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My thoracic discectomy experience

KimD592KKimD592 Posts: 435
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:55 AM in Upper Back Pain, Thoracic
I had my thoracic discectomy on 7/6, so I figured I'd finally post about my experience.

I decided to go with a surgeon at Penn Neurosurgery, associated with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in the thoracic spine, so I felt confident in his abilities. He was recommending the same surgery as the first surgeon here in my hometown. Both of them recommended a posterior method where they would make a small (it's approximately 2 inches) incision in my back, over the herniated discs. They'd remove a small section of bone covering the disc, and cut away the portion of the disc that was compressing my spine.

I went to the hospital early the morning of the 6th, and we waited for what seemed like forever. They finally checked me in and I was brought into the pre-op holding area. Once there, I met a ton of doctors and nurses. At my last pre-op appt, the surgeon explained that he'd be doing neuro monitoring during my surgery, since I'd be under general anesthesia. So in the pre-op holding area, I met with the specialists who would be doing the neuro monitoring, and they explained everything to me. I then met with the anesthesiologist and the nurse anesthetist. They put the IV in, except it wasn't a great vein, so he said he'd put a better IV in once I was asleep. The irony of it is that the "better" IV ended up blowing a couple of days after the surgery, where as the initial IV lasted the whole time I was in the hospital. Anyway, the nurse anesthetist was talking to me for a while and gave me some Zofran, since I was feeling some nausea between being nervous and not having had anything to eat since the night before. She came back and put some Versed through my IV. I remember her doing that and thinking, "gee, this isn't working" because I wasn't feeling the least bit drowsy. That was the last thought I had before everything became foggy. I don't even remember them wheeling me into the OR. I do remember them placing the mask over my face and telling me to take deep breaths. Then I remember them telling me to lift my legs so that they could put those compression boots on. I don't have any recollection of being in PACU.

Next thing I remember was arriving in my room after the surgery, and my husband walking in. I was so relieved to see him. Apparently (and I don't remember this), I started singing to him. Yup...I serenaded (sp?) him! And the song I sang...."You're the One That I Want," from Grease! Lmao! My mother and sister still will not let me live this down. Upon waking up from surgery, I discovered I had a foley catheter and a drain. My only complaint is that I wish I would have been told before hand that I was going to wake up with these things, because I attemped to pull my foley out while I was still groggy from the anesthesia. They explained that the drain was to keep blood/fluid from building up around my spinal cord and putting pressure on my spinal cord. They pulled the catheter out on day 1 post-op, and I think the drain they left in until day 3.

I was only supposed to be in the hospital for two nights max, but the pain was excrutiating. On day 1 and 2, physical therapy came and got me up and walking around. I was feeling slightly wobbly on my feet, but I did okay. They had me practice on the stairs as well. On day 2, I decided to wear my clothes from home, because I hate the hospital gown. When I went to the bathroom, I went to pull my pants up and felt this excrutiating pain on my right side. I barely made it back to the bed and called my nurse in right away. From then on, it took them a while to manage my pain. The pain was much worse than I expected. They ended up starting me on a high dose of steroids (Decadron) and they gave me a walker to get around. I talked to the surgeon and he said that one of the two discs that he operated on was actually much worse than he anticipated. He said it was really compressing my spinal cord.

I ended up spending 5 days in the hospital. I left with prescriptions for Oxycodone, Valium, and Decadron. I took them for the first couple of days after getting home. One night, after taking my meds for the night, I woke up with an episode of sleep paralysis. It was one of the most terrifying experiences I've ever had while sleeping. I was convinced it was from the steroid, because I hadn't really been taking the pain meds because I hated how groggy they were making me. So I knew this episode I had was not from the Oxy or Valium. I called the NP at my NS office the next day and told her about my experience, and she agreed that I was close enough to the end of my steroid taper, and that I would be okay stopping. I told her that I didn't like feeling so groggy from the pain meds, so she prescribed Motrin 800 three times a day.

The pain was bad but it was slowly getting better and the Motrin was helping to manage it. That is until last Wednesday. I suddenly developed this horrible pain on my left side that wrapped around my ribcage and stopped just under my left breast. It was seriously a mirror image of the pain I felt from my other herniated discs. I should mention that while I was in the hospital and they were having trouble controlling my pain, they sent me for a CT Scan to see if anything else was going on. The last CT scan I had done was on 5/12 when I had my CT Myelogram. The myelogram showed the discs at T8-9 and T9-10, both of which were protruding to the right, and those were the ones he operated on. I also had several other herniated discs, but none that were quite as bad. When I went to my appt at UPenn, the NS did mention that T7-8 was also herniated, but it was herniated to the left. I wasn't having any left-sided pain, at the time, so he opted to leave it alone. Well, the CT scan I had in the hospital showed that the disc at T7-8 has gotten worse in the last two months. Still, he said at this point we'd wait and see. He said he could try to operate on it posteriorly, but it was likely he'd end up needing to convert to the riskier anterior approach.

After I started feeling this left-sided pain last week, I started needing to take the stronger pain meds again. I was popping Motrin like it was water, and once my husband would come home at night, I'd take the Oxy and Valium because the pain was excrutiating. The stronger meds definitely helped, but they knock me out. By Friday, I decided to call the NS office, because I was concerned. I mean, how do I differentiate between normal pain from recovering from surgery, versus pain from that other disc? I spoke with the NP and she felt that I had some inflammation setting in that was causing this radiating pain, so she started me on a tapering dose of Prednisone. It seemed to be helping, but then last night the pain was horrific again. So now I'm not sure what to think. The incisional pain is definitely much better. If it weren't for this pain that wraps around my left side, I probably wouldn't need to take much of anything...maybe a couple of Motrin. I have two days left of the Prednisone. If I'm still having this pain after I'm done with the Prednisone, I'll call again and see what they say. It's only been 19 days since my surgery, so I'm trying not to keep my expectations too high.

