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L4/L5 Microdiscectomy Story - 3 weeks Post Op

frankiegrl7ffrankiegrl7 Posts: 5
edited 10/07/2015 - 3:10 PM in Recovering from Surgery
This may be long but I wanted to post to help others, to find others with similar stories to mine and as a form of therapy for myself.


I've suffered from low right side back pain which honestly, feels like all my life and I'm 38. I don't ever remember anything specific that happened though mild scoliosis (app. 12 degrees), previous diagnosis of symptomatic Psoriatic Arthritis (in remission for 2 years now), 2 children, etc. I'm sure made their contributions. There were times after having my oldest daughter (11 and 5) when I "put my back out" but it never occurred after my second child though following her birth I was diagnosed with the PA. I have accommodated for my lower back pain for years and I don't think I realized how much I did that until I had my surgery. I also don't believe I was aware of the extent of my limited mobility/flexibility.

I'm an active parent and have always done some form of exercise in yoga, running and more recently have joined the Crossfit (obsessed btw) crew. We camp and bike and wrestle with the kids and during it all I scaled accordingly dependant on where my pain was at with my back. Mostly (until recently) it would go down like this...tweak my back, major pain in lower right back, rest, take some time off whatever I'm doing, load up on anti-inflammatories and ease back into my life - 3 weeks tops. This would happen approximately 4 to 5 times a year. I've done everything under the sun at various points of frustration...chiro, physio, massage, ice, heat, pain meds (no narcotics), etc.

Why surgery...

A large portion of my summer was spent with a "twingey" lower left back - which if you notice was totally different for me. I did my usual scaling of activities, rest and meds. At the end of August I had enough, because unlike in previous years, there was no change and no improvement. I researched Active Release Therapy (ART) but after a cancelled appointment on their end and a several months wait list for someone else, I went to chiro for adjustments. He sent me for an x-ray and found I had a herniated disc from L4-S1 and said that he could treat me conservatively but it would take 2-3 weeks for relief, 3-4 months for stability and would likely be years before it was healed. I went ahead with it, getting adjusted 4 times a week. Sometimes I felt like it was improving and other times, not - through all this I kept working full-time (elementary school with the little kidlets), going to school part-time and going to the Box (scaling my WODS) and being a mom.

September 5 in the AM - about 2.5 weeks into chiro, I was doing my workout and went to do my skipping which I've done a million times...5 double unders and then it happened. Crazy, sharp, excruciating pain shooting down my right side from my bum to my quad, to the outside calf, around my ankle and onto the top of my foot. Like any other idiot who's obsessed with their workouts, I pretended I was fine and finished it (you know, running, wall balls, sit ups and more skipping). After getting to my car, my hubby drove me straight home and watched me go from "oh geez my whole right side is killing me" to taking as much pain meds as I could round up and sobbing because I couldn't stand, sit, walk, lay down, bend, reach or basically breathe. By 7:00 pm, I went to the Emergency Room and came home 3 hours later after a shot of Toradol, scripts for Tylenol 3's, Naproxen and a requisition for MRI in 10 days.

I was told to take the Naproxen and if it didn't work, take the T3's and if that didn't work, take a second T3. So, I did that...by 1:30 in the morning I was vomiting from the pain because nothing was taking the edge off and I couldn't move anywhere anyhow by myself. I went back to the ER, they started me on shots of Morphine and Gravol which allowed me to be a bit more comfortable but it still didn't take the pain away and I could not weight bare on my right leg but at least I could sleep a little. The doctors were amazing, sent me for an MRI which was one of the most painful parts having to lay on my back straight and still for 10 minutes - there wasn't enough Morphine or wedges/pillows that they could use to stop me from crying and eventually they just shoved me through there and hoped for the best image. They consulted the Neurosurgeon on call and he came to see me right away to explain that I had a severe herniation at my L4/L5 and it was the worst one he has seen in someone my age. He offered to do a surgery called a Microdiscectomy but wanted to see if I made any improvement, which he explained he was not anticipating and in fact was expecting me to worsen - so he admitted me for observation. Over the next 5 days, I saw the Physiotherapist once then they noted that though I wasn't getting any better, I wasn't deteriorating as quickly as he was thinking I would. This "deterioration" they were waiting for was Cauda Equina Syndrome which is basically losing feeling in your lower limbs and losing control of your bowels/bladder. The consistent use of Morphine was helping to mask the pain but my mobility was still as limited as it was upon admitting. At this point the NS said I needed to decide if I was going to do what he called the "emergency slash elective" surgery (loved this!!! soooo, not really elective if I don't want to be like this my entire life). Taking everything into consideration and which I won't bore you with the details because it's all somewhere on the website I decided to go ahead with it.

