Hills and Valleys

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019 and all the opportunities it presents!

This past month of healing and rehab has been challenging. I’ve been fighting with my SI joint, working on core strength, and trying to live my best life. But I must admit…it’s been a bigger challenge than I’ve maybe let on. And honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself. Post-surgical depression – it’s a very real thing – and a normal thing, and to be expected.

I had a major surgery – I intentionally broke my back and have had to heal. I’ve got screws and rods holding me together, and bone that is knitting itself back together. Muscles were cut, nerves were moved aside to do the work that needed to be done. I’ve got a six inch long incision to commemorate the event. I spent nearly 2 weeks hardly able to lift myself up out of a chair. Sure, I had pain before surgery – that’s what we were trying to fix – but I spent a good month in pretty intense pain as I healed. I lived on an ice pack and moved oh so carefully for weeks.

I’ve been walking since the day of my surgery – only a few steps at first – literally enough to get me from the bed to the toilet and back. And it wasn’t long before I was walking more to cut the muscle spasms and get the blood flowing to help ease the pain. Up and down the hallway, round and round I went. I gradually worked up to walking outside and down the driveway. Over the weeks, the walking increased as I healed. I traded the walker for a cane, and eventually gave up the cane too. I moved easier and easier, and increased my stamina to where I could easily and pretty comfortably walk a mile or more. With the increase in circulation, and healing in general I got off the pain meds and eventually the muscle relaxers too. I finally disabled all the medication alarms on my phone, so I wasn’t interrupted constantly. I felt like my life was returning to normal.

A new normal anyway – one that involved physical therapy and a rehabilitation process. I’ve gotten some of my flexibility back, definitely gained some strength, and we’ve been working on retraining different muscle groups. So much of the last 10+ years, I’ve relied on the strength of big muscle groups – and have lost muscle tone and strength in the smaller muscle groups that support everyday movements and specifically the spine. My quads and hamstrings were doing the work of moving my legs, and the hip muscles were letting them. My para-spinal muscles were holding me upright and taking the strain of lifting instead of having my deep core muscles hold me up and stabilized, and letting my legs and hips lift. I’m having to re-learn all the right body mechanics to support everyday life. I also now have a spinal column that doesn’t move the same as it was designed to.

I bend at the hips, not the waist. I don’t twist at the waist either. My pelvis must stay square and straight, and my spine above must maintain neutral spine position so as not to stress the lowest vertebrae nearest my pelvis. But I’m not a stiff board either (or I shouldn’t be)- I have to be able to flex and bend and twist throughout my mid and upper back. My shoulders need to move and flex and bend, my rib cage needs to move around – all while keeping my hips and pelvis straight. It’s working on those lower deep core muscles that keeps that straight and steady while allowing more movement above. So while I work on transverse abdominal strengthening, I also have to work on loosening up my upper spine and rib cage.

As the weather here in North Idaho has changed to welcome in winter snow, I’ve had to adapt my rehab routine. No more walking the driveway for exercise – it’s too slippery, even with Yak-Tracs on. I can’t walk casually and relaxed – I’m too tense. I don’t have a treadmill at home – although I think I would actually use one if I did. I thought that I was getting enough walking in just by “doing life indoors” but it’s become clear that it hasn’t been enough. I’ve been doing my PT exercises and stretches in the mornings each day, but as you know if you’ve been following my last few posts – I had to back off some of the yoga and other stuff I was doing to try and calm down my SI joint. It worked…mostly. My SI joint is more stable, and the core work I’ve been doing seems to be helping with that….but I took the “rest and recuperate” a bit too seriously, and got lazy. And my reward for my laziness is weight gain, inflammation, stiffness, and yes…pain.

I was feeling sorry for myself. Frustrated at slow healing with a couple of set backs. It was the holidays and so I ate my feelings into submission. Bread, cookies, candy, you name it. I drank more wine, I ate more mashed potatoes and gravy, rich holiday decadent meals – you name it. I’ve always been an emotional eater, and I’ve always had to pay attention to what I eat and the effects of stuffing my face to soothe my emotions. But I let it get the best of me. I wasn’t feeling great, and I wasn’t dealing with my emotions much at all. So I ate caramels, chocolate, toast with butter, and drank more wine. It’s my standard coping mechanism.

Truth be told, I knew exactly what I was doing. I’ve known for months – probably the last 2 years actually – that I needed to reign in the bad food habits. I’d been watching the scale slowly creep up little by little. But dang it – my life has been a stressful mess for a while. Add in back surgery and rehab – and this girl was in a full on pity party. A few months back I really started thinking about cleaning up my eating – thinking through which diet plans and nutritional information I could buy into. I thought back to what I’d tried in the past, and how successful each attempt had been. And I though about all the things that derailed me over the years. I was deep in research and reflection mode – but not yet ready to really jump in and take control.

Until now. New years day often results in resolutions – eat better, lose weight, exercise more – it’s all cliche really, why does one day on the calendar make it “the day” to start fresh. Marketing at it’s finest. Every business out there capitalizes on the new year in some way. A weekend of watching nutri-system, jenny craig, bow flex, and peloton commercials – and ads on the internet for different diets, exercise routines, supplements, shakes, and whatever are sure to make you think about your routine and wouldn’t it be smart to start fresh in the new year. Marketing genius I’m telling you! But that wasn’t what got my attention and spurred me into action. It was 2 things. Getting on the scale and seeing a number that was ugly but full of truth, and a visit to Physical Therapy with talks about inflammation and winter activity level and set backs – the hills and valleys of recovery and rehab after surgery.

