7 weeks ago I had surgery on my back to remove a fragment of disc that was causing me debilitating pain. It's true what they say; that you can't understand the mental and physical toll of sciatic type pain until you've experienced it. I was perfectly healthy until the moment I blew that disc out. The best part is I blew it out stretching. Truly, there are no safe spaces any longer. After that came months of misdiagnoses and increasing pain such that when my doctor told me he could get me in for surgery a week earlier than planned I had to fight back tears. It was probably just the drugs.
I've been amazed at how few resources are available around microdiscectomy recovery. My surgeon had a literal video library of his surgeries. Let me tell you, I found it considerably comforting to have a surgeon who so unabashedly praised his own hustle. The day of my surgery he gave me the universal "we got this" hand gesture right before the anesthesiologist turned the lights out. After he finished his magic I imagine he tossed his gloves into the trash, pointed two fingers to heaven and walked into the sunset because I never saw him again.
I woke up in a hospital recovery room with screaming sciatic pain down my left leg. My nurse took a glance at me and let me know that if I wanted any more hospital grade painkillers I'd have to stay the night. She was young and I felt like I had to prove something so I waved her off as I died a little bit inside for the next hour until my nerve calmed down. A couple hours later she made me prove I could still pee, handed me a packet of discharge papers, and I never saw her again either.
So that's me. Standing outside a hospital at 12pm with about 13 prescriptions to fill, a packet of discharge papers, and a huge back brace that could double as a WWE belt if it weren't for the sylish green trim. Still, I had successfully peed in a cup and I could already tell through my haze my left leg was different... better. I wouldn't say "cured" yet. I'm not one of those "I woke up with no pain!" people. Those people also probably eat french fries with their frosty's every day and never gain a pound.
This is where the real point of my post starts. As I read through my discharge papers I realized I had no idea what I should expect over the next 3 months. I knew the BLT rules. I knew I couldn't drive. I knew that I was about to get a killer dose of heavy duty Norco. But I had no clue what good recovery was supposed to look like. I knew I still had some sciatic pain in my leg and that made me nervous. What if my disc herniated again while I was proving I could still use a bathroom? There are no safe spaces.
I called my surgeon who must have still been in the sunset because I got his assistant. I was assured what I was feeling was totally normal. People who woke up with no pain were the rare exception. Give it 12 weeks to prove it worked he said. Trust the process. Trust your body. Don't eat pizza every night. 12 weeks. I can do 12 weeks.
I've learned a few very important lessons as I trust the process during my 12 week window:
- Don't lose the mental battle. You are going to feel like things are going slowly, maybe even backwards. You will have good days and bad days. Sometimes you'll have a few bad days in a row. This really sucks. But that's just it. You are in the suck. Get through it. 12 weeks. Don't let it break you down mentally.
- You really need to try to find people like you, specifically around age, weight, and athletic ability. To give you some reference to my story, I'm 32 years old, 6'4" and I weigh about 210 pounds. I'd call myself athletic in that before my injury I went to the gym several times per week and haven't taken not one gym selfie.
- Write down your pain right before you go in for surgery. It is so easy to forget where you were. Write down how hard it was/is to get into and out of cars. Write down how hard it is to sleep. All of it. Let your tears fall on the pages. You'll love going back during recovery and seeing where you were.
- Painkillers require their own recovery. This is huge. If you are like me and are a narcotic virgin these drugs are two faced. They help you feel awesome. They can make you feel like total crap when you come off them. I ran out of my Norco 10-325 prescription after two weeks. I figured when they ran out I'd be fine to just move on to my over the counter medication. 48 hours after my last dose my body felt like it was being passed through a ring of hell. I was super tired, ached all over, and could not stop yawning. I thought I had come off the painkillers too early. I was done proving anything so I went back to my PCP and groveled for another two weeks worth of painkillers. He gave me the milder stuff and wouldn't you know, I felt better quickly. At that point I knew I was it was the drugs speaking to me, not necessarily my recovering body. 5 days after my last pill I finally got through that nightmare. You may need to recover from your painkillers. Give it a week.
Today, I feel so much better but this has been a process. A complicated, weird, semi-long process. I have scoured forums, Instagrams, and medical websites for recovery information and stories. I even looked at what Dr. Oz said about this. I don't think the recovery book has been written yet. If you are getting a microdiscectomy, or if you just got one and are looking for answers to your pain obviously start with your doctor, but then arm yourself mentally. Be unbreakable. 12 weeks. Don't let it make you think you'll never be back.
Because one day you'll roll out of bed and stub your toe. In that moment, when you are asking god to just take your life because no pain is as bad as the pain in this moment and you just can no longer even, you'll realize that things are getting back to normal and dawn has finally broken on this god forsaken nightmare.
Nearly 8 weeks in. I'm back to light workouts. I have still have some left leg sciatic pain and it's annoying. It still affects my sleep. It still brings me down but when I look at where I was I'm a new person. Recovery can be tough and slow. Be thusly prepared. Let your body do its thing.
It's totally worth it.