After a long wait in hospital following a cancelled surgery due to the NS having the flu and an increase in my symptoms (numbness and tingling in my right outside calf, right ankle, big toe and second and third toe on right foot ...which started moving into my left back of calf and whole top of left foot along with some issues urinating (stopping and starting with peeing...like I couldn't get it all out in one stream and for some reason which is likely unrelated to the nerve compression itself was I was extremely constipated), I officially became considered an "emergency" and had my surgery at 8:00 pm on September 16th.

Surgery and initial Post-op...(hospital stay for 6 nights after)

I was honestly terrified!!! I had been waiting for a week (post decision) in hospital with plenty of time to think, on and off IV waiting for it to become emergency and because it was at night, my husband and girls had just left so I was alone...back surgery sounds so serious and for whatever reason, I was worried I would wake up paralyzed or that they would go in and find some other problem/something would go wrong and I would have to have a bigger and more serious surgery with a longer more difficult recovery. A mom of 2 wee girls and with a busy of a lifestyle that we had, plus I was sooooo terribly bummed out about my workouts...I was stuck on worst case scenario, not to mention I was waiting in only a gown on a table for a chilly 20 minutes in the OR waiting room and wheeled down a hallway with windows all looking out at a dark night (perfect for a horror movie)...my mind was going crazy, the sooner I was out and before I saw all the bits and part of the OR - the better. So, if this is you...then let's just go with that it's normal!!!

I woke up in the Recovery Room laying on my back (this surprised me) and had 3 (I think :)) lovely shots of Fentanyl and some ice bits to chew because my throat was sore (likely from the intubation). NS said everything went very well and he expected a smooth recovery. I was back up in my room (with my hubby) by 10:30 PM and they were moving me back into the bed. I was still on IV and they were giving me antibiotics (which they started right before I went in) and Morphine so pain was definitely there but dulled. The thing that was disturbing to me was the lack of mobility I had in my legs, particularly my right leg. Like, none. I couldn't move my right leg without using my hand to mobilize it. I had help from 2 nurses and a 2 wheeled walker to get myself to the bathroom about 30 minutes after being back in my room, my right hip was dropping every time I tried to step and I could't walk using my right leg. Not to say that my left side was great...it was marginally better than my left but only by a bit. They were beyond weak and I had less feeling in them then prior to surgery for sure. During the operation, they put in a local anaesthetic and when I discovered this I thought "ok, that's totally what it is." Until they told me that it usually is gone within 12-24 hours.

Prior to surgery the NS focused on best case scenario I have now decided, telling me that people walk right after surgery and are discharged that day or the next...not all people but some. So, I stuck to this (I constantly wavered between no big deal and my life is over). The next morning I was awake early and able to eat with no issues. I had a really hard time handling how weak my legs were, I could barely walk myself to the bathroom with a 2 wheeled walker and for the first 3 days I needed help from the nurses. Physio came to see me 3 days post-op and showed me how to log roll in bed, how to get out of bed and how to lay flat. This was immensely helpful and I recommend asking for tips on this ASAP after surgery.

