It’s been 7 full weeks since surgery to fuse my spine from L4 to S1. My incision is well healed – not that people see it, heck I don’t even see it unless I turn just right and look in a mirror over my shoulder. I run my fingers along it as I wash in the shower, and it’s smooth and doesn’t hurt to touch it. I can rub lotion over it after my shower with no complaints either. Gentle pressure around the surgical site is fine, the muscles seem to be fine underneath and I don’t feel anything “weird”. When I had my toe fused a few years ago, the hardware is just under the skin – so I can visually see the plate and a couple of the screws in my foot – and obviously I can feel them under the skin. Not the same with my back. I’ve got a layer of skin, (fat), and muscle that covers my spine and therefore the screws and rods that are holding my spine into place. Plus, there is bone kind of packed all around it like modeling clay that will ultimately add even more strength and stability. If you read on the internet, you will hear that the first 3 months after fusion are critical for allowing the fusion to “set”, but you are not completely fused for more like a year, year and a half. So, while 7 weeks sounds impressive…I’ve got a LONG road of healing ahead of me.
But really, I’ve come a LONG way already! The first week, I could barely walk. I used a walker most of the time and relied on a back brace any time I had to get up. I couldn’t get out of the recliner without help, and it was a monumental effort to get onto the toilet, and back off of it. One week post op I needed the walker to get up and back down from sitting – in the recliner or on the toilet – but I could walk without it (it was pretty handy for carrying stuff from the kitchen to the chair though!) I still used the back brace constantly when I was up. I started walking up and down my driveway, with a cane, and I managed to actually cook a few meals. Two weeks post op I was starting to feel more normal and steady on my feet – but my surgeon wanted me to wean off the use of the cane, and the back brace. So I worked on that, and I started to drive a little bit too. I also started to actually sleep in bed for a few hours each night. It was hard to re-position during the night, but it was nice to be completely horizontal for a few hours. Three weeks was acclimating to walking more and preparing to go back to work, finding clothes that I could wear, and getting as much rest as possible. Four weeks post op I was back to work where the biggest challenge was making the drive in and home each day. I worked short days, but they still felt long! I also was allowed to begin doing stretches for my back and start to strengthen some of the muscles. Five weeks post op, was still short work days, but I was feeling more and more comfortable and while I knew it would be a long and challenging day to teach my seminar that Friday – I felt like I was ready. It zapped my energy, but I was glad to be teaching and feeling good enough to BE teaching. I was also learning to recognize the necessity of resting – not just sitting at my desk with an ice pack, but truly resting. Six weeks post op, I pushed through a long drive and teaching again, but had some girl time and rest with one of my favorite friends and her daughter, took time out for a massage, and an afternoon for more girl time with another favorite friend. I also got the clearance from my surgeon to “do more” – return to things I’d been doing “pre surgery” like yoga and riding my exercise bike.
So it’s nearing the end of 7 weeks post op, and I’m sitting here feeling a little sorry for myself. In my well established pattern of being a chronic over-achiever, I pushed my limits this week. I had lots to get done, and not a lot of time to accomplish it. So while I did sit in my chair in my office with ice on my back, and I did go for walks at lunch time, and I did do my stretches and a few gentle yoga poses, I didn’t actually do much resting. And my brain was running a million miles an hour, so I didn’t sleep great either. Add in laundry, housecleaning, dishes, and staying late to teach – and my body rebelled. Remember last week when I said I am listening to my back and I can tell when I need to move, or get ice, or rest….well, I haven’t been great about that this week. I’ve been hearing my back protesting – but I’ve not taken steps to calm it down. Well, not until it screams at me…like it did yesterday.
So this week I’m working on finding the balance. Using my voice to say no. Giving myself grace for what I just can’t realistically do right now. Leaving a little early from work, and using that extra time at home to actually rest – not do the dishes or the laundry – but rest. I need to finish my book. I need to write a few overdue thank you notes. I need to rest – so that I can heal. If you saw me in the grocery store, or walking on campus you probably wouldn’t know that I had back surgery almost 8 weeks ago. But I did. I’ve got bones that are needing to heal. I’ve got ticked off nerves that need to heal. I’ve got muscles that need to relax so that the nerves will heal. I’ve got muscles that need to rest before they will get stronger. I can’t rush this process for my own convenience – and I really do need to listen to the subtle cues my back gives me. What do I need most? Rest.