There is hope through fusion back surgery – A lumbar fusion success story
This is a long (hopefully encouraging) read so please bear with me. Hopefully you will find good information throughout this post.
I hope that my experience and by writing this I will provide you with some comfort, advise and some insight from someone who has went through a very painful and difficult time in their life with back pain and eventual fusion surgery. My goal is to provide you light and to give you hope.
Back in 2006 I was injured on active duty. I had MRIs done and it revealed a herniation at L5-S1. There was also a herniation at L4-L5 although it was not as prominent. Future MRIs would also show a small herniation in my thoracic spine. Ever since that day in 2006 I had dealt with chronic pain. It was chronic most of those years but it was manageable. Some days were better than others.
In December of 2010 I went back home to spend a month visiting family and to look for a home to buy. During this time I slept on the floor as I usually did. I had to sleep in really firm mattresses otherwise the pain would be worse. There usually was no issue with me sleeping in a few blankets on the floor. Then again I had never done it for a month straight. It had always been 2 weeks or less and then I would come back home to San Antonio to my comfy bed.
Toward the end of my trip in 2010 the pain went from manageable chronic to often unbearable. Many times I debated going to the emergency room. This is a big deal because I have always had a really strong pain tolerance. My family would tell me to go but I was being stubborn and did not. I thought that everything would be ok when I got back to my apartment in San Antonio and slept on my bed. It did not get better. It got continuously worse.
When I first got back and noticed things where not getting better, I set up an appointment with my primary care. I went through the whole tirade of appointments. Primary care referrals to specialists, back to primary care for more specialists, referrals and treatment options. I went to multiple Pain docs, physical therapy, chiropractors, acupuncture, traction treatments, spiritual healers, massages. You name it I probably tried it. Nothing would make it any better, including medication. I was so against taking meds. I often just try to deal with it. I’ve seen so many people’s lives destroyed by addiction that my fear of meds and their addictions prevented me many times from taking them, even if I really should have. Eventually I had no choice and gave in. They helped at first but they did not correct the problem. I spent most of my time in bed for many months. I would only get up to eat, go to the bathroom, shower and grocery shop. I live alone and was doing it all by myself. I was a prisoner to my bed.
I often posted on this site (spine health). Some of my posts would be very encouraging. Some posts I personally was very discouraged and need encouraging. Most of what I read on this site scared the living hell out of me. Botched fusion surgeries. Elderly people who have dealt with chronic pain for 30+ years. People who have had surgery or multiple surgeries with no relief. So many stories where the surgery made things worse. There were the success stories on here but they seemed to be so rare. A lot of the success stories seemed to be I was able to get out of bed this morning and things like that. I do not know about you but I did not want to go through 30+ years of chronic pain. Even though I was currently that bad off and had been for months I did not want to be that bad off for that long. I didn’t want to continuously be where getting out of bed was an accomplishment. Knowing that spinal disc disease rarely gets better with age and usually only gets worse scared the hell out of me. I was young, it’s intolerable now and it was only going to get worse?!
During this incredibly tough time I was a research machine. I was so desperate to find a cure that didn’t involve surgery. I thought that maybe by my hard work and long hours searching I could uncover something that so many others had over looked. I never did find my miracle non invasive cure. There was no way on God’s green Earth I was going to get fusion surgery. No way! Not after what I read on here and the research I had done. Fusion was a potentially fate worse than death, literally. The pain had gotten so bad and my fear and reluctance to get fusion surgery was so strong that I considered suicide many times. I felt trapped. I felt it was a no win situation. My thinking was; I was miserable now, I would be miserable shortly after surgery and surgery would make me worse off. I could not have been more wrong.
I would often cry myself to sleep at night with how trapped I felt and how much pain I was in. I was mad at God for allowing this. I was mad at life. I had so much anxiety about fusion. I fought it and fought it and fought it. To say that I was scared to get a fusion would be an understatement. I was terrified. I was literally petrified. Petrified from making a decision. I was no stranger to surgery. I have had 5 prior surgeries before this for different reasons. I felt this one would be different in a bad way. This one scared me more then all of those other ones combined. Fusing my spine?! Potentially ending up like so many others on here?! Worse off than now?! Surgery didn’t scare me but the stories on here did. I was so lost, so scared and so confused. I prayed so many times asking for a way out. Asking what to do.
