was nice to get home. The only issue we had was that they couldn't find my back brace. I was advised to bring it with me to the hospital since I would need it for the ride home and possibly while I was there. The morning of surgery they put in on the stretcher with me and wheeled me to the OR. They weren't sure if the doctor would put me in it right away, so they wanted to have it available if needed. I didn't realize until the following morning that it wasn't in my room. They searched for it without success. They called my doctor, who apparently made it Abundantly Clear, based on the the nurse's tone and the look on her face, that the brace must be found. Coincidentally, they found it while I was being discharged. It turned out they put it on the shelf under the stretcher since it wasn't needed, and then they forgot about it.

This is supposed to be my special recliner, but it's
impossible to get a seat with these guys around!
Pain Levels

Thursday after surgery was a good day. I was able to get around quite a bit. I did a little laundry, cleaned up, etc., all with the help of a grabber I'd bought before surgery (no bending!).  Friday I started to feel pretty sore, mostly sciatica. This continued through Monday. Then Tuesday...Tuesday was awful. I woke up about 2:30 am (I thought it was 1:30 am; however, I'd forgotten to change my bedside alarm clock for Daylight Saving Time) with awful pain in my back.  The only way to describe the pain is that it was like when you sit with your back against a hard surface and there's something protruding from it that pokes into your pack and creates a really uncomfortable pressure point. I took my first dose of oxycodone (2 tablets) along with some Tylenol and tried to get back to sleep. No luck. I took another tablet about an hour later, as the first dose did nothing for me. This additional tablet made it bearable, but it was still very uncomfortable. About an hour later, the pain level increased again so I took another tablet. Same thing. I ended up taking my entire day's worth of oxy (eight tablets) between 2:30 am and about 9:30 am and all it really did was make the pain tolerable. I eventually went down to the couch and slept for a bit, which seemed to help. I found that if I stayed on the couch in one position, the pain eventually went away. So I spent the whole day sleeping either on the couch or in bed, moving as little as humanly possible, so as not to aggravate my back again. (There may have been some crying mixed in there...)

Wednesday I felt much better and the rest of the week was pretty good with the help of the pain meds. I was able to do some things. With Bob driving and the support of my back brace, I ventured out to the drugstore for a prescription refill and a Reese's Peanut Butter Egg. Priorities, you know.

Saturday night into Sunday (this past weekend) wasn't great.  My left leg was killing me. It started out as occasional aches near my knee and in my calf, and then by Saturday night it was a near-constant ache from the back of my upper thigh down to my foot. When I went to bed, I found it impossible to fall asleep, even with the sleep aid I'd taken. I couldn't take it anymore and had to take an oxy to get to sleep. I woke up at 3:00 am and the whole-leg ache was back. I couldn't fall back asleep so I got up and took two oxys along with three Tylenol, which helped immensely. It didn't completely eliminate it, but it at least made me much more comfortable. I spent yesterday relaxing as much as I could, though I still made sure to get up and move around, take a shower, etc. Last night I took both the sleep aid and an oxy, plus two Tylenol and slept until about 1:30 am. Due to the return of the whole-leg pain, I really wanted to get up and take another dose of pain meds, but I didn't since I knew that would leave me short on my prescription. I made an effort to just lay there and deal with it, trying to fall back asleep. I somehow managed to do so, and woke up for good at 4:00 am. I took my pain meds and while the pain is still there and it's really annoying, it's at least tolerable. I find myself wishing today was surgery day so I wouldn't have to deal with this anymore--it's SO uncomfortable.  I really hope this doesn't happen again after this next surgery.

Other Stuff

I haven't had any issues with getting up and down, using the bathroom, and using the shower. It's hard to get used to "no bending, lifting or twisting," but I'm managing just fine. We put a garbage bag on the passenger seat in the car so I can easily get in and turn myself.

The incision in my abdomen is quite big (see picture--sorry if you're squeamish!)--about seven inches--and was closed with staples and stitches. I'm not thrilled about that, as it's not nearly as pretty as what the plastic surgeon did a few years ago, but it's just a scar. It's worth it, because it means my back has been fixed and I'm on my way to being pain-free.  I had a reaction to the bandage, which I've never had before. I broke out in red, itchy bumps. I've been using hydrocortisone cream and it's almost gone. though I'm still a little itchy once in awhile. The incision was sore for over a week, but that's feeling good now. though the staples are starting to annoy me.

