So here we are, two months after my surgery, and I’m allegedly ready to return to normal activities, according to Dr. Shakil and Chris the Therapy Guy. The doc has cleared me for returning slowly to MMA training, and says I can make the six hour drive to see my mother in Ohio as long as I stop and walk around and give my back frequent breaks.

I have three more physical therapy sessions scheduled for next week, then Chris says I won’t need him anymore.

Thing is, I still get leg pains if I stand too long. Not like they use to be, granted, certainly not as intense, but I do have to sit down on occasion. It’s allegedly not unusual, and I’m told to be patient.

The Patient Patient, that’s me.

But what am I going to complain about when the pain goes away and I’m dancing with the stars again?

I’m sure I’ll think of something.


There isn’t much to say about my recovery, because I haven’t much. Recovered, that is.

After the doc OK’d me to resume certain activities at my two-week checkup, I went back to Jill’s, gathered my goodies, and drove back to my place. Cameron accompanied me to help out where he could (starting with transporting all of my stuff from the car up to my humble abode). I went back to work the next day (don’t even get me started on the mess I came back to; I know they tried hard, but…anyway…). I was supposed to limit my workday to 3 to 4 hours, so I sat at my desk for 30 minutes, then reclined on the sofa in Jill’s office for 30 minutes (give or take; I had to jump up to answer the phone occasionally). As the days wore on, I sat at my desk until I hurt, then lay down until I started feeling better. Not exactly doctor’s orders, but you have to do what you have to do.

I was supposed to start physical therapy, but I never make things easy on myself if I can help it. Two days after I got the release from my surgeon, my old friend lymphedema paid me a visit, this time in my right foot. It didn’t quite get as intense as it did in January, but I was unable to get my foot in a shoe for two weeks.

In the meantime, I got myself a Get Well present, picture above.

When I was finally got with the program, Chris the Therapist put me on a 3-times-a-week schedule, and gave me a few exercises he wanted me to do three times a day, which I’ve (mostly) done.

The  thing is, though, it’s been six weeks since the surgery, and I’m still having problems. I’m hoping it’s all part of the healing process, because I did wait almost a year after first noticing the pains before getting serious about doing anything about them; that’s a long time to pinch your nerves. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re pissed off at me and want to teach me a lesson. Fine. Lesson learned. Now go back to doing your job and leave me alone.

To be fair, although it hurts more often that it used to, it’s less intense; maybe a 7 as opposed to a 10. But it still hurts, and I wish it would stop.

I follow up with the surgeon again on August 3.


It had been arranged when surgery was planned that I would spend whatever convalescent time necessary at my co-parent’s house (divorce counseling taught that this was more polite than calling her my “ex”).

She picked me up at the hospital and escorted me to my new temporary living quarters, which for the first night was on the  ground level of her split-level house. The room was our son’s “getaway”, where he hung out, watched TV, played video games with his friends, and noodled on his guitars. And now, keep an eye on his old man. She had a comfy little setup for me on the sofa. After getting me settled, she ran out and did some shopping for me: prescriptions for an antibiotic and a pain killer, toothbrush and toothpaste, other assorted toilet articles, baby wash, and the all-important plastic urinal. This was something I took special care with: it was one thing to dump my urine in my hospital bed, quite another to dump it on Jill’s couch.

After the first night, I felt like I could make it up the short flight of stairs to her TV room, which had a super-comfy couch, a huge ottoman that I utilized as a bedside table, and, most importantly, a convenient power outlet I could use to keep my iStuff charged.

For the next four days, I felt, and actually was, pretty helpless. Although I didn’t really have any pain, I was still weak enough to require help in getting off the sofa and moving around, which I did a few times a day to build up my strength. I couldn’t sit up (doctor’s orders), so my usual position was flat on my back, staring at a wall. The view I got used to is the picture illustrating “Place Holder”.

