Spinal Fusion – A Guest Interview
One spinal fusion was enough. When I learned that I would need a second, I had to consider my options long and hard. We humans are more dependent on the spine than any other joint or muscle in our bodies. When the spine is damaged or compromised, we are in trouble. My back pain was unrelenting, but I knew the recovery would be slow.
I learned that fact ten years ago when I suffered with severe back and leg pain and then underwent a spinal fusion. Two fused disks puts additional strain on the levels above and below, so I knew I was at risk of more back problems. I kept on doing my sick daughter’s laundry and tending my three-year-old grandson hoping my back would hold up a little longer. Once a care-giver, always a care-giver, I suppose. However, when the pain started shooting down my leg, I knew I was in trouble again.
When the surgeon says your recovery will be six months to a year, what does that really mean? Yes, I must do my physical therapy assignments (stretches and exercises) every day. And, yes, I will experience increased fatigue. And, yes, I will not be able to BLT –i.e. bend at the waist, lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, or twist to get out of bed or exit a car. But I still figured I could live with all those limitations without giving up my lifestyle completely.
In anticipation of that lengthy recovery period, the limitation that seemed most daunting was my difficulty sitting. A damaged, healing back doesn’t like the sitting position.
Travel after a Spinal Fusion
Long before I scheduled my surgery, I had made plans with friends to attend a Shakespeare Festival. We had already purchased tickets and secured B&B reservations, and I really didn’t want to tell them to find another traveling companion. But would I, only five and one-half weeks after surgery, be able to sit in a car for half a day, then two or three hours in each of the plays over a three-day period? I decided to take on the challenge and find out how much I could do.
Fortunately I was able to lie down in the front passenger seat of the car wearing a back brace. My friends didn’t seem to mind my reclining position or my occasional naps. When awake, I became very much a part of the conversation.
For the first play my friends tried to accommodate me by arranging to trade with our neighbors so I could have an aisle seat. I appreciated their thoughtfulness, but after the first trip up the aisle, I decided I really belonged on the back row in the area reserved for wheelchairs. That way I could sit or stand as needed and didn’t embarrass myself by traipsing up and down the aisle. To my surprise, I enjoyed the play even more from the back row. Do you remember how good it felt to stand after being seated for a lengthy film, play, or lecture? Well, I had the freedom of sitting or standing as I pleased throughout the play, and I didn’t miss a line or a laugh. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought, and enjoyed my back-row position for the remainder of the six plays.
Each morning after a delicious breakfast at our B&B, I bid farewell to my friends, who went to theatre discussions. These involved free-flowing comments from would-be critics directed to actors and/or directors from the previous day’s plays. Unlike my friends—both retired English professors—I didn’t mind missing that part of our adventure. So I spent the morning doing the exercises and stretches assigned by my physical therapist and taking a nap. By noon I felt ready and eager to join them for lunch and more plays.
By noon we were on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park. The beauty of the scenery in this amazing national park enthralled us all. However, I felt especially pleased because, for me, walking was easier and more comfortable than sitting or standing. My stamina was still limited, but I managed a slot canyon off the Navajo Loop as well as the Mossy Cave trail the next day, and felt very proud of myself.
I even took a helicopter tour of the park from the front seat and had a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the rock formations. Our pilot saw my back brace and wasn’t worried.
The drive home was much the same as the drive our first day, with one exception. Instead of feeling nervous and wondering how much I would be able to do, I felt pleased that I had been able to do everything I wanted to do. Remembering how close I had come to canceling the trip, I just felt grateful. I could rest when I needed and walk when I wanted, and was available for visiting with my good friends.
I managed the pain on the trip the same way I would manage it at home. I had my Neurontin four times a day, Celebrex twice a day, and Benadryl and Valium to help me sleep through the night. It wasn’t a pain-free vacation, but why would I want to experience the pain at home alone when I could be somewhere fun with friends?