So, that's about it for now. The right-sided pain I was having as a result of those two discs seems to be much better. And as I said, the incisional pain is minimal at this point. The hardest part has been adhering to my restrictions while trying to take care of my children. My 10-year old has been a huge help to me, though. I'm doing my best not to lift my 1-year old, but there have been a few occasions that I've had to. I am starting my new job, a desk job, in 2 weeks. I'm super excited about that!
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Comments

  • Wow Kim >:D<
    You have been through the ringer. I hope they are right and the new pain is just from the swelling/healing. I remember my PLIF was terrible for several weeks and then presto chango- I finally felt better. I took the heavy Pain Meds around the clock....

    Funny thing is now I take way more than I did after that first fusion to control my T=Spine pains.... :(


    I am very interested on your recovery. Keep us posted.

    Julie
  • I'll definitely keep you posted. Part of me is very nervous that this left-sided pain is related to this other disc. However, for now I'm just going to focus on my recovery and try not to get too far ahead of myself. My husband is freaking out that I'm going to end up needing more surgery. I don't even want to think about that right now.
  • Hello,
    I just want to ask how you are doing after 4 years since your thoracic surgery ... I have two discs in the thoracic spine too which causes me a lot of pain and deceased life quality ... Hope to hear from you ... Peace :)
  • I've recently (2013) had surgery to relieve pain caused from a pinched nerve in my thoracic spine. Thoracic surgery is especially hard to recover from because of the location. The thoracic spine is mainly used to twist our body, not to bend, but many times thoracic problems appear because of too much mobility in that part of the spine. After surgery you have to relearn not to bend that part of your back and strengthen it so to decrease mobility there. It sounds weird but once you are in a position such as mine, it makes more sense. My back surgeon did a thorocotomy where they enter through the left side of my ribcage, break a rib to make room to reach the spine, bypass the heart and lung, take out the disk and clean up the area, replace disk with a synthetic disk made of something like rubber with a hole in the middle, use part of my broken rib as a bone graft to essentially fuse the two vertebrae (T7-8) together in the center of the synthetic disk, then come out and sow me up. I had a broken rib for 8 months. During surgery I had a collapsed lung and went to ICU after with about 15 different tubes and ivs everywhere. I had another lung collapse two days after surgery while doing some minimal physical therapy. I was in the hospital for a week. However, it has been two years and I still have a lot of weakness and pain and I'm still on pain medication and I'm only 27. So if the surgery was this hard on me at such a young age, I can't imagine having this surgery as a senior. However I have seen my dad go through five back surgeries and his entire lumbar area is fused and he plays golf three days a week. I think everyone's story is different when it comes to these things. Every back surgery is totally unique and every recovery is different. I was on pain meds for five years before surgery and I am on less now than I was before. But I'm still in pain, just a different type of pain. The original pain I had has decreased dramatically. The Dr says I will see about 75-80% improvement there after some time and recovery and I'm at about 60% better in that spot. But the weakness the surgery left behind is the hardest part for me. I'm young and I really want to get out and live my life but many times I just can't. That part sucks, but I know I'm on the mend and attempting to decrease my pain meds as the pain gets better! So we will see how it goes. Always praying for God's healing first! But sometimes His healing comes through the hands of a very blessed and skilled surgeon and pain management doctor until its your time to live pain free. Its a journey, thats for sure, but if you keep your head in the right space then its possible to achieve! We all deserve to know what its like to live and love a pain free life!
    Sara H.
    *2008-Pain in left ribcage,Diagnosed w/Scheuerrmann's Disease
    *Surgery April 2013-Thorocotomy, Disk replacement at T7-8, synthetic spacer w/ bone graft from rib;Still weak/pain across back under shoulder blades;Occipital Headaches/Migraines
  • Mike DoranosMMike Doranos Posts: 7
    edited 05/10/2015 - 2:08 AM
    Hi Sara,
    Your post surgery condition sounds terrible and honestly makes me scared of going that road (surgery) but glad to know you are getting better overall. What do you mean by "the weakness the surgery left behind is the hardest part for me" I mean what exactly do you feel? and how you go about it? is it something you did not have prior surgery? what the doctors think about it?

    I pray to God to heal you fast so you can go and live your life ....
    Thank you for your response!
  • KimD592KKimD592 Posts: 435
    edited 06/15/2015 - 4:25 PM
    Well, it's been a crazy 4 years. My back pain was so much better. Unfortunately in November 2011 I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Then more health problems came along. But all the while, my back pain has been minimal. Recently I've been having pretty bad left sided pain again, along with numbness and tingling. I've been putting off calling my PCP about it, but I'm throwing in the towel and am calling tomorrow. I'm just afraid of what it will show
  • itsautonomicitsautonomic LouisianaPosts: 1,941
    edited 06/15/2015 - 5:09 PM
    Hey Kim been a while, sorry to hear about the new pains hope its something small .
    Do your due dilegence, trust you know your body and question everything if it does not fit. Advocate for yourself and you will be suprised what will be revealed trusting your body and instinct.
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