When Sunday rolled around, Hallelujah! I found that I was able to get off the sofa without any help. It was quite exciting. I talked Jill into driving me to my place (a second-story condo unit), so I could gather my mail, check email, and get some clean clothes. While sitting at my computer, I discovered why prone was the preferred position: after 15 minutes or so, I started feeling light-headed, and little pain gremlins started jogging from my incision to my shoulders and back. Most of my email was spam anyway, so I gave it up and lay in my own bed until I felt like making the trip back downstairs and out to Jill’s vehicle.

During the next week, I felt stronger every day, to the point where my daily routine began including a martini happy hour and sitting up long enough to have dinner. I quit taking my pain medication unless I was having a tough time falling asleep, because it did help with that.

The more I walked around, though, the more I noticed that my leg still hurt, sometimes (but not often, I’ll admit) as much as it did prior to the surgery. As I’ve mentioned, I was told that it may take a while before I felt any relief, but I was kind of hoping I’d be one of those who noticed the difference right away.

I was getting anxious about my two week followup visit with the surgeon. I was tired of staring at a wall most of my day; I wanted to get back to work. I wanted a proper shower; the baby rinse might have been keeping me fresh-smelling and bacteria-free, but I still felt slimy. While it was nice laying around doing nothing (at first), I was getting bored and ready to return to my normal life, in my own home.

When the Big Day came, the PA took me back to a room in the Pain Center, asked the usual questions, and gave me a nice present: she removed my dressing and stitches. She said everything looked good. I asked if I could shower, she said I could. Yay!

Soon the surgeon came in and asked a few questions, then gave his report: I could return to work 3-4 hours a day; I could drive very short distances (the vibrations wouldn’t do my repair job any favors); my lifting had to be confined to 5-10 pounds, and he wrote me a scrip for physical therapy. A note on my release form said, “Patient can work toward resuming normal activities within 6-8 weeks”.

All music to my ears.

I returned to Jill’s and packed  up my small store of belongings (including Cameron, because I wasn’t quite ready to be completely on my own yet), and drove my car to my own home.

The first thing I did was take a long, long shower. That seemed to do me as much good as laying on my back for two weeks.

NEXT: Recovery

The Operation

OK. It’s been almost three weeks since the procedure, so I guess I’d better do some experience relating before I forget the details, or even that it happened. We old people forget a lot.

Arrived at the hospital bright and early as requested. A pleasant young nurse did the checking in, recording all my vitals, making note of all my conditions (macular degeneration, bulging disc in my neck, recurring lymphedema, etc), being all cheerful (because her shift was about over).

I was shown to what would be my room for the next 28 hours, a comfy little private room with the requisite flat screen TV and patient-operated bed. I changed into the stylish gown, slippers and head covering, slipped into bed, and, after suffering an IV needle insertion into the back of my hand, found myself being wheeled into the staging area near the operating rooms.

The gas passing team came in to hook up a bag of the good stuff into my IV, and reaffirm my medical history as I’d related to the earlier pleasant young nurse. I remembered something that I’d forgotten to mention to her: my acid reflux. I never think about it when it’s not bothering me, but when the anesthesiologist mentioned they’d be putting a tube down my throat, I thought back to my first lipotripsy. When it was over, my doctor told me I should have mentioned my reflux, because there was a problem when they started to put a tube down my throat. I mentioned this to my present gas guy, who made a note of it.

A few more folks wandered in and out, “I’ll be assisting the doctor”, “I’ll be with you in the recovery room,” etc., until the pre-ani made me nod off.

The next thing I was aware of was coming to in the recovery room. I was still a little groggy when the doctor stopped by. He informed me that, instead of the simple little discectomy I was expecting, he performed a discectomy on L4-L5, a discectomy on L3-L4, a laminectomy on L4-L5, a laminectomy on L3-L4, and inserted a spacer so hopefully there will be no reoccurrence of my problem. I said, “‘Kay.” He said I was allowed two activities: laying down and walking. Maybe short car rides if necessary.

