Surgery Log – 2012 – Laminectomy

November 6–Laminectomy for spinal stenosis and Election Day. I voted early. Ruth drove me to the hospital and we waited for one hour before they took me in. Surgery went uneventfully and I had hope in my heart, something I had not had in a while. I was bolstered by the fact that the nurse let me get out of bed to pee. I was also amazed that my knee worked and I could walk. This was a mystery to me but I hung on to it. I was thrilled and ecstatic. Even for a few days at home I was feeling good but gradually, the knee started to hurt again and before you know it, it was as stiff and painful as before. I was also happy that a few people actually came to visit me; Donna T., Pat and Wayne, and Kay (from Serenity). That was just what I needed; to feel like I was number 1 and that people cared enough to come. In the hospital, I had a nice private room with a big TV and spent the evening watching the presidential election. At 10 pm I began to get scared that Romney would win due to the earlier results and the RED on the map, so I just switched off the TV and went to dreamland. I awakened again at midnight and switched on the TV and lo and behold I see, “Obama elected”. I am relieved so I can go back to bed. All day and all night I am having to page the poor nurses to take me to the bathroom due to all the fluids I am receiving in the IVs.

Surgery Log 2012 – Pain

Pain – Self referral – Sept 2012 – I am in so much pain that I reach out on Facebook and several people recommend a place called Augusta Back. When I went there they ask me who referred me and I put, “SELF Referral” because it was. If I had waited for my primary care doctor to send me for an MRI, I would still be waiting. My orthopedic knee doctor would not refer me for an MRI either for fear of “stepping on the toes” of the other doctor; how ridiculous is that! So, I had to be my own advocate and take matters into my own hands. The MRI reveals that I have bulging disks and most importantly, spinal stenosis, in the lumbar region.

I see Dr. Baker, an osteopath, first. He specializes in the administration of epidural steroid injections, which worked at first, but soon gave out. The first day I was ecstatic because the pain was gone, although the numbness in my toes was still there. I actually cried with relief, thinking that finally my nightmare was over. Unfortunately the numbness was not addressed. He tried another round of injections two weeks later and the numbness seemed worse. At that point he referred me to Dr. Shaver, a neurosurgeon who was recommended by 2 people I know. She informed me of my options and they all pointed to surgery. I agreed and my laminectomy was scheduled for November 6, 2012.

Surgery Log 2012 – Beginning

Beginning: Background – About 8 months ago I became aware of a chronic back and overall ache, mostly in my back and hips. Thinking it was due to my new mattress I returned the mattress 4 times trying to wake up not feeling like a Mack truck had hit me overnight. I would shake it off, pop my 4 Ibuprofens, take a hot shower, and go out for a run or to the gym before going to work. But, it soon became apparent that my right knee was painful and I probably had a ripped meniscus. But It also became apparent that I was having limited ROM on my right side and had constant pain all over—not just the knee—even while working out in the gym. At first I ignored it and just tried to put it aside, but I knew I had to see a specialist. Regarding the knee, I have had that surgery before and just assumed that I would recover completely within 2 or 3 months. However this has not been the case.

As of right now I am also trying to recover from back surgery (laminectomy) which also affects the knee. My “recovery” has not been what I expected—from both the laminectomy and knee surgery. Because my right leg is so weak, due to the injured spinal nerve, it has prevented the quadriceps muscle (thigh) from being strong and this affects the knee recovery. I am now using a cane because of my weak right leg and knee. My knees are so stiff and my right knee so painful that I can barely walk. This is probably due to having two anesthesias and surgeries back to back, or so I have been told. As a form of therapy, I decided to document my ordeal in the following posts.