In summary, I'm getting around really well, much better that I thought I would be. I was surprised that my pain levels weren't as high as I thought they would be, which is good. Most of the pain I've had has been more around the sciatica and leg pain, and the episode I had last Tuesday, which I'm guessing is from inflammation. I'm surprised that it took almost two weeks for that to set in.

And now it's on to surgery #2, which is tomorrow morning!

Monday, March 2, 2020

tomorrow is the day!

Got my hair cut recently, so I'll be looking good while I'm on the operating table! LOL
Calvin's Hair Studio in Middletown.

Obviously I haven't followed through on posting here more! I started this post several weeks ago, so I've updated it and here it is.

Tomorrow is the day:  anterior (from the front) L4-L5 fusion. I have to be at the hospital by 6 am.  No solid food after midnight, clear liquids up until 4:30 am, and nothing at all--not even water--after 4:30 am. I can handle the food part, but I'm really sad that I won't be able to have my daily iced mocha latter, which I have every morning while I read my favorite advice columns. Also no hair gel, which means I'll look absolutely fabulous when I show up at the hospital tomorrow. Yes, of course I don't need to look good for surgery, but I feel so frumpy without my hair done. I can handle going without makeup, but the hair HAS to be done. But such is life. Hair products are flammable and I really don't want the OR to burn down.

These guys don't realize this is MY seat, not theirs.
Come tomorrow, they're being evicted!
I've been thinking a lot about life after surgery. I know the next six months or so will be hard, but if I want to (hopefully) be pain-free in the coming years, I need to do it. I'll get through it--the post-op pain, physical limitations, and emotional struggle are only temporary. Time will inevitably pass whether I have surgery or not. I can either spend it in pain, living on narcotic pain meds and trying to put off surgery longer, or I can suck it up and get it over with, deal with the post-op pain, and then move on with my life. I'm opting to suck it up and just do it.

I've been thinking about the things I'm looking forward to after all is said and done:
  • No longer saying, "My back hurts." 
  • No longer saying, "I can't lift this." Or going ahead and lifting it anyway and paying for it later.
  • No longer having to go to a meeting or event and looking for the chair that seems as though it will torture me the least.
  • No longer being the person with the bad back.
  • No longer dreading long meetings due to having to sit for so long. Instead, I'll be able to dread them for the simple fact that I could be doing something better than sitting in a meeting.
  • No longer dreading sitting down to watch TV in my own home.
  • No longer needing narcotic pain medication. While it's great pain relief, I've built some tolerance and it usually gives me a headache; I feel like I've constantly had a headache for the last eight months.
  • Being able to once again sleep through the night. At the moment, I'm waking up around 1 am due to back pain. At that point, the pain meds are starting to wear off. I then spend hours tossing and turning, and sleeping fitfully. 
  • No longer feeling like a train wreck in the morning. Part of this is the pain medication and part of it is back pain ans stiffness.
So, I'm looking forward to NOT doing, feeling, or saying a lot of things.  And tomorrow is the day it all changes for the better.

(As you can see, I got my hair cut. I finally found someone who is very close by so I don't have to drive an hour anymore. If you're in mid-state CT, try Calvin's Hair Studio in Middletown. Very reasonable prices, very friendly, and he does a great job.)

Saturday, February 1, 2020

good riddance to 2019, and hello to 2020!

Yikes. I can't believe it's been more than two months since I've last posted here. It's been a combination of laziness, not really having much to say, and not having a desire to sit here and type about nothing. But today I'm back, and I'm hoping I post more often.

So, what's been going on?

Well, I'm happy to say 2019 is over. It was the year of Stupid Bullshit, both personally and professionally.

Stupid Bullshit:
  • I ended a job of four years due to sale of the company and my position being made redundant
  • I started a new job, which I wasn't initially thrilled about giving I didn't WANT to get a new job (but I'm happy now)
  • Said new job was extremely frustrating for the first six months or so
  • I had a personal issue going on that cost a lot of wasted time, wasted money, a couple rude surprises, and shitload of hassle
  • My back pain got worse, and another the second round of radio frequency ablation didn't work
And here are the good things, which happened in the same year:
  • The frustration at my job resolved itself and I'm happy now
  • The personal issue was resolved. Another great day.
  • We sold our old house, which has been an anchor around my neck for more than five years. We took a big loss, but we're just glad to nearly be rid of it forever. (closing is soon)
  • I found alternative pain relief
And the biggest and probably most important Good Thing?  I made the decision to have back surgery. Lumbar fusion of the L4-L5 vertebrae.  