I became aware of a little discomfort in the groinal area. The nurse attending me said they’d inserted a catheter into my bladder to aid in drainage. I remember asking how long it was going to stay in, because I found it to be very uncomfortable. She told me it might be an hour, it  might be a few hours, it might stay in all night. I said, “‘Kay. It’s just uncomfortable.”  A short time later she reappeared, saying “Good news! The catheter can come out now.” With that, she pushed down on about where my bladder is as she removed the catheter.

Given the choice again, I might consider leaving it in. For the next several days, I felt like like urinating constantly. When I was ensconced in my bed, I was handed a plastic urinal, which I had to maneuver into position between my legs whenever I felt the need, and I pretty much always felt the need, since they were pumping fluids into my body via the IV on a consistent basis. I was not allowed out of bed for a few hours, so I was ringing for the nurse pretty often to empty my jug.

Later in the afternoon, I was given my first taste of food in almost 15 hours, the Clear Plate: apple juice, broth, lime Jello, and tea. Yay.

I spent a literal sleepless night, with only two incidents worth mentioning:

I have already mentioned my constant urge to urinate, and the plastic jug I was using as a receptacle. At one point during the night, I felt the urge come upon me very strongly. I grabbed the jug, which had a goodly amount of previous urges splashing about. I positioned it quickly and opened the lid; but in my haste I held it at an awkward angle, and ended up dumping a cup or two of urine on myself. I’m sure the nursing staff has seen much worse, but it was embarrassing nonetheless.

The second incident was less embarrassing, but more frustrating. The apple juice gave me heartburn. Lots of it. I summoned the nurse and told her the apple juice had kick started my acid reflux, and could I get a Tums or something. She left and returned momentarily with bad news: during my initial check-in, I didn’t mention my reflux to the pleasant young nurse who took my medical info, therefore my approved meds did not include an antacid of any sort. And they couldn’t give me any until they checked with the doctor, whenever they could get in touch with him the next morning.

Hence the sleepless night: the constant urge to urinate coupled with my raging heartburn was not relaxing enough for me to get any shuteye.

When morning had finally broken, my appetite would only allow me some tea and half a piece of toast. By this time, the doctor had responded with an antacid appropriate to my particular condition, and I was told I could leave any time after breakfast.

I called my ride, changed out of my stylish gown into my sweats, and, after receiving some last minute do’s-and-don’t’s, headed back out into the world.

Coming next: Convalescence.

The Time Has Come

Got the phone call I’ve been waiting on this morning.

The hospital called to say that I should be there at 6:30 A.M. tomorrow (June 8). Nothing to eat or drink after midnight. No aspirin, Alleve, etc. Leave all valuables at home, but bring my ID and insurance card. I can take my blood pressure med and whatever I take for my acid reflux, but with a minimum of water to wash it down.

I can bring a book, and a change of clothes if I desire, since I’ll be staying at least one night, but they can provide me with anything else I need: a fashionable hospital gown, toothbrush, shampoo, TV, etc.  Yes, I can bring my iPod if I want, but they’re not responsible if anything should happen to it.

I think that about covers it.

Wish me luck!

I Passed!

On Monday, May 17,  I went for my Pre-Admission Test in preparation for my upcoming discectomy, date TBD.

My PA was a lovely young lady by the name of Angela, who had been on the job for about a month. She took my blood pressure (“Excellent!”), stethoscoped me (“Wow! Your lungs sound clean!”) and asked me the usual questions about my basic health: “Nausea? Dizziness? Alcohol use? Drug use? Depressed?”  To this last, I responded that I was a little bit bummed because Lost was ending, but other than that, life is good.

She asked me what type of surgery I was going to have, and when I told her, she waved it off as if I’d said I was going to have a splinter removed from my finger. I’ve gotten that response from just about every medical-type I’ve talked to, which eases my mind somewhat.

