I'll try to make my story brief. It seems that bad backs run in my family. My Dad had a herniated L4-L5 and had a laminectomy back in 1986. He recuperated, went back to work, and a short time later, blew L5-S1 from a sneezing fit. He was disabled at the age of 48. He's now 72 and suffering horribly due to the L5-S1 herniation, stenosis and arthritis.
I blew my first disk at the age of 24. Lifted a shovel full of ice and BAM. Moderate herniation to L4-L5. My doctors took the "conservative route" and insisted I do PT. Six months later, I returned to work, and was laid off the very same day. I continued the PT for the next year and a half, and between PT, TIME, and pain killers for around 2 years, I was well enough that I worked and lived a quasi-normal life. I even endured a pregnancy 9 years later. Yes, I had flare-ups of back pain every time I had my period, did house work, or put too much strain on my back, but I survived.
Flash forward to May of this year, 2013. I carried a VERY heavy bag of garbage the down the deck stairs, the length of the house and then tried to pitch it over a 4 foot fence into the garbage -- twice, because the bag broke the first time. A week later, I was writhing around on the floor after just cooking dinner and attempting to sit down! I had severe pain from my lower back, out to the outside of my right thigh, and all the way down my leg. None of the positions I knew to take the pressure off my back worked that night. I was in agony and screaming. Went to my primary doctor the next morning (my daughter was too scared for me to go to the hospital, so I suffered through the night and sent her to school before going to my primary doctor). I told him my right foot felt like a dead fish on the end of my leg. It was cold, hard to control, and felt like it wasn't getting any blood. He tested the reflex in the back of my foot and said it should be ok. He prescribed me the "bad back cocktail" of pain killer, anti-inflammatory, Prednisone and muscle relaxer and said I should be better within the next 5 days. Either way, he wanted me to see a neurologist. 5 days later, I was no better at all.
I saw the neurologist, and told him about the severe pain going from my back all the way down my right leg, and about my "dead-fish" foot. I told him the tip of my big toe was numb. After checking the FIVE reflexes in my foot, he immediately knew it was a problem with my L5 disk, because the L5 reflex was COMPLETELY MISSING, as well as one other. My foot had severe muscle weakness, as well. He sent me for an MRI, which revealed herniations to L3-L4, L4-L5 (lateral AND right sided herniations, and the most severe of the disk herniations) and L5-S1. In addition, I also had extruded fragments from L4-L5 disk blowing and hitting the nerve, that fell down to the L5-S1 level and were compressing the nerve. An EMG was done, and I can't relay the results because it's too complex for me to understand, but the neurologist said I had severe compression to the nerves, and that if I didn't have surgery within the next 3 weeks, the numbness and muscle weakness in my right foot would be PERMANENT. So off I went to the surgeon...
I had the choice of two surgeons: one is the Chairman (of the Hospital or of Orthopedic Surgery, I'm not sure), and the other is the Head of Orthopedic Spinal Surgery at one of the best hospitals in NYC. I was told the Chairman was not likely to take my case, as it was "too routine" in nature, and it would also take a LONG time to get an appointment. The other surgeon (the Head of Orthopedic Spine Surgery) would be my best bet. He was also referred to me from a friend who works for the hospital. Anyway, he told me NOTHING about the surgery, just that I'd need a microdiscectomy on L4-L5 and a fragment removal. He checked off a box on a pad and told me to look it up on their practice's website. I told him that the neurologist thought it would be a more complicated surgery than that, and he said he would decide once he was inside me and doing the surgery. He paged through my results like he was fanning himself with it, and clicked through the MRI images so fast, it looked like a flip-book! Surgery was scheduled for the following week. The entire appointment lasted less than 5 minutes.
On 7/2/13 I had my surgery, and the surgeon decided that a microdiscectomy was not enough. Went I came to, I was told he did a hemilaminectomy, a microdiscectomy, and removed SEVERAL extruded disk fragments (as opposed to only ONE that showed on MRI). I was in SUPER BAD SHAPE when I got home. I couldn't walk unassisted for the first 3 days, and when I did walk, I had a broad-banded sciatica in BOTH LEGS -- not just the right leg, as I had before!!
Six days later, I had a TERRIBLE case of constipation from the oxycontin ER and the oxycodone that I was taking simultaneously. I kept trying to push it out, but it wouldn't budge, and the pain in my back was terrible. I kept worrying that I was herniating a disk just trying to push, and called the Dr's office. They said likelihood of herniating was small if I didn't strain too much, but I was scared that I had already done the damage!
I had post-op visits with the surgeon at 10 days, 2 weeks and 3 weeks. At each appointment I asked about when I'd start PT. He'd say, "Not now. I'll see you back in my office in a week." at every appointment. At the 3 week appointment, he was rather abrupt with me, and asked how much pain medication I was taking. I told him I was taking 2 oxycodone maybe 2 or 3 times a day (previous to that, I was taking 2 pills every 4 hours, or a total of 12 a day). He berated me, saying that I was taking too much, and that by the time I came for my next appointment, I should be down to one or two pills a day! It's a long story, but turns out he was so nasty because my friend who works for the hospital made a complaint to his office manager about the fact that, on SEVERAL occasions, I called the surgeon's office more than 6 TIMES over the course of TWO DAYS, before I got a call back, AND because of this, he left me without pain medication for almost 5 DAYS!! I did not know this until AFTER my appointment with him, and now it makes sense why he was so damn nasty, but I was SHOCKED to say the least when I was sitting on the exam table!! At that same appointment, he told me that the "average" return to work time was 2-4 weeks, and I could NOT believe my ears! How could ANYBODY return to work at that point, when I was still having such severe pain??? He made me feel like he didn't believe me, and was trying to "milk it". I left completely frustrated, angry, and wanting to put him in the pain that I was feeling!
At the next appointment, 7 weeks post-op, he was a bit more friendly, for the heartless idiot that he is. I told him I was still having pain down both of my legs, and he said, "You mean, your RIGHT leg." and I said, "No, I mean BOTH LEGS. I've told you that several times." He asked, "Since when has this been?" and I exclaimed, "Since I came home from the hospital! I've told you that at almost every visit!" At previous visits when I mentioned the sciatica, he said that the nerve was compressed for 6 weeks prior to the surgery, so it could take 12 weeks for the nerve to recuperate, but this time he didn't respond about it any further, and just said, "Let me see your back" and then said, "Well, the incision is still pink, so that means you're still healing on the inside. When your scar turns white, then you're done healing." He said he doesn't usually see patients past the 6 week mark, but said for me to come back at 12 weeks post-op. That was it!! Since he was previously pushing me to return to work, I asked him about when he'd be sending me back. He said he wouldn't push me to go back, and I could go back whenever I thought I could do it, physically.
I wish I had never gone with this surgeon. He never told me what to do or what NOT to do after the surgery, except to avoid BLT. He didn't even say for how long I should avoid that. He never gave me any instructions on when I should start doing specific activities, and when I asked him at the 3 week post-op appointment, he just said I should be at 75% of normal activity. That I could ride a bike, swim, etc. Nothing specific, and quite honestly, I was still so bad, there is NO WAY I could do any of those things he mentioned!! He has made me feel like I'm either faking the pain, or that I'm a complete wimp. He told me he had a patient that went back to work 2 days after an operation! I was like, "Really????? After a hemilaminectomy, a microdiscectomy and multiple fragment removals??? At age 43???" He said that was not the norm, but that 2-4 weeks was the average, and said that my pain threshold had been weakened by taking pain killers for so long (6 weeks pre-op and 3 weeks post-op at that point). He said he wasn't saying I was an "addict", but that if I didn't take the pain killers for 2 days, that I'd feel like I had the flu. I was so hurt and upset after this appointment, I immediately went to one pain killer a day, and BOY was I HELL to be around because I was hurting so badly!!!!!
My old boss retired 3 days after my injury in May, and I barely know my new boss. I've been with my company for 19 years, and work closely with executive management. I had FMLA job protection only until 8/20. In the beginning of August, my boss began pressuring me about when I'd be coming back, and finally said that if I couldn't come back in the beginning of September, that he'd have to hire "a temp" to at least take care of some of the administrative duties of my job. With no job protection, I worried that this new boss would hire this "temp", and she/he would wind up sliding right into my job, so I told him I'd come back on 9/9. Well, I've just completed my first week back to work, and it's been hell. I'm 10 weeks post-op and still have the feeling like I have a golf-ball lodged in my spine. I still haven't been sent to PT and I still get the sciatica in the bottom of my legs. I get a stabbing sensation into my ankles, and an electrical "tingle" that goes over the top of my foot. At night, my feet feel like they're swollen, although they do not appear that way. Although I was doing pretty good at home, and my pain would increase throughout the day, and would only get to the point that I needed pain medication, by the early evening. However, on my first day back to work, I felt like I needed pain meds by 10:00 am! I have tried not to take more than one pain pill a day, but wound up taking an additional pill around 3:00, two days this week. The excessing walking, opening heavy doors a million times a day, and just too much sitting have really taken it's toll!!
I do still have 3 herniations that were not corrected, plus my L3-L4, L4-L5 and L5-S1 disks are so badly deteriorated that the surgeon said I will need a 4 layer fusion at some point -- will I ever be pain-free, or will I always be suffering pain like this?? I keep holding onto hope, but between pre-op and post-op pain, this has been going on for 15 weeks, and I am getting very emotional over this. I was told that I had to be careful that I didn't "over do" it after the surgery because I'd feel so good, and I am STILL having significant pain 10 weeks later!! I know I am NOT a wimp, so why is this happening??? Is 10 weeks still to early to have this expectation, or will I be having pain FOREVER? The surgeon said he could not fix all the herniations because it would cause too much instability of the spine, and that those other herniations were not the cause of the leg pain. But maybe the feeling of the golf-ball in my spine are the other herniations?? Maybe I re-herniated the disk operated on (L4-L5) during my bout with constipation?? Should I insist upon another MRI? Another EMG?? I'm not sure what to do anymore, and my poor husband has been so patient and kind, but he doesn't know the answer either... Any opinions?????