Yep – I’d lazied myself into a mess. I need to move more in order to move comfortably. I need to reduce inflammation caused by sitting around and eating too much. I’m asking my compromised and healing body to carry around extra weight, and my choices about what I’m eating is causing inflammation of not just the fat cells. I was trying to get away with doing the bare minimum…instead of doing all I can to heal my body and my mind. It was the jolt I needed to get back on track. Hard core evidence of poor choices equals poor health.

So I took several steps in the positive direction. I downloaded my fitness pal again and put it on the home screen of my phone. I went home and set my alarm for 20 minutes earlier in the mornings. And I made a commitment to clean up my eating that resulted in a shopping trip to get good stuff back in the fridge and allows me to plan some healthier meals that don’t involve mashed potatoes and gravy. Yesterday I had my first clean eating day in MONTHS. When my alarm went off this morning, I crawled out of bed and headed for my exercise bike. I did 10 minutes on the bike, and then did 20 minutes of my stretching and core work. I’ve iced my back to reduce the inflammation around the nerves twice today. I packed a healthy clean lunch and snacks for today, and I’ve tracked my food so I have a clear idea of what I’m eating and how it’s affecting my nutrition.

My main goal is to get my body strong and healthy. This means I will move more and eat better. A pleasant side effect will be weight loss. But I also know that when I fuel my body well, and move my body well – I also FEEL better about myself and that ultimately will set me up for the best possible me this year and in the years to come.

Have you heard this song before? If not, take a good listen. It’s been on my mind a lot the last few weeks, and I hope it will encourage you and remind you that God is with you through all the Hills and Valleys.

Day 5 and 6

Well, folks I was hoping that today would be my I’m headed home post!  But…nope.  I’m still here.  In the recliner.  In the living room. Staring at the same 7 plants in the window.  I digress… let’s recap –


Monday, August 13th I went in for back surgery. I had a lumbar lamenectomy and decompression with multi-level fusion of L4-L5 and L5-S1.  Pre-op I had daily spine pain, and pinched sciatic nerve pain primarily on my right side, through my hip and butt, down the outside of my leg and into my toes.  Left side the pain was primarily in my hip and butt.

Day 1 and 2 I was pretty well controlled with pain and was up and walking several times, and fitted with a back brace and taught a few tricks by physical therapy.  By the end of day 2 I didn’t need the walker except for getting up and down out of bed.

Day 3 brought some of the sciatic pain back, but I was managing alright.  I was able to get up independently and walk independently without a walker up and down the hallway.  I had a shower and was discharged.  As the evening wore on, the sciatic cramping became worse  – and I thought it was just the day 3 nasties.  I needed much more assistance to get up and down and the cramping spread through both hips and buttocks and into the legs.

Day 4 I tried to be as mobile as I could, but I was recognizing a pattern  – it was in the last 2 hours as the muscle relaxer wore off that things were the worst – because it was also the downswing time from the pain pills.  Muscle relaxers every 6 hours, pain pills every 4 hours….there are 2 time slots in there when I caught them both at the same 2 hours waiting for a dose.  I was only getting up every 4 hours or so to go pee, and switching the ice at that time.  The muscles in my butt were cramping and pain would shoot down my legs.  Add to this the painful muscles in my back from the surgery and getting up or down was very painful as the nerves were firing all crazy. Laying still felt best because I wasn’t asking my muscles to move…therefore they wouldn’t cramp.  At least that was my logic.

Day 5 I called my doctors office.  The cramping was so severe I was having trouble getting myself up even with the walker.  I felt like I was moving backwards and not forwards with my healing.  They called in a prescription for some oral steroids to start that afternoon, and they also said to ice EVERY hour….and get up and walk every 2 hours.  Ice and walking would help the inflammation and the steroids would also help to keep the nerves calmed down, but the biggest thing is ICE and MOVE.  And so…up and down, round and round, switch out the ice is how my day played out.  I sent my nursing crew out with my picky patient shopping list and my debit card…they came back with salad fixings, berries, munching veggies, and oral steroids.  They rock!  I also managed another shower – leaving my dignity in the living room for the process.  But clean hair, teeth, and clothes is a blessing Ill not pass up.

So today is Saturday and it’s Day 6 post op.  I managed two 4 hour stretches of sleep last night.  That was a win for sleep, and a moderate fail for icing.  But I did get up to pee and walk a couple laps, take whatever pills were required by the alarms (pain, muscle relaxers, steroids), and get fresh ice.  I’ve been up basically every 2 hours since then switching out my ice, going pee, walking laps.  And most of my ups and downs are without assistance beyond the walker nurse grandma next door happened to have.  It’s a lovely cruiser model, burgandy color with spinny wheels and brakes….and a seat…and a storage basket.  Quite handy for transporting water bottles, ice packs, dirty dishes, etc.  I don’t really need it for the walking part – I’m steady on my feet – but I’ve noticed if I use it…my nursing crew doesn’t feel like they have to shadow me a half step behind to make sure I don’t fall.  So I’m being a good patient and  using my walker and attempting to fend for myself as much as possible today.

The cramping has greatly subsided since starting the steroids, and the icing feels good.  Little by little my strength in my legs will improve which will help with my up and down transitions and independence.    My goal today is to get up every two hours to move and switch out the ice, and to work on eating good healthy (aka picky patient stuff) foods throughout the day, and continue to build strength – with no more set backs.

After my shower last night, this verse has been running through my mind.

Image result for she will be clothed in strength and dignity

Thank you to everyone who continues with support through prayer, texts, emails, and Facebook messages.  I am told our cell service is finally restored, so give me a call if have time for a visit.

Blessings, Heidi xoxo