One Year Post-Op Spinal Fusion

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now. For obvious reasons, it’s time to update you on how my back is doing, but I’ve also wanted to just kind of catch you up on life in general.

So a year ago today I was in Post Falls, Idaho having surgery. I woke up after surgery the proud recipient of 6 titanium screws, 3 rods, and 2 intervertebral cages and a 6 inch incision. Oh…I also had a small drain and a catheter in. Within a few hours they had me up and out of bed and walking (ok shuffling) down the hallway. Overnight they transitioned me from a morphine pain pump to oral pain killers – and made me get up every few hours and walk. Early the next morning they took out the catheter and I had a visit from the physical therapist who showed me how to put on the back brace and made sure I could walk without assistance and go up and down stairs. I was taught how to “log roll” to protect my new spine hardware – and minimize my pain – everything had to move as a unit – knees, hips, and shoulders all at the same time. I stayed a second night in the hospital and the next day I had the drain pulled out and was able to take a shower before getting dressed in my own clothes and headed a few blocks away to stay at my pastor’s home for a few days before I headed back south to my own house.

So the biggest question I’ve gotten when folks hear I’ve had spinal fusion is, “What did you do to your back? Was it an injury or car accident? ” Nope – it’s just me and the way my joints wear out. I’ve probably had a few muscle injuries over the years – pull a muscle moving hay or whatever – but I didn’t fall off a roof. I wasn’t in a car accident.

I have a condition called Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser Syndrome (MRKH) Type 2. I was born with an incomplete reproductive tract – missing my uterus, cervix, and the upper 2/3rds of my vaginal canal. I have a pelvic kidney, mild scoliosis, and all the joints in my body tend to wear out quickly. Over the years I’ve had surgery on both of my shoulders, both of my feet, and now my back. In all cases, there was considerable damage to the cartilage and the bony structures of the joints themselves. For my back specifically I had advanced degenerative disc disease, paired with spondylolisthesis, and stenosis. Basically that means that I had two vertebrae that had slipped out of place causing bone on bone contact – creating arthritis and narrowing of the canal where the nerves and spinal cord pass through, and it destroyed the discs. I had pinched nerves causing issues of sciatic pain primarily on the right side, with numbness going all the way down to my toes. I had spine and hip/pelvic pain on both sides with daily muscle spasms that I just sort of lived with for years.

So after an MRI and a visit to the top spine specialist in the area, I was scheduled for surgery. I am now fused from L4-L5 and L5-S1 – so my sacrum between my hip bones and the two lowest vertebrae are all now fused together with screws, rods, all the bone that grew together.

Over the course of my recovery I’ve had a few struggles and set backs, as you might expect – but at the end of the day I’m glad I had the surgery. I am walking everyday, and I do yoga during the week – continuing to rebuild strength and flexibility. I have to work specifically on strength and support in my core – deep core muscles to support the spine specifically – while I’d like to have a flat toned tummy – that isn’t my priority. My priority is having strong and balanced muscles that keep me healthy and my spine supported – which is more than a 6-pack abs package…it’s deep pelvic floor muscles, it’s strong and flexible hips, its the glutes and hamstrings doing their part, and it’s flexibility and mobility in my upper back as well. It is a well rounded and planned out series of routines that keep my whole spine and body in good shape. I still struggle with the stability of my SI joint specifically because it wants to take over the mobility that my spine lost. I have to remind myself to move my hips with my waist and use the deep pelvic muscles to keep everything moving as a unit. It’s the twisting movement that gets me in trouble. My lower spine just doesn’t articulate anymore, and so I have to turn ABOVE the fusion, and keep my spine square within my pelvis. What tends to happen now if I’m not paying attention is that I turn further than my spine is capable of, and so the lower spine where it’s fused tries to turn and “displaces” itself out of the pelvis. My hips/pelvis must stay straight and square and my turn needs to originate basically at the rib cage. When it comes to my workouts, I have to work specifically the glutes and hips to keep the pelvis strong, and not just my abdominal core. It’s been an interesting challenge and change of mindset. But let me assure you, my body tells me when I’m not following the rules – having my SI joint out of whack is no fun – but I’m learning what to do to help ease it back into place – and more importantly what to do to help prevent it happening in the first place (aka do your therapy and pay attention to how you twist!!)

Along with the daily walking and yoga and core work, I’ve also worked very hard to fuel my body in a much healthier way – I’ve cut out all artificial sweeteners, and focus on lean meats, lots of vegetables, some fruit, and limited starches and whole grains. Sure, I still eat the occasional sweet treat – but I feel better when I eat better and do my exercises. I use a step & activity tracker on my phone, and I track my calories everyday too. Each day I take a handful of supplements – a multi vitamin, calcium, glucosamine, chondroiton, MSM, Vitamin E, and collagen – and I drink as much water every day as I can. My goal, and my doctor’s goal is to try and keep my body and specifically my joints as healthy as possible to avoid more surgeries. Bottom line, I’m glad I had the surgery on my back. It wasn’t a walk in the park – but it has made it possible for me to be much more active and pain free than I was a year ago. This recovery process has taught me patience, resilience, and as funny as this might sound, it’s taught me about direct consequences. Just when I think I’m fine and should be able to whatever I want – my body reminds me that nope – you can only do what you are CAPABLE of doing. That’s not to say that I don’t challenge myself – but just that I have limitations that are reinforced with titanium – and recovery is a long slow road.

Kind of like life, right? We aren’t here for just a moment, we are here for a lifetime. We have opportunity every day to glorify God – to allow His light to shine through us and onto those we encounter each day. So smile! Hold the door open for someone. Wave at a child. Tell that young girl she is beautiful. Visit a friend in the hospital or nursing home. Pray for someone. Share the good news of God and His Glory that is waiting for each of us, and God promises us it will come to those who believe and trust. How have you been a blessing to someone lately?

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