Adversity Teaches Empathy

It is amazing that so many people take for granted being well and feeling well. There is nothing more humbling than having a debilitating illness or injury to bring you back to earth. I have been one of those athletic people who would look at someone struggling in the gym or out just walking slowly, without trying to understand that each person has a story. I have been struggling for many months with debilitating back pain and severe degenerated right knee. My back and knee pain was so bad that I would have to hobble from bed into the bathroom each morning, walking like I was 85. The constant, unrelenting pain and soreness also affected my state of mind, causing depression. It is so hard to look at the bright side of things when you are hurting over and over and life looks so bleak. It was so humbling and embarrassing on my trip to Guatemala. On the plane I would start to get anxious when we were about to land knowing that my back and knee would be so stiff that it would take a while for me to unbend. Getting up and carrying my luggage out of the plane was torture. I always thought of myself as this physically fit specimen and now I felt like a cripple, limping down the aisle. Things that I used to take for granted, like climbing down the steps of the airplane (in Augusta for some reason you have to climb down these stupid steep steps to get off the plane) caused me so much anxiety—being so afraid that I would fall or need assistance. When you are physically well, things like that don’t even occur to you. Now things that were never issues were now major concerns. Once in Guatemala, I was in constant pain, living on Ibuprofen. It prevented me from going on walking tours and, coupled with me being lonely, I was miserable. When I went on a tour to Panajachel I had to constantly climb in and out of the boat that ferried us from village to village on Lake Atitlan and that was pure torture. Once if it had not been for two guys holding me, I would have collapsed, due to my knee totally buckling under me. Back in the States, it did not get any better and I have since had knee surgery (much more extensive than I thought it would be) and have also had epidural steroid injections to my back. I want to travel now, but I was unable to plan for anything due to the constant uncertainty of my physical condition. Whenever there is a life altering event, whether it be a loss of a job, illness, death, divorce, you always look for a reason. The thing is that I feel there are no coincidences in God’s world and it may not be revealed until years later or weeks, you do not know. I am slowly starting to feel better but being so debilitated gave me real empathy for others. When I see people hobbling slowly across the street I know that there is a story behind it. I have a friend who suffers from MS and is on disability. She is estranged from her family who is totally unsupportive, yet she still perseveres. Another woman I went to school with just finished battling stage 4 uterine cancer, having gone through hell with chemotherapy, major surgery, colostomy, and having to rely on others since she lives alone. Then I look at myself and realize that maybe it is not that bad. Of course, when you are feeling better it is easy to look back and say it was not so bad. I am still having problems with numbness in my body, but maybe this is God’s lesson for me; be grateful for each day that you feel well and don’t take it for granted. It has given me a better understanding of other’s problems and pain, physically and mentally. Nobody has a perfect life, although sometimes it seems that some people do on the outside. It has also given me more of an incentive to change my life because I can appreciate that there are no guarantees that you will be around tomorrow or even later in the day. We take for granted that we have an infinite amount of time to achieve that elusive happiness and that is not true. My friend Janet is now in France with her husband, one among many trips they take. They are living now, not putting off what may never happen if they waited. Being so ill has put a time frame to my plans. I know that I absolutely cannot continue to live a life doing what I don’t want to do. I ask myself sometimes, “when are you most happy.” The answer always comes back, “when I am not at work.” It is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. I am so consumed with making money due to my upbringing (compulsive gambler dad) when money went flying out the window and life was insecure, that now it is my main focus. Yes, money does buy things I like, but continuing doing what I don’t want to do is killing me over and over. One day I will wake up and it will be my last day on earth and I will die never having taken the big risks and living a life of my dreams and how sad is that?

Chronic Pain

Unless you are experiencing chronic pain, you have no idea how absolutely all-consuming and debilitating (both mind and body) it actually is.

