Today, I begin a series of blog posts (that I’m sure some of you just KNEW were coming!) about this journey I have been on for the past few weeks. It’s not a journey I wanted or chose for myself. It is not a fun journey. But it is one I must face.
Like many middle aged, overweight women with a decent sized bust, I’ve had back pain on an off. I have attributed that back pain to the aforementioned conditions as well as things like sleeping in a funny position or over-exerting myself when I exercise. I had a lot of back pain when I was in London in July which I attributed to hours on my feet while touring and sleeping in a pretty uncomfortable bed for a week.
A few weeks after getting home from London, I left for Key West. August 1st, to be exact. My back was a little sore that morning. By the time I got off the plane in Atlanta, I was in a lot of pain, walking quite slowly. The next day, I was still in bad pain, walking very slowly, pretty much hunched over. I thought maybe a massage might help, so I had one. No luck. The next day, a Saturday, I started to notice that my legs felt weak and heavy and feet felt a little numb. I still had pain when walking, but now I had a hard time picking my feet up off the ground. I had to pull myself up stairs with my arms, using the railing, and I could barely lift my legs to get into an Uber. I started really needing assistance for walking. The next day, a Sunday, I started to worry about my journey home on Monday. I went to a quick care in Key West just to get something to mitigate the pain enough to let me walk a little easier. I was given prescription strength ibuprofen, a muscle relaxer, and percoset. To give you an idea of how much pain I was in, I took all those drugs and they had no effect at all. Jim arranged for wheelchairs for me at Atlanta and Midway because there was no way I would be able to walk anywhere in those airports. We got home late Monday night. I literally crawled up the stairs to bed on my hands and knees.
The next day, August 6, I saw a doctor about my back. He showed no chill at all when he discovered I had bilateral foot drop. It was scary how aghast he was. He showed me an X-ray of my back, showing how L2-4 were way out of line, looking more like stair steps, and how those vertebra were pushing things all out of whack in my back, causing the pain and the foot drop. Diagnosed with severe spinal stenosis, I now faced surgery to fuse L2-4 and have a laminectomy of those vertebra as well. I was admitted to the hospital that afternoon. After an MRI, CT scan, and an EMG, it was confirmed that the culprit was indeed the spinal stenosis causing the issue and surgery was a go on August 8.
Here’s where things get a bit foggy because I don’t remember much of what I am about to share. I was taken back for surgery that afternoon. But during surgery, something happened where signal was lost to some important nerve (SSEP?), so the surgery was stopped. The fusion was complete. The laminectomy was started but not finished. The doctor wanted to check the nerve issue, but I guess that in order to do that, I could not have any anesthesia in my body, so I was given narcan to reverse the effects and given an MRI and CT scan. Whatever the doctor saw prompted him to contact doctors at Rush to take over the rest of the surgery. I was transported by ambulance to Rush where the doctors there ran more tests, determined that whatever the issue was before was no longer an issue, and proceeded to open me back up to finish the laminectomy. I remember the following things: going to surgery, being in a white, fluffy thing (which is apparently the inflatable thingy they used to move me), a siren (assuming from my ambulance ride), and throwing up twice and apologizing to two pretty nurses foe throwing up (they turned out to be my overnight ICU nurses). I woke up, surprised to find myself in a hospital with a fabulous view of the Chicago skyline. My back pain was gone, but I could not feel my feet or move them. Doctors would come in and tell me to wiggle my toes and I knew damn well they didn’t wiggle and the doctors would say, Good job.” I hated that. I was told that there was nothing they could see that was causing the issue with my feet, but that there was also nothing preventing a recovery of movement or feeling in my feet, but that could take at least a year or even more to return. The nerves just were too damaged and time and therapy would be necessary.
I spent August 6 – 9 at Silver Cross hospital, August 9 – 14 at Rush hospital, and August 14 – September 4 back at Silver Cross in inpatient rehab. I was released home on September 4 and am getting ready to start my last official full week of day rehab (3 hours of therapy, 5 days a week). I’m not sure what happens after this week, but my status as of today is that I have movement in my feet and toes, but the numbness remains. I can walk haltingly with a walker. I can stand for very short times (measured in seconds) unassisted. My legs are weak so I put a lot of weight on my hands and arms to support myself when I walk. I stretch, I do strengthening exercises, I do upper body work, I stand, and I walk — all in an effort to be able to learn to stand and walk again on my own like I could in July.
I have been supported by a massive group of friends, family, and coworkers in ways I could never have imagined possible as I go through all of this. That support system has been invaluable to my recovery work.
I did not ask for this to happen to me. But it did and I have no choice but to work the hardest I have ever worked in my life to get myself back to normal. It is the longest journey I have ever faced, and the most uncertain journey as well.