Spring??

According to the calendar, it is officially still winter for another week. But we did change the clocks for daylight savings time, and the sky is actually blue today, so maybe…

This has been a heck of a winter here in the Pacific North West. We got most of our snow in February – but so far March has done it’s fair share of adding to the difficult morning commutes. I’m honestly not sure which is worse, a morning commute after a foot of snow, or a morning commute after 4 inches of snow. I’m grateful for the highway department who provides snow plows and ice melt, and generally makes it possible for me to get to and from work each day. I’m also grateful for 40 degree days and 20 degree nights with blue skies. This allows the snow to melt during the day, but slows it back down overnight – which ultimately helps me not be quite so nervous about spring run-off and the potential for flooding! We currently have about 2 feet of snow on the level, but mountains of snow banks where it’s been plowed off the driveway. While we often have some snowbanks left still thawing in April, I’m thinking it may very well be May before they all melt this year.

Speaking of spring…I’ve been spending my weekends preparing for spring craft shows. This past weekend (which I extended to a 4-day weekend!) I did quite a bit of production. 144 bars of soap, 120 tubes of lip balm, and an assortment of lotions, creams and salves. I still need to do a couple more varieties of lotions, but I’m feeling much more comfortable with what I have on hand preparing for the spring craft shows. Over the next couple of weekends I will spend some time actually packing up my craft show bins and getting things organized. My craft show trailer is currently surrounded by snow all the way around past the tops of the fenders, I am hopeful that most of that will melt off on it’s own and I won’t have to do too much to get it pulled out and loaded up. Just under a month, so I’ve got my fingers crossed!

It’s been 7 months now since my back surgery. I’m fairly well settled into a routine and feeling pretty normal. I’m increasing my activity level slowly, trying not to aggravate anything – and paying particular attention to my body mechanics and alignment. I’m able to do more yoga and more walking, and making sure I’m doing my stretches and exercises for my back and core regularly. In general I feel really good, and I’m looking at what I can be doing long term to keep myself healthy. I’m hopeful that as the driveway thaws out I will be able to walk at home more regularly – Bella sure enjoys it when we go for a walk, since it usually involves a ball!

I’m still eating cleanly and well – tracking my food daily and noticing/correcting patterns as necessary. The scale is still working itself down slowly and I’m trying to be disciplined about making a weekly meal plan and sticking to it. This helps me to not cook the same old thing over and over again, but also makes me think about what is in the freezer that needs to be eaten. A couple months back I went online and ordered a binder for organizing my recipes. It came with an assortment of page protectors, scrapbook style pages, and pages to fit recipe cards. After about 3 marathon sessions, I managed to get most of my recipes into the binder with some semblance of order. I often cruise around recipe blogs looking for inspiration, and print off recipes that entice me. I rarely follow them to the letter, but it at least gives me a good place to start….and if I like my modifications, I generally make notes about what I did. So now I have a binder that has all my recipes in mostly one spot. I of course, still have my cookbook collection – but all the family recipes that have been handed down, and all the magazine clippings and internet printed recipes now all live together in the binder.

For Lent this year I’m reading a book called 40 days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. Each day has a scripture reading and mini lesson, a passage about Lent, and a focus on something to fast for the day: Regrets, Tidy Faith, Rationalism, Isolation, etc. It’s been an interesting read so far, and a good reminder of love, self-care, discipline, and sacrifice. It’s a great way to focus my daily devotional and bible study time, and to get a fresh outlook on scripture passages and stories I already know well. The more I immerse myself in God’s word, the stronger my faith becomes, and the more I see the relevance in my own life – as God planned it of course.