I eventually decided to go through with fusion surgery.
Up until this decision and over these long grueling months a couple of things happened. About the time I was told my doctor recommended surgery some random guy started talking to me in the doctor's office. I did not approach him, he approached me. We both walked out together and went in the elevator together. He told me that if it wasn't for God then he wouldn't have been able to get through his fusion surgery. He said if it were not for God he would have taken his life. He said he hoped that God was a part of my life. With that he got off on the floor previous to mine. The elevator doors closed and I thought well this was really random. I didn't ask him about his faith; I did not approach him....just different.
Another thing is I was trying to get a referral to see another doctor. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried to see someone else I could not. Like I was supposed to go to the doctor that actually ended up doing my surgery. I had written to doctors all over the country and sent them my MRI's on a CD along with a letter. Many of them. Probably close to 10. Over many months. So desperate to find a way other then surgery. I filled out their forms (if requested) and mailed them. Every time the items would either get lost in the mail, they wouldn't accept my insurance, or I couldn't get a hold of them. This went on for a very long time. I kept going back to my primary care doc. He was probably getting tired of seeing me. I would request for him to set me up with a local spine doctor for a second opinion. My primary doctor's office referred me to another doctor in the same office as my original doctor. I live in a city with a lot of neurosurgeons in a lot of locations so this was unusual. I called to set up an appointment with this second referral and couldn't make an appointment because he worked in the same office and they said it would be a conflict of interest. So I called my primary again. I tried a couple of times. Nothing, was working out I thought. Nothing was getting accomplished I thought. In the mean time I am still suffering.
Yet, another thing that happened was I was really upset and I didn't know whether to go through with the surgery or not. I was really scared and distressed. I was talking to my mom on the phone and we were talking about it. She said something along the lines of trust in God and pray about it. During that phone call a commercial came on about a local doctor who performs spinal fusion surgeries. I have never before seen a commercial on TV for spinal fusion surgeries or doctors promoting this procedure. This was the first time ever. How many commercials have you seen regarding this topic? This is when it started to hit me that maybe I was being led to do something. Maybe I was being led to get fusion surgery. I wasn’t exactly sure and was skeptical but in the grand scheme of things I took this as a sign.
The last thing that had happened to me was I prayed about making the decision to go through with the surgery the night before my next appointment. I had not decided to go through with surgery yet. This was actually my last appointment before my pre-op appointment. I had asked if this was the right path and option for me please give me peace tomorrow at the appointment. I had done all the conservative routes and had already seen my neurosurgeon a couple of times now. It came time for the appointment and for one of the fist times in my life I really felt a peace. It was really weird. Unusual. I took this as a sign too. I had prayed for peace many times in my life and I do not recall a time that I really ever got it. I was not expecting to get it this time either. I really did it just to go through the motions. I really did not want this surgery and was looking for every reason to not go through with it. You can tell this by reading my previous posts on this site. I was scared, terrified, mad and nervous. I took the feeling of peace in such a turbulent time in my life as well as the other things I experienced as signs.
I went through my spinal fusion surgery in May of 2011.
The surgery for me was not as bad as everyone made it out to be. It may have been for them but it was not for me. I should have not assumed their experiences would be similar to my own. It was not as painful as everyone had said from their posts on this site. Recovery for me was not as long and as painful as all the posts I read on this site either.
Over all the surgery and recovery wasn’t easy, but it was not impossible nor overly painful. It was actually very manageable. And the results I am feeling now have made it even more worth it. I was up walking around (with my walker) the third day after surgery. I was doing laps in the hospital. They were not fast laps but only a bit slower than my normal walking speed. The nurses were impressed. Especially the cuties.
My sister flew down to take care of me during that time. I am so very grateful for that. The doctor was impressed when he saw me at my first appointment. I did what the doctor said and in the end I healed up nicely. I am now back to doing basically everything I was doing before the surgery and before I was in excruciating pain. I am so glad I decided to undergo fusion surgery despite all the horror stories and my fear. It really was a good decision and it has turned out for the best. I got my life back. You can too!
Here are some of the things that I have learned.
1. It is good to research any subject but just be careful not to overdo it.
It is very easy to get burnt out on this. Especially when fighting with chronic pain. I know I thought if I could just research back pain and alternate options enough then I could find something that my doctors and so many others are missing. I can find that Holy Grail I thought.