When Andrea was finished with me, I went over to the hospital building of the little compound, where they took four or five vials of blood, a few chest x-rays (why they took pictures of my chest when it’s my lower back that’s getting cut open is a mystery to me), a container of urine, and did an EKG.

The end result, as far as I can determine, is that I’m healthy enough to go under the knife.

Now all I need is a date and time.

Updated: Just got a call from the Doc’s office. Surgery is scheduled for June 8.

Updated: Got a call an hour later. The office girl said, “If there’s a cancellation, would you mind moving your surgery up?” I said, “To when?” She said, “Tomorrow.”  Sorry, Misty. I need at least a couple of days notice if I’m going to have back surgery!

What If I Fail The Test?

So the wheels have been set in motion for my back surgery.

I met with the surgeon a couple of days ago and told him the nerve block wasn’t blocking out my nerves too well, and, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m not willing to spend whatever time I may have left shuffling around in pain. Let’s do this!

He agreed that all nonsurgical methods have been explored, and this really is the only way I’m going to get any relief.

He’s aware from our previous conversations that I do a bit of MMA training, and he knows that I really don’t want to be away from it for any length of time. He used to train himself years ago, and knows that if you’re away from it too long, it’s tough to get back up to speed.

So he told me Tuesday that he’s going to do the minimum amount of surgery that I need to relieve my problem, which is the open discectomy  that I wrote about previously. This would require only a day or two in hospital, and I wouldn’t be laid up a significant amount of time.. The absolute minimum, he explained, would be endoscopic surgery, but that may be only a short-term solution in my particular situation.

More intense options would be fusion or disc replacement, which would pretty much be overkill, and stretch my convalescence time out way too far for my taste.

(Keep in mind as I explain this that I tend to hear doctors the way dogs hear humans in that Gary Larsen cartoon:

which is to say, it mostly goes in one ear and out the other. So if you’re reading the above exchange and thinking the doc doesn’t know what he’s talking about, don’t; I might be remembering the conversation incorrectly.)

Anyroad, the surgery will be done sometime in June (“Everybody wants it done in June,” he said when I made my request). He’ll have to check his schedule and get back to me with an exact date.

The first step, though, is pre-admission testing, which is all sorts of blood work and so on. I report to the testing station on May 17.

I Got Nerve! (And It’s Pinched)

Those of you who have been enjoying my medical adventures for the past year or so are in for a treat: I’m having back surgery! And I’m going to be sharing the details along this journey with my faithful readers (me and one other person).

I may have mentioned elsewhere in these incoherent ramblings that I have a herniated disc at L5-S1, which is pinching a nerve running down my right leg, causing me large amounts of pain when I’m on my feet for too long (“too long” varying  from 10 minutes upward, depending on circumstances).  The discomfort can be barely bearable; if I know I’m going to be on my feet for a goodly length of time, I bring along a walking stick.

Over the past few months, I’ve had a pair of steroid epidurals, a nerve block, and been prescribed Neurontin, none of which has provided any relief. It appears that the only option left for me is surgery.

I won’t know all of the details for certain until next week, when I have a second meeting with my surgeon. At our first encounter, he examined my MRI and showed me what he suggested: a discectomy (at first I thought he said “vasectomy”, which caused me no small consternation). I told him I’d think it over and give him a call in a week. Only a few days earlier, I’d had a nerve block injection, and I wanted to give that a shot at working.

I hit up the internet for a little research, and found this at

A discectomy is a surgery done to remove a herniated disc from the spinal canal. When a disc herniation occurs, a fragment of the normal spinal disc is dislodged. This fragment may press against the spinal cord or the nerves that surround the spinal cord. This pressure causes the symptoms that are characteristic of herniated discs

The surgical treatment of a herniated disc is to remove the fragment of spinal disc that is causing the pressure on the nerve. This procedure is called a discectomy. The traditional surgery is called an open discectomy. An open discectomy is a procedure where the surgeon uses a small incision and looks at the actual herniated disc in order to remove the disc and relieve the pressure on the nerve.