My stay in the hospital was lengthy due to the severe weakness in my legs and Physio wouldn't clear me for discharge without being able to walk more than 50 meters "well" with a 2 wheeled walker. This happened on September 22 and was a close call as the NS considered sending me to a rehab facility. He figured that my weakness and numbness was due to a larger compression on my nerves that had been there for longer than we had anticipated. That my mobility assessments they did several times a day since I was admitted were likely as good as they were (which I wouldn't really call them good) due to the high doses of Morphine masking pain than what was actually extremely limited mobility. My thinking is that as well as that, the length of time I was in such pain and waiting for surgery didn't help matters but like I said previously, I have had back problems for years and was probably accommodating way more than I noticed in my day to day life. I had lots of break downs with much tears and uncertainty because of the weakness and numbness thinking that I was very atypical to the regular post Microdiscectomy patient. I missed my kids who had gone back to school and I felt horribly guilty that without any preparation my husband was left holding up everything that barely 2 people could manage. Even though I was going home, I was depressed that I wasn't going to be able to be "mom" and "wife" like I usually was. I was focusing on all the things I couldn't do and felt seriously bad for myself, I was constantly worried about what I would do when I got home. I didn't want to leave the hospital where there were grab bars and people on call to bring me warm blankets, check my very low blood pressure and remember to bring me my meds (which had been switched to Percocets and Gravol every 4 hours day after surgery). I was so scared I would re-injure myself, I wanted to ask them to keep me...my husband and girls, just wanted me home.

My first few days home were rough, I was so limited in what I could do: no lifting (no more than 5-10 pounds), twisting, reaching or bending until I saw NS in 6 weeks. I felt like such an inconvenience having to get everyone to do everything for me. My incision and surgical/back pain was never really too much of an issue for me, it was manageable with the meds or ice or changing positions. I slowly weaned myself off of the Percocets so that now 3 weeks post-op I am only taking them for bedtime. There was a few days that my incision would tug or burn but I have heard that that's all normal. I played around with taking Tylenol or Advil rather than the narcotics but it just wasn't enough to cover the pain. I ended up just cutting back on how often I took the Percocets until I got to nothing during the day. My biggest struggle still continues to be the weakness and numbness in my legs. I was expecting to wake each morning and think "wow, I feel so much better than yesterday" but the progress is slowwww...looking back, I have come miles but when measuring day to day I felt a bit discouraged. I haven't tried driving yet because physio (who will come 6 times over my 6 weeks) thinks that I don't have the endurance in my legs never mind, the fact that if you can't really feel your whole foot, you probably shouldn't be driving. Plus there's the whole narcotics and twisting thing - not safe! I use a 4 wheeled walker now and have been since I came home. My right hip still drops from weakness every time I take a step but it's not as significant as it was in the hospital. I can walk unassisted for short distances around my house but my legs get very tired and sometimes I trip on my feet because I think my brain has asked them to move - but they don't. I am hopeful that it will get better but I started looking at my recovery in weeks rather than days. There is obviously nerve damage still and maybe some swelling from the surgery itself but I did some research on the nerves connected to the L4/L5 and it was a great thing for me to do because I learned that there are motor and sensory nerves both which heal differently. My calf muscles and my glutes ache a lot like DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) so I use a heating pad and switch positions often. I started icing my back once I was able to take steristrips off (2 weeks post-op) and I love it - it feels like it does a lot for me but who knows, I try to do it about 4 times a day. I have a homemaker that comes in to help keep my house in order 5 times a week so that we don't get over run by dishes, laundry and cleaning as well as to have someone here while I shower (I use a shower chair so I can shave my legs and wash my hair because of some instability due to the numbness). I qualified for all of this including an Occupational Therapist to assess my home for safety through a provincial program. I'm super glad I have the help.

Currently I have an appointment with my family doctor tomorrow because the last few days I have been extremely fatigued and having some dizziness/light headedness. This is sometimes followed with the sweats and nausea...there are times since I have been home that this will also lead into diarrhea and bad cramps. It might be low blood pressure, maybe anemia or maybe my body is just getting used to eating normal again. Who knows but top priority is that there is no fever and my incision looks great. I started to notice a bit of returning pain in my right calf to my right ankle but it's a very small fraction of what it was prior to surgery and does not stay. We'll see.