Sometimes in life there are not better options at that particular point , just the best option of what is currently presented to you.
2. Be careful reading and visiting the forums on this site (or any pain site for that matter).
In my opinion, there is a lot of good information on this site as well as people but the forum sections can be very negative and depressing (and some not so nice people). It appeared to me that the forums are often filled with horror stories and failed attempts. It is enough to scare someone stiff. Enough to scare someone into indecision. At least it was for me. I thought "If by getting the surgery I am going to be worse off then what I am now, then why even go through with it". "Look at all these negative posts" I thought. There were a few exceptions of course but you have to understand that the people who are helped with surgery are probably not going to come back to this site (or any site) and post. They are probably going to go on about their lives and put this difficult part of their life behind them. It is often the ones who are struggling, looking, searching for answers that tend to come, stay, and post on sites like these. If you spend too much time here, it potentially could negatively affect you. At least it did with me. I know it is just the opposite for some. It is a real life saver for some. My advice, just be careful.
3. See your doctor, do what he says and get a second opinion.
4. Exhaust all of your conservative options before surgery. If anything this will allow you to go into surgery with peace of mind knowing that you did everything you could prior.
4. I do not know what your religion is but I suggest you pray about it.
Pray for help, comfort, peace and for a direction and what you are supposed to do. I am a Christian and I believe in God so for me it was prayers to him. Surgery is a big (not impossible) decision. I still had to make the decision myself (and so will you) but having God direct me and comfort me through it has made it much more tolerable. I have had a lot of pretty crazy stuff happen to me in the months leading up to my surgery regarding God and this surgery. I was so scared to have it done. So incredibly scared. After reading these forums and I was terrified and would often stay awake and cry at night. I know a grown man crying, but I did. But weird stuff would happen in the months prior to my surgery. Some would call it coincidence. I believe it was God.
5. Listen to yourself, your doctor and your higher power. Again, be careful of all of the horror/failure stories. The people who have horror stories/failures are (for whatever reason) on the path that they are on. Their path is their path and it does not mean that this is also your path. This doesn't mean surgery will be successful for you, but it also doesn't mean that surgery will not be successful for you. Your path is your path. Do what is right for you. Be mindful when listening to others. Do what is right for you. There are many others out there who have had a successful operation. For many people who had the surgery, it changed their life for the better. I am one of them. I am (and have been) having other back issues even prior to surgery but the area I got operated on now is a lot better. It may not ever be 100% but it is so much better then where I was. Keep this in mind. I am a success story. I benefited positively from fusion surgery. You can too! I am not promoting getting surgery. My hope and prayer is that your problems will be corrected through conservative means. That your discomfort is light and manageable and that surgery is not required. However if surgery is required, please understand there are many success stories out there. I am an example of that.
6. There are some interesting technologies/techniques that are currently in testing phases and have shown a lot of success. Things like reverse fusion using artificial discs, companies that are undergoing stem cell treatment trials (and who have had success before), new artificial disc options, healthy spinal disc transplants, and clinical trial therapies to close up the disc fissures that have shown success and are a year (or a few) from completion.. I can tell you more about what I found if you ask.
It is important to note though, that although these technologies/techniques look promising, it does not mean that these will be that "holy grail". So if you are suffering please, listen to your doctor and yourself and do not hold off on current treatment options in hopes of something better. Sometimes holding off for too long can have irreversible effects.
7. A lot of people fear that having surgery they will be severely limited from doing most things they enjoy. While this may be true for some this is not true for everyone. Many people go on to live their lives and continue to do the things they love long after surgery. Things they were not able to do before because of pain. I am/was a very active person. I have been cleared to do anything I want to do. I work out (but am careful). I ride my bike. I swim. I go on dates. I go camping. There are no restrictions. Granted there are things that I limit myself from (sky diving, bungee jumping, jumping jacks etc.). There may be things that you can no longer do but that does not mean you can no longer live a healthy happy life. There may be some life changes but in many cases you can still do a lot of the things you like/love. There are people who go through with fusion back surgery and live very active lives. They have their limits but they are still doing a lot of the things they love. I am a living, breathing example of this. This could be you! There are so many of us out there. Just ask us.
Keep your head up!
Take care of yourself,