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Here it is finally: T10-L3 Spinal Fusion Week One Recovery and Surgery. (Part 2)

Sorry, it was too long!  Here is part two:

1. Now, here we are…. The big event…. The whole enchilada… 4/14/2017: Surgery Day

As soon as I woke up, I knew exactly what day it was; it was like I didn’t Really fall asleep at all (I actually dreamed about the surgery).  My wife and I showered and scrubbed my back with hibiclens so that I will at least start the disinfecting process (I had to do this last night as well).  I said goodbye to our three pets, and we hopped into the car hospital bound.  

When we arrived, we met my mom and in-laws, so I at least had family that could support my incredible wife during the surgery.  Once I went back to my pre-operation room, the nurse was horrible; she was criticizing the computers and other technology in the room (hello, woman, this equipment will be part of what keeps me alive), she made an inappropriate joke, and she was disrespectful to the other nurse (great start inside the hospital, I thought!).  Once my first surgeon came in, things really started to change for the better.

The neurosurgeon introduced himself and explained some of the things that I needed clarification on regarding my pain.  He asked me when I last went to work, and this triggered my first near-crying meltdown as I had answered, “The day before yesterday”; he thought I was joking!  He couldn’t believe the dedication that I had for my career because he was able to tell how much pain I have been in from my scans.  He explained that he is a spinal abnormality specialist, so I knew that he was perfect for my quirky spine surgery.

Now things are getting serious.  The anesthesiologist came in, and I told him immediately that I wanted to sign the consent to help me relax.  I had feared for weeks that I would just freak out and run out of the hospital, so I Really wanted to be relaxed!  He obliged, and I started to calm down.  My doctor came in along with the surgery team, and I could tell that I had a rock-star team!  I was so excited to see such kind and experienced people.  I had built this moment up in my mind for a year, and I couldn’t have pictured it better.

After hugging and kissing my wife goodbye, I was wheeled down the hall.  When I entered the room, I couldn’t believe how much equipment was all around!  I felt as though I just stepped aboard the Enterprise.  I was asked to countdown once the bed was in place: 10, 9, 8.., 7…, 6…., 5……, 4……………………..

“Are you awake?”  “It’s time to wake up.”  “Open your eyes, everything is over and you are okay… the surgery was successful.”  The.  Surgery.  Was.  Successful.  This was the statement that made me open my eyes.  I think that says a lot…

The first thing I noticed was that the initial pain was not nearly as bad as people had described it to me (probably because they were telling me about their first back surgery, while I have been through two large back surgeries before).  Once I was awake, my incredible wife came in, and I was so excited to see her.  She held my hand, told me she loved me, and I knew everything was going to be okay.  After I was somewhat lucid, she began to tell me about the operation, and she tried to show me some pictures.  I was in the “recovery area” for quite a while before finally getting to my humble room to recover.

Back at the room, I was able to comprehend a little better.  My surgeons found a significant pars fracture along with a missing facet joint (although the MRIs and CT scans observed some of this, I think the severity was still surprising).  The most surprising observation, though, was that my spine had an “astounding” rate of excess motion; as I was being placed on the table, my spine was filled with excessive and atypical movement.  When my doctor spoke to my family, he said that he could now absolutely see why I was previously in so much pain.  In addition, my right side had so little bone to fuse together that a third rod was placed into the fusion, so I have three rods that run the entire length of my fusion site.  Last, an interbody fusion was also added at L2-L3 to provide additional stability as I have had so many issues there with tumors, herniations, etc.; also, we are hoping that by strengthening the bottom of the fusion, we can reduce the likelihood of having to have additional fusions in the future.  

Back to the recovery story for week one.  From Friday the 14th until Tuesday the 18th, I was in my hospital room every minute except for my occasional walks around the halls.  The hospital staff came in CONSTANTLY to give medication, to check on me, to give me communion, to check my vitals; I was Exhausted… All I wanted was peace and sleep, but they didn’t give it to me for a second.  If I felt for an instant that I was going to nod off, I would hear the door knock, and someone would come in.  

The hardest part physically was, of course, to learn to stand up again.  It hurt incredibly bad initially, but the pain softened over the coming days.  It was almost remarkable how fast I Felt myself getting stronger.  I felt myself getting steady.  I felt myself feeling “new” pain instead of “old” pain (BIG difference for me).  Once I was able to stand up, I was actually doing pretty good!  I felt like I had just learned how to walk, and man was I loving it!  Even though it hurt, I loved the pain so much because it wasn’t “old” pain.  I hoped that I would feel new pain, and I had hoped that I would get stronger in the hospital, but how far my expectations were exceeded.  The PT nurses came in multiple times to get me to walk, do the stairs, and learn to sit down and stand up without a walker (I Nailed all of these!).  All the while, I was almost waiting for something bad to happen!  I asked myself, “What could Possibly go wrong?”.  Something did.

The instant pain medication pump to help me get through the initial sharp and aching pain was pretty great!  It was incredibly useful and it kept me sane!  However, it came with a cost.  The nursing staff simply said “Use this when it hurts.  You can use it every ten minutes as needed.”  Well, to someone who is in pain… that sounds pretty amazing.  And trust me, some of those ten-minute gaps felt like ten hours (and that is no joke).  Sure enough (some of you probably saw this coming), my stomach Stopped.  I don’t mean that my stomach slowed down, I mean it Stopped.  I knew I needed to take care of normal bodily digestive processes, and that just wasn’t happening.  I was getting food and prescriptions to get things moving, but nothing did.  I have never wanted to get things moving so bad, and they were frozen.  When they told me that it was the liquid pain pump that caused it (thanks for telling me!), I immediately stopped using it; cold turkey.  Even when I hurt, I knew that I couldn’t be okay until I had my stomach squared away.  Finally, I was prescribed a liquid bottle to drink (I can’t remember what it was called), and that Really got the party started.  (I have never been so happy to have my digestive system working).  

I took my first chair-bench shower on the 17th, and it was awfully cold and it wasn’t exactly what I was really looking forward to.  That final night, I begged the staff to leave me alone so that I could just sleep (I really couldn’t sleep, but I wanted so hard to try).  However, that didn’t last… At midnight, I paged the nurse needing my meds, and I needed them again at 4:00am.  

The morning of the 18th, I was able to meet with my doctor, and we began the discharge process.  I was incredibly excited to be home to spend time with my wife and our pets, so I couldn’t wait to get home.  After a very short time (only about 15 minutes), I was ready to leave.  I was given my last meds, and I got into the car and came home.  

1) Schwannoma removal (1) @ L2-L3 (2001)
2) Schwannoma removal (3) @ T11-L3 (2008)
3) Failed laminectomy syndrome T11-L2, facet joint disease, ongoing schwannoma formation.  Fusion scheduled from T10-L3 (April 12th, 2017).  Chronic pain that never goes away
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