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6 Months Post Spinal Fusion

It hardly seems possible that it’s really been 6 months since my surgery, but I can’t deny the truth of the calendar. I’ve gone from the heat of summer, to a beautiful fall of color, to the depths of a snow packed winter. I’ve gone from walking with a walker, to a cane, to slow but deliberate walking, to the ability to walk as much as I want. I’ve gone from no lifting, bending, twisting, through a slow and steady recovery, to being able to lift what I need, bend forward and touch my toes, and gentle twists in my upper body. I’ve learned how to protect my back muscles and keep my spine stable. I’ve learned to kneel and squat down instead of bending at the waist to reach things on the floor. I’ve strengthened my hips and legs, and I’ve worked to strengthen my core muscles, the big and little ones, and I’ve worked to strengthen and stretch my back muscles and the muscles in my legs and hips. It’s been a huge recovery process, but I feel good with my process and what I can do now.

This past week I had a visit with my surgeon. New x-rays show my fusion is growing stronger, and all the rods and screws and cages are doing their job. He is pleased with my progress, and the strength and flexibility I’ve gained. He commented that it looked like I’d dropped a few pounds (yes, validation!), and that it looked like I was more comfortable. I agreed with him, and asked him about continuing restrictions. For the past 6 months I’ve been to avoid using a heating pad, and no use of NSAIDS. I’m cleared to use them now if i feel the need. I’m cleared to lift safely and smartly. We talked about craft shows, and that I am to be careful and not lifting while bending or twisting, and to keep my boxes packed on the light side. I’m allowed to walk, jog if I want (not likely), ride a bike, swim (also not likely), and do as much yoga as I like so long as I’m careful during twisting poses and don’t ask too much of my body. I’m to be careful and extra cautious in the snow and ice – NO FALLING. The fusion itself will continue to heal for the next year, but I’m right on track. His parting words to me were, “Call me if something comes up, but you MUST DO YOUR EXERCISES EVERYDAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.” Alrighty then, message delivered doc!

The next day was my appointment with Brenda, my physical therapist. She put me through the paces and did some massage on my whole back (I was a little extra stiff apparently). She talked about challenging my strength and using some resistance along with more repetitions. She sent me home with some bands to use. She agrees with the doc’s assessment to keep doing what I’m doing, and keep adding strength challenges. She talked a lot about being aware of my body mechanics, and listening as my muscles gain strength. When you get stiff or sore, take the time to rest and stretch things out before doing more. When you feel like you need to sit and rest, do so. When you feel like you need to get up and move, do so. When your muscles get tight, use your massage stick and tennis ball to release the tension. And you MUST DO YOUR EXERCISES EVERYDAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

So apparently, I keep moving along and doing my exercises for the rest of my life. I knew going into this surgery that as important as what happened that day in the operating room was, that my recovery and rehab would be even more important, and a life long commitment.

My food tracking app tells me that I’ve been tracking food and eating cleanly for 47 days now. I’ve also been riding my exercise bike regularly, and working hard on my PT exercises and doing yoga a few times a week. I feel like I’m in a healthy mindset, and the doc was right, I have lost weight since the first of the year. I’m not dieting per say, but I’m also not eating crap. I’m monitoring my calories each day, and avoiding eating grains and starches, and avoiding sweets and overly processed food. I don’t feel deprived, and I’ve been enjoying looking for and trying new recipes. We have been eating a lot more fresh produce, and I know I’m feeling much better in general – I have more energy and am sleeping better too.

If you aren’t in the Pacific North West, let me share that we have been given our entire dose of winter…in a couple week’s time. It just keeps snowing…many inches in the cities, a lot of wind, and out in the hinterlands where I live – we are measuring the snow in FEET. There have been school closures, road closures, and when you do get out and about, the roads have been a mixed bag of snow covered, slush covered, clear, and drifts. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful…but I’m tired of it. The closed the university for a day last week, and we had late start another day…and those things hardly ever happen. It’s been several years since the last time it happened.

Last weekend the snow created all kinds of havoc. Wind gusted snow across the roads creating white out conditions, and drifts accumulating in the roads. It just wasn’t safe to travel out of the cities. After a series of messages between our pastor, the elders in the church, and myself, and a bit of prayer – I was asked to not only lead our service because our pastor couldn’t make it down, but also to deliver the sermon. I’ve had to do this before due to weather, but she wrote the sermon, and I just read it. This time, she and I spoke at length, and her sermon wasn’t a good fit for me to deliver. God has been pushing me recently to step out of my comfort zone more and more. So I spoke to my pastor about a sermon idea I had. She approved of the direction I was being led, and I sat down Saturday evening using a sermon outline another pastor had written, I wrote a sermon on the Power of Prayer. I used my lovely new bible to find appropriate scripture references, and listened to my heart as I was writing. I sent it to my pastor to look at, and for any last minute changes, and I went to bed.

