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4 Years Post PLIF L5/S1

stevebssteveb Posts: 95
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:47 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
For those that don't remember me, I have been a member of this site for well over 4 years now. I come back and check in every now and then, but not as frequent as I used to. The back pain suffering chapter in my life is over now and quite honestly, it pains me to relive it. I think it's thereputic to do so on occasion, so I'm giving an update on my status.

I had PLIF on my L5/S1 vertibrae on September 26, 2006. The disc had completely desintegrated and there was nothing left there. I just finished my 6th season as a professionl hockey official and was in very good physical condition. I'll never forget the day that I sat in my neurosurgeons exam room and he told me the news. "Your disk in gone, bone is mashing against bone and you have bone fragments scattered throughout your lower back. You have two options - Fuse the spine or live with the pain the rest of your life." Now, at this point, I considered myself a professional athelete. I was paid to perform, had to stay in top physical condition and could be released at any moment, if I didn't perform. So, this news was a bit of a shock to me. My eyes welled up with tears, knowing this was the end on my life as I knew it. A lot of things were about to change.

I knew I had to have the surgery, I just couldn't function anymore. I could barely walk, couldn't stand for more than 5 minutes and getting out of bed in the mornings took me well over 15 minutes. So, I got a second opinion from a well respected orthapedic, who said the same thing. He told me he could do a disc replacement, but my insurance probably wouldn't cover any of the expense, so that was out. I finally scheduled the surgery, on my birthday, June 29, 2006. I freaked out about a month before and cancelled it. I lived wih the pain until August, and just couldn't take it anymore, so I scheduled the surgery again. This time I went through with it.

Surgery went well and I stayed 3 nights in the hospital. That whole time was a blur, so I don't remember much, especially 4 years later. I recovered at home, walking everyday. After a week and a half, I had a follow up appointment and I think to have my staples removed. I asked the doc if I could go back to work soon (desk jockey) and he told I could as long as I was off the pain meds and could drive. So, I took it as "yes, go back to work", so I did. Two and a half weeks after surgery, I went back to work, on a limited basis. I would work 3 to 4 hours in the morning then go home and pass out. I was off the pain meds (hydrocodone), mostly, and quit cold turkey. BIG MISTAKE!!! Not because of the pain, but because it is a narcotic. I had severe withdrawl syptoms. I couldn't sleep, had convulsions, jimmy legs, etc. I bet I went two weeks with very little sleep. I was nearly suicidal.

I overcame though and pushed through, thanks mostly to this message board and the great support group I had here. They all knew what I was going through and it gave me great comfort to know others were experiencing the same thing. I wasn't alone on that island.

I didn't go to PT, my surgeon knew I was motivated to resume the life I once led, so he told me to do the PT on my own, since I had been through it before the surgery. I did, religiously. Had some setbacks from pushing it too much, but in the end, I think that's why I healed so well.

A year after the surgery, I figured I was back to normal and began resuming riding my bicycles. I raced mountain and road bikes in the summer to stay in shape for hockey. I was wrong. I wasn't ready. It hurt like hell when I rode and I could only stay on the bike for less than an hour. I was extremely disappointed, but knew I had to pull back. I rode when I could for as long as I could, often times stopping and stretching my back several times throughout the short rides. Also around this time, I thought I could skate again, so I began officiating youth hockey games. I even called some collegiate and Junior A games. I wasn't ready. It hurt and hurt like hell. I was done. Period. Never to strap the skates on again. It was a hard blow, but I got over it and to tell you thr truth, I don't miss it much.

I devoted myself to cycling. After 2 years of recovery, I finally felt like I was back to my old self. I began racing again, getting my rear end handed to me at every race, but I was racing again. I got in better and better shape as the summer went on. I started winning races again (cat 2) and USA cycling made me move up to cat 1 (pro). Again, getting my rear end handed to me.

In 2009, I raced the whole season in cat 1 (mountain bike). These races are fast. I can't even describe how fast and painful they are. So as I was getting faster and faster, there was very little room for error. If you mess up, you crash and crash hard. So, I had many, many crashes that season. I was always scared of crashing and reinjuring my back. I had some doosies. Seperated shoulders, bruised sternum, cracked ribs, road rash, etc. Never once did I hurt my back. At this point, I felt that the surgically repaired disc was MUCH stronger that the rest of my disks, so I knew I would be fine. It gave me great piece of mind knowing that I was fixed.

I'm still racing and not getting beat as bad as I was last year. I've had a couple of crashes this year, but nothing as bad as last year (knock on wood). I still have a couple of races left this year. I'm maintaining my weight at 185 lbs on a 6'2" frame. I go to the gym and lift weights three days a week so I don't dwindle down to nothing. I would say my back is 98-99% healed. Physically, I would say 100% but there is always going to be that little something in the back of my mind that will keep me from saying I'm 100%. It's completely mental and I will ALWAYS carry with me the burden of being a back pain sufferer.

I hope my success helps ease some peoples mind on this board that went through the same things I did. It takes a lot of work, pain, and most of all patience to get through this. I know some of my spiney friends were not as fortunate as I was and are still suffering. I sure do wish there was something I could do for you other that empathise, but that's all I got. I know what you're going through and it SUCKS!!! Keep your heads up and power through it. I'm sure someone is counting on you to be there, so don't let them down. Take care everyone.


  • Great to hear from you! Thanks for sharing such a great ordeal. I am a firm believer in how we can overcome more than we realize or are willing to admit to ourselves at times. It certainly isn't easy, but then nothing worth having in life ever comes truly easy or without some sort of cost.

    To use an old phrase "keep on truckin". Keep on living your life each day.

    Thanks for sharing,

  • Steve,

    Thanks for the great story and it is truly inspirational. I like the "never give up" attitude you have had and kept yourself motivated and kept trying.

    I bet you are sure happy you finally committed to the surgery. Good luck on the remainder of the races and I think you will be a top your sport before you know it. Congrats Steve on a job well done.
  • Hello and congrats on that!!! We all need to hear wonderful stories of Spineys who dont hurt anymore!!! THANK YOU!!!
  • for coming back to share your very encouraging story.

    So helpful for those of us that are still in recovery, and also for those wondering whether to go ahead with surgery.

    I wish you continued success with your life and hope that your spine problems are over. :-)
  • Glad to hear your doing great. Miss your funnies.

    Keep up the good work!!!!!

  • Thanks for the kind words everyone. I just want people to know that there is life after back surgery. I light at the end of the tunnel if you will.
  • Glad to meet you Steve, It is very comforting to know that the light is not another train...LOL...

    But I am very very happy for you!!! Your post is very encouraging!!
  • As someone who is getting ready for surgery in 2 weeks I really appreciate this.

    I am so happy for you and your blessed life.

  • I love to hear the "good" ones. We see so few.


  • Just had a PLIF ,removal of discs L4&L5 screws, rods. About 11 weeks post-op and I found myself reading & re-reading your post. Incredibly inspirational to us all.Your ability to power through sans meds, and your continued active life, well it gives me a huge dose of hope! Keep doing what u r doing and thank you for sharing. May the next 4 years be just as magnificent.
    Julie D.
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