How is a discectomy performed?
A discectomy is performed under general anesthesia. The procedure takes about an hour, depending on the extent of the disc herniation, the size of the patient, and other factors. A discectomy is done with the patient lying face down, and the back pointing upwards.

In order to remove the fragment of herniated disc, your surgeon will make an incision over the center of your back. The incision is usually about 3 centimeters in length. Your surgeon then carefully dissects the muscles away from the bone of your spine. Using special instruments, your surgeon removes a small amount of bone and ligament from the back of the spine. This part of the procedure is called a laminotomy.

Once this bone and ligament is removed, your surgeon can see, and protect, the spinal nerves. Once the disc herniation is found, the herniated disc fragment is removed. Depending on the appearance and the condition of the remaining disc, more disc fragments may be removed in hopes of avoiding another fragment of disc from herniating in the future. Once the disc has been cleaned out from the area around the nerves, the incision is closed and a bandage is applied.

What is the recovery from a discectomy?
Patients often awaken from surgery with complete resolution of their leg pain; however, it is not unusual for these symptoms to take several weeks to slowly dissipate. Pain around the incision is common, but usually well controlled with oral pain medications. Patients often spend one night in the hospital, but are usually then discharged the following day. A lumbar corset brace may help with some symptoms of pain, but is not necessary in all cases.

Gentle activities are encouraged after surgery, such as sitting upright and walking. Patients must avoid lifting heavy objects, and should try not to bend or twist the back excessively. Patients should avoid strenuous activity or exercise until cleared by their doctor.

What are the potential complications of a discectomy?
The most common problem of a discectomy is that there is a chance that another fragment of disc will herniate and cause similar symptoms down the road. This is a so-called recurrent disc herniation, and the risk of this occurring is about 10-15%.

Most patients find relief of much, if not all, of their symptoms from a discectomy. However, the success of the procedure is about 85-90%, meaning that 10% of patients who undergo a discectomy will still have persistent symptoms. Patients who have symptoms for long periods of time, or severe neurologic deficits (such as significant weakness) are at higher risk of incomplete recovery.

Other risks of surgery include spinal fluid leaks, bleeding, and infection. All of these can usually be treated, but may require a longer hospitalization or additional surgery.

What is endoscopic microdiscectomy?
Newer techniques may allow your surgeon to perform a procedure called an endoscopic discectomy. In an endoscopic discectomy your surgeon uses special instruments and a camera to remove the herniated disc through very small incisions.

The endoscopic microdiscectomy is a procedure that accomplishes the same goal as a traditional open discectomy, removing the herniated disc, but uses a smaller incision. Instead of actually looking at the herniated disc fragment and removing it, your surgeon uses a small camera to find the fragment and special instruments to remove it. The procedure may not require general anesthesia, and is done through a smaller incision with less tissue dissection. Your surgeon uses x-ray and the camera to “see” where the disc herniation is, and special instruments to remove the fragment.

Endoscopic microdiscectomy is appropriate in some specific situations, but not in all. Many patients are better served with a traditional open discectomy. While the idea of a faster recovery is nice, it is more important that the surgery is properly performed. Therefore, if open discectomy is more appropriate in your situation, then the endoscopic procedure should not be done. Discuss with your doctor if endoscopic microdiscectomy may be appropriate for you.

While this may seem like minor surgery to some (including the doctor who had been treating me), you have to realize that I’ve never had invasive surgery. The only procedures I’ve been in an operating room for were lipotripsies, and those involved pounding my kidney stones with sonic waves, not scalpel blades.

But by the time a week had passed, I found that the nerve block was ineffective, and decided that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days hobbling about in pain if I didn’t have to. When the surgeon’s office called to follow-up with me (I know I said I’d call him in a week, but couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone and say,”Please stick something sharp into my spine.”), I made an appointment to talk things over with him.

That’s next Tuesday.

I’ll let you know how it goes.