Sunday morning I got up and ready for church, printed the bulletin that Pastor E had sent me, read her words of encouragement, and printed my sermon notes. My little country church congregation was lovely and supportive as I not only lead our service, but delivered my first official sermon. I went ahead and recorded it with my phone, to send to pastor, and a few close friends. After prayerfully considering my options, and the motivations behind them, I’ve decided to share it with you as well. May my words truly bless you.

Power of Prayer

5 Months post Lumbar Fusion

6 screws. 3 rods. 2 inter-vertebral cages. That’s what’s been holding my spine together for the past 5 months. I’m well on my way to a good solid fusion, my bone growth is good. My muscles have reattached, and I’ve worked to strengthen muscles I’ve ignored for years – probably decades. I’m feeling pretty good overall, and I’m working on the areas that sneak up and bother me. I’ve been in physical therapy for 12 weeks now, and am looking at another 6. Rehab and Recovery is WORK – but it’s also working.

My physical therapist Danielle has left now – to be a momma to a 2 year old boy they are adopting from another country. I’m thrilled for her, and we talked a few times about bringing him home and how excited (and nervous) she is about it. I never did ask her why she went the adoption route, but I know she doesn’t have any other children. Whatever her reason, I’m just thrilled that this dream is becoming a reality for her!

So Danielle left to be a mom, and I got referred to another PT in the clinic, Brenda. I worked with her one of my first visits, but I felt it was a good opportunity for fresh eyes and to talk about my current symptoms and see what adjustments we might need to make. She reviewed my chart notes and did some assessment and moved me around and watched me move. She is comfortable with how my spine is healing and how I’m moving around the fusion. My deep core work is keeping the fusion and my spine in general supported and aligned. My pelvis and the pesky SI joint was a little out of alignment, so she worked to line me up better, and doing so, she found that my Iliotibial Band (IT Band) is inflamed. It runs from the hip to the tibia along the outside of the leg, and helps to support the knee. What I had been attributing to sciatic inflammation on the right side (and had me quite concerned actually) is actually a muscle pain memory – and caused by the inflamed IT band – not the nerve.

So, our focus is now to change the muscle and pain memory. We are working to heal the inflammation in my IT band and then work on my body mechanics to prevent it from flaring again. Remember me talking about bossy muscles before? Well, that’s what’s going on again. My hamstring is trying to compensate for what my hip and glutes should be doing. My pelvis is out of whack making the SI joint inflamed, and so then I move wrong and cause new problems – like an inflamed IT band. IT band injuries are often attributed to running injuries – overuse when there is a bio-mechanical misalignment. I’ve done that in spades…so time to work on releasing the IT band and hope that allows me to work on continued strengthening in my hips and glutes.

So…how to release the IT band – well trigger point massage is the best way, but let me tell you…it’s NOT fun. Brenda used a torture device and really massaged where the IT band connects to the tibia (outside top of the calf), and along the edge above my knee where the hamstring connects. I don’t remember what she called it – but that’s probably because I was gritting my teeth and trying not to hyperventilate. She also did some work on my hip, with the trigger points as well. We talked about home care and how to continue working on the IT band. I have a tennis ball and a wall – and I lean into the hot-spots in my hip and glute and through direct pressure and tiny micro movements, I am working to get the tension (aka nearly cramping they are so tight) out of my muscles in my hip and glute. I also have a “massage stick” that I use to roll massage along the outside of my thigh and search for and find all the tender hot spots along the IT band and hamstring. When I find a hot spot, I stop and put direct HARD pressure on it, and slowly roll off of it. It’s not fun…I suck a lot of air through clenched teeth…but hopefully it