When is surgery?  March 3...and March 17. Yes, it's two surgeries:  one from the front to remove the disc and place the bone graft, and one from the back to build the cage.

So, I've decided that's what I'm going to blog about in the coming months:  prep for surgery, the surgery itself, and then recovery. Not only because it will give me something to post about, but hopefully it will get me back on track with my eating habits so I can lose a little weight before surgery.

What else will I post about? My new home gym, the new fuzzy additions to my family, and other things.

See you soon!

Friday, November 29, 2019

my first trip to Washington, DC

Oh boy--it's been more than two months since I last posted! I've had some things going on and really haven't felt like writing. But I'll get back into it by posting about my business trip I took in October. 

I'm lucky enough in my particular job role that each year I get to go on a business trip. It's an annual conference for a software company my employer uses and it's typically in a good location, such as California. This year it was in Washington, DC. I was really excited about it since I'd never been there. My husband hadn't either, and he loves history, so it was a perfect vacation spot for him. (My boss was shocked to learn I'd never been to DC. I'm not sure why that's so shocking, but it was to her. I guess because she goes there often with her family and they all love it there.)

We decided to tack on about three days of vacation, which were prior to the conference days. Since I had only that time to see everything I wanted to see before having to spend two and half days at the conference, I made a list of my must-see attractions. We made it to most of them. Unfortunately, I missed out on seeing the Holocaust Museum. In order to see it I would have had to go on the last day of the conference, which was a half-day; however, I'd forgotten it was Yom Kippur and it was closed. I still made it to the Bureau of Engraving and the Library of Congress, though.

This is what I saw while I was there:
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing. I’m a banker, so seeing money being printed was exciting to me. It amazed me that one small pallet of $20.00 notes was $6.4 million, and there were SEVEN pallets in one little space! And yes, the place smelled like money!
  • Lincoln Memorial. I saw this at night on the Monuments by Moonlight tour (we also stopped at the MLK Jr. Memorial and the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial), which we did on the second night we were there. It was SO worth it! It was beautiful. Someone was having their wedding pictures taken while we were there. I loved standing on the steps and looking out onto the reflecting pool and then Washington Monument beyond that. And yes, there were A LOT of steps!
MLK Jr. Memorial
Iwo Jima US Marine Corps Memorial
The Capitol building at night.

View from the Lincoln Memorial on the Monuments by Moonlight tour. 

Lincoln Memorial at night.

  • Arlington Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Women in Military Service for America building (very well done). We stayed for the changing of the guard. There were two wreath-layings at the Tomb. They played Taps each time. My husband is former Army so he was quite moved by it, as were most people.
Kennedy's grave site
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
  • Air and Space Museum. I LOVED this! So interesting. The Hubble telescope was on display, so that was quite interesting to see. Definitely not as big as I thought it would be. I wish we could have spent more time here, but we got there about an hour and half before it closed. Also, they were renovating so several sections were closed.
  • American History Museum. Lots of interesting stuff here. I wasn't able to see all of it; there was just so much to see (three floors!) and I didn't have enough time.
  • National Archives. Here I saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, among other things. 
  • United States Botanic Garden.  Here we saw lots of different plants and flowers.  Very warm and humid inside!

  • Library of Congress. This was probably my favorite. The architecture is absolutely beautiful! We got library cards just so we could go into the main reading room (yes, I'm a geek). I love books and it’s kind of cool to say I got to browse the shelves of the Library of Congress. I also enjoyed seeing Thomas Jefferson’s library. I saw one book there that was published in 1571!

While out and about we also saw the WWI Memorial and Washington Monument, among other things.

As far as food goes, we didn’t get much beyond the hotel and the National Mall area. My husband is a very plain eater, so we stuck with things he would like. Plus, even though the company paid for most of it, food was expensive. We hit a few food trucks and the food was really good. We went to the Hard Rock Cafe once. We also had a rib eye steak on our last night since it was still part of my business trip and the company paid. :)

Getting around DC was easier than I thought it would be. We got a three-day Metro pass and hopped on and off the train as needed. Only once did we get on in the wrong direction. :) On the second day I finally figured out that in order to know which train to take and which direction to go, we had to look at the last stop on the line, not the stop where we want to get off. Once I figured that out we had no more issues determining direction. (Taking the train isn’t a daily thing in CT unless you commute along the shoreline/to NY or through the middle of the state, so I don’t have much train experience.)