I have always prided myself with being very physically active and fit; I was not going to be one of “those” people who walk with canes, limp, and generally have trouble getting around. I would be forever “young” regardless of my age. I think God has a great sense of humor and he/she loves to give us lessons in humility when we are too damn cocky. I have been a runner for about 26 years and regularly accepted the chronic pain in my knees, but it was basically achiness due to some arthritis. I have had numerous knee arthroscopies throughout the years, but apparently it was not enough to take up another sport. I just kept on, ignoring my poor, deteriorating knees due to my obsessive nature. Then about 8 months ago, I bought a new mattress and suddenly it was my back and hips that began to ache. It started out with just some stiffness but after a while, it was constant when I worked out. I noticed that when I ran it was worse. Then my right knee began to give out and when it rains it pours, because then everything went wrong. I went for Supartz injections into my knee with the hope that I could return to running, but there was no improvement. But, it became painfully (no pun intended) obvious that I was dealing with more than just a torn meniscus. Gradually, my right foot and toes, my low back and hips, my thighs and belly have become numb. The pain in my back has been non-stop and I was living on ibuprofen. I saw my primary doctor and he blew me off, in addition to my orthopedic doctor, who was only concerned with my knee. Since the injections in my knee joint did not work, we did an MRI, which showed a torn meniscus, which has now been repaired with arthroscopic surgery (5 weeks ago). But the back issue remained and what most concerned me was the numbness. Finally, due to any lack of caring or just procrastination on the part of the aforementioned doctors, I took the bull by the horn and self-referred to Augusta Back. After telling my tale of woe, the osteopath ordered and MRI, which shows bulging disks, as well as some spinal stenosis. I just went through the first round of epidural steroid injections and will have more for the next level of the spine that is affected. But, I have run the gamut of emotions due to severely limiting my physical activities, although I am still working as a massage therapist. Yesterday I woke up in such bad pain (both knee—which is taking forever to heal—and back) forcing me to literally hobble to the bathroom, that I had a total emotional meltdown. Some days the pain is not that bad, and other days it is more than I can take (probably emotionally more than physically). It does not help that I am still limping on my bum leg, which throws my back and gait off. It also does not help that I am on my feet constantly at work and went back to work only 4 days after surgery. I always thought of myself as “superwoman” when it came to my body and overcoming aches and pains but God has other intentions, apparently. They say that things happen for reasons, and I am still waiting to discover what the reason is. Perhaps it is just to slow down and smell the roses and realize that I am human. Or, perhaps it is a way for me to be more compassionate with other peoples’ suffering from chronic pain or debilitations. I have to say that when I see people walking slowly I can now relate. I would appreciate if anyone going through something similar would please add a comment and let me know your story.

The State of Mental Health Care

When I go upstairs, and I open up the closet, I see pieces of my son’s life in his clothes, his shoes, his slippers. I venture into the small bathroom, and open the drawers, I see remnants of a dream and hope—-his shaving supplies, his toothbrush, soap. All these were left hastily when he ran from my home back in December 2011. When I go back into his room, I see pictures of happier times—-a framed picture of him with his son, Aaron, a bible. I still see snippets of a life that could have been but is now in shambles, thanks to mental illness. It is so easy to play the wishing, and “if only” game. “If only” this had happened or that had not happened, then all would be right with the world again. But, I quickly realize that I cannot turn the clock back to a particular time and preserve what sanity there was. I live in a treadmill world, where I am walking and walking, getting nowhere fast. It is a roller coaster where one minute things look promising and people are congratulating me (to which I say that I am cautiously optimistic) and next I have been catapulted back to the starting gate. It is hard to accept that this seems to be his life, and is now my life. I must separate myself from this nightmare and not think about this 24 hours a day. I read an article on line yesterday how the mental health system has improved in NJ. I beg to differ. It is a shame that a “civilized” country like the US can have such a deplorable mental health care system. Their idea of helping is to keep a patient for about a week or two, adjust their medications, and then dump (yes that is what it is) them out into the streets. They say they don’t want to release someone without a place to go but a homeless shelter does not, at least in my eyes, qualify as a suitable place. It seems that you cannot get your loved one into a group home without greasing someone’s palm. So, here I wait yet again, for some word from my son who was released (dumped) out with others two days ago. I have no idea where the hell he is. I called the two friends he has left, his father (who did hear from him, thankfully), but no contact via text or phone. I have repeatedly texted him to no avail. He has pulled this on me before and no matter how much I ask him to please not go missing on me and to please keep in touch, he still doesn’t seem to understand the torture he puts me through when he disappears. At this point, the most I can do is wait and pray and go about my business. I do believe in the power of prayers and hopefully they will pull him through. I must have a positive attitude and hope but sometimes I am hopeless. Hope is everything and when that is lost, everything is lost.

Remembering 9/11 Eleven Years Later

I would be remiss if I did not make mention of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Last year was very traumatic for me as I watched the commemorations and footage of that horrible day. I sat in front of the T.V. crying and saying I was going to turn it off, yet I was unable to move. It was somehow reminiscent of that day 10 years earlier when my friend Janet and I sat glued to the T.V. all day long, in a fog, and in total disbelief. I cannot believe it has been 11 years since the death of my friend Angela. She was beautiful inside and out. On this day I want to salute every one of the heroes who came out to help and all the people who lost loved ones that day. For months I had “survivors guilt” because I was not in my office that morning. I kept saying that I should have been there and questioned God why I wasn’t. That will never be known but I know there are a lot of angels in heaven. I am just grateful that the mastermind of this atrocity was brought to justice and will serve a life-sentence in hell.