I really hope this is helpful and I don't want anyone to have to go through all the ups and downs that I did thinking I was so abnormal where I really just had unrealistic expectations for whatever reason. Don't expect! Just be open and go with whatever comes your way, try to stay positive and know that you will improve but it takes time...lots of time - and get Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever is in your area!!! If anyone has had similar experiences or can relate to pieces of this long bit of total honesty...please let me know! I will re-post if anything comes from my appointment tomorrow and if not, then I will repost an update in a couple weeks!

Be well & hopeful!


  • Sheri76Sheri76 Michigan Posts: 489
    edited 10/07/2015 - 5:25 PM
    Glad to hear you're managing as well as you are! I know the road to recovery isn't usually how we pictured it would be, but you definitely have a healthy and hopeful outlook!

    You are blessed to have the in home help; thankfully I had my Mom helping for a few weeks following March L4-5 fusion. But like you, I would have stayed longer in hospital if I could have...does feel safer, and the food was really good!

    Hoping your recovery continues, regaining your strength as time goes on....keep us posted, will be looking forward to your post updates.
  • SavageSavage United StatesPosts: 5,427
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  • frankiegrl7ffrankiegrl7 Posts: 5
    edited 10/08/2015 - 3:08 PM
    Thank you Sheri76! Update from appointment at Dr today is that they're testing me for C. Difficile incase I picked that up in the hospital and running some other lab tests to check my hemoglobin, electrolytes, etc. Will update as I hear. Hospital food on my end wasn't so amazing but definitely healthy. In regards to the in-home help...I had to ask for it or they weren't going to offer me any OT/PT or homemaking services - once I mentioned it, it was super quick and easy. Really need to advocate for yourself if you are able and especially if you are prepared ahead of time with a planned surgery.

    Thank you as well Savage...I checked those threads out prior to posting and they were really helpful!
  • Sheri76Sheri76 Michigan Posts: 489
    Hope you get the stomach/bowel issue cleared up; not on the list of recovery pleasantries....are there any? Well, there were a few for me I guess, mainly spending the time with my Mom, though we tend to laugh too much at times...sometimes laughed so hard I thought I would hurt myself for sure.

    Was your in home care through your private medical insurance policy? I don't recall anyone I know with my work insurance policy speak of something so beneficial to any of their recoveries, none of them being back surgeries though. I have the PT through insurance (not in home), but that wasn't even started till after three months post op.

    I got sick a few times early on in my fusion recovery. I go back in for recheck on blood draw next week, my blood calcium level was high. I think things are back to normal, feeling much better.

    Hope you keep progressing in recovering.... Will be looking for your updates : )

  • Sheri76
    Was your in home care through your private medical insurance policy? I don't recall anyone I know with my work insurance policy speak of something so beneficial to any of their recoveries, none of them being back surgeries though. I have the PT through insurance (not in home), but that wasn't even started till after three months post op.

    My in-home care is part of our provincial program (live in Canada), otherwise a portion of it would be covered under my medical benefits through my employer. My NS wasn't crazy about doing PT until after I saw him and said that at that point he didn't think I would need much but I pushed the issue a bit and that's when he said as long as it doesn't involve my core. Beyond that, when I am ready to go back to my workouts, I want something to bridge post-op to normal life so I don't re-injure myself...what isn't covered I will just have to pay for myself as much as possible.

    Hope you're feeling better soon!
  • Sheri76Sheri76 Michigan Posts: 489
    Everyone heals at different paces. levels, stages...I can see why surgeons are hesitant to let patients just jump right into PT. My surgeon left doing PT up to me, if I felt I needed or wanted it. I felt I should because my job is physically demanding, and I had already lost so much muscle tone from being in pain through the couple years prior.

    Now that I'm nearing seven months post op, I know I'm no where close to being ready to go back to work, makes me think that day won't be coming for me, but if that's so, then I'm okay with making some changes in what I'm willing to put my body through. I would have to be able to do my work at 100% to be able to return, and it's so not happening.

    Be careful and kind to your body....a life filled with agonizing pain is no fun.
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