We took Amtrak (Acela train) and that was a pleasant experience. It was a little annoying, though, how many people took up two seats on purpose, which meant it was hard to find two seats together on our way there. Once we got to NY the conductor made announcements that people cannot take up two seats since it was a nearly-full train. Oh, and there were MANY announcements for people to check their tickets and make sure they’re on the right train. Apparently there’s an express train and then another Acela train. Guess what? At least one person got on the wrong train going to DC, and at least four different people got on the wrong train coming home! One huge difference between taking the train and flying was that once you get to the train station, you just get on the train. No checking bags, going through security, etc. Also, lots of leg room!

So, we had a great time. I'd really like to go back again, though, so I can see more. I felt rushed since I only had a few days to see what I wanted to see and had to skip some things.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Lou and Roscoe

We gained one, Roscoe, and lost one, Lou.

Lou came to us from someone who worked at the deli, which was downstairs from my former employer. She was moving and couldn't take him, so we did. I think that was somewhere around 2008. I'm not sure how old he was at the time, though I think he was maybe three years old. He was likely around 15 years old when he disappeared last month.

Lou was an indoor/outdoor cat.  He could be quite the grouchy asshole if we didn't let him out, so we continued to allow him to go outside even though all my other cats are indoor-only. He generally stayed in the yard. He would walk around the perimeter, sometimes sit in the driveway or the yard and watch cars go by, or just hang out on the patio chairs.

He was a tough bastard. When we first moved to our new house five years ago, he tangled with something that de-gloved his tail. What that means is that whatever animal attacked him stripped the fur from his tail. It was quite disgusting and he had to have half his tail amputated. It didn't stop him, though. He continued to go outside and do his thing, often bringing us "prizes." Mostly dead, but some alive:  mice (mostly dead, sometimes alive), chipmunks (alive), and a bird once or twice. He would sit outside and do his "I brought your something, mom!" meow and I knew to check and make sure it was dead before I opened the door. (I neglected to do that recently, and this is what happened.)

I left for work one morning last month and for some reason I decided to go over and pet him. I though to myself, "Let me pet him just in case I don't see him again."  And I didn't. He didn't come home that night after being let out for his usual afternoon stroll. My hope is that he simply went somewhere to die since he was getting old. He never went much beyond the grass behind the garage, which is well away from the property line, so this is more likely; however, it's possible an animal got him.

Even though he could be a jerk, I'll miss him. He became a marshmallow the last few months. He was getting old and I think that's why he softened up a bit. He wanted to be pet more often. He purred more. Made more biscuits. And even though he could be quite embarrassing when he sat outside and howled to come in--he sounded like he was yelling "Hello" and it ECHOED through the neighborhood--I'll miss it. I was actually quite funny, though embarrassing.  I like to think he's crossed the Rainbow Bridge and that my other long-gone kitties have accepted him, even though they were the frequent recipients of a growl or swat from him for no good reason!

On to the new kitty, Roscoe.  Strangely, Lou disappeared about three days after we got Roscoe. I doubt it's connected, but it's strange nonetheless.

Roscoe came from the Stratford Cat Project.  Another "special" kitty. (For some reason, Karin loves to give me the "special" ones!) He's a little over a year old; has a harelip; an eye issue, which just means I need to keep it clean everyday; and what appears to be a neurological issue. His neurological issue consists of his head moving from side to side when he's focusing on something, going down the stairs in a zig zag pattern, and, once in a great while, kind of tipping to one side as though he's lost his balance for a moment. None of these things stop him, though. He's playful, talkative, and seems to get along with the others. He hisses at Leia for some reason, but that's about it. I'm finding that the other cats don't attack, growl, or hiss at him the way they do at some of the others (par for the course in a multi-cat household). I think they sense that he isn't aggressive and that he's got some issues.

Roscoe seems to love the ripple rug I bought last year. None of the other cats care about it, but he loves it. He likes to dive through the holes while he's playing with a toy. He also likes when I toss the fleece blanket on him. He wrestles with it and tries to drag it away, chirping the whole time--I often end up in a tug-of-war game with him.

I also need to comment on his tail. His tail is fluffy and fabulous; I can't resist touching it every time he walks by. He knows it, too, because he tries to side-step me. Sometimes I can get him in time and sometimes I can't.

Overall, he's a little weird (see the picture of him eating), but we love him. He's a good cat and hopefully he's enjoying his new home.