laminectomy or fusion … the woes of my spine

As some of you know, I’ve been struggling with back pain – which got severe after I broke my rib mountain biking at Christmas last year. I’ve tried a lot of different things to help improve it – PT, Yoga, acupuncture, massage, spinal injections, and decompression therapy – unfortunately none of it worked. Some of the methods did allow for some temporary relief – mostly taking the edge off that pain – but none of them have given me the sustainable relief that I am seeking.

If you follow my instagram account you will notice that 2019 has a significant lack of hiking selfies – that is because I have not been able to hike. The pain with walking even 1/2 mile is crazy – I often need to swat down and stretch out my lower back to allow me to go on. I pushed myself to hike 2 miles the other day, and spent the rest of the day in bed with ice on my back. More than anything, I just want to get back to hiking.

This back pain has also taken me away from the pool. I love to swim. At my “peak” I was swimming a mile (not very fast, it would take me 45 minutes). I miss the meditation that happens then I’m swimming and all I’m focused on is moving my arms and propelling myself through the water. Now when I get in the water and try to swim it is painful. My back hurts. It doesn’t like to flex the way it needs to based on how my body floats. Hopefully pilates will help balance some of the muscles in my stomach and back and make it possible to swim again.

This pain has also taken a toll on my ability to cook. It hurts to stand for more than 10 minutes – and not just an annoying hurt, but it can get so bad that I need to lay down in order to relieve some of the pain.

What’s the cause of the pain? I have a couple of herniated discs – one more significantly than the other. All in the lower spine – L5-S1 and L4-L5.

I’ve started pilates and even have a private instructor who does pilates for rehab. I’m working with her on strengthening in preparation for surgery.

I got a first opinion from a local surgery who wanted immediately to fuse a couple of my vertebrae – but that seemed rather extreme to me and had me look to other non-surgical options. I’ve now seen a good surgery who comes highly recommended. He laid out three options, depending on the results of scans that we don’t have yet: (1) laminectomy plus discectomy of L5-S1, (2) number one plus the same with L4-L5, and (3) some kind of spinal fusion. He didn’t really go into any detail because we need the scan results. Once the results come in, he will look at them all and make a recommendation.

And so, this surgery is weighing heavy on me. The timing will hopefully be either late December or early January. This aligns with the 5-year mark from my last major surgery (my bilateral mastectomy with flap reconstruction). I’m afraid of all the memories that will be brought up during this time.

Part of the desire for this timeframe is that I don’t teach in January, so it will give me some recovery time – however, that is also time that I hope to be working on my dissertation – which I will get back to right after writing this blog post.

It will also be a different hospital – a little further from home (up at UCSF). The ability to choose a surgeon is a privilege that I am taking advantage of. I’m going to the best because I can – but this means figuring out the ins and outs of another health system – one that doesn’t connect as easily as the other two that I use more frequently.

I remind myself that I got though a much worse surgery. I am cautiously optimistic that after the surgery, and the associated recovery, that I will be able to hike again. I want to be able to walk the various trails again. I see myself repeating my recovery process – with baby steps, short walks that gradually build back up.

I will measure the success of surgery in my activities. It will be successful if I can hike, swim, and cook without pain. It will be one step at a time.

Feature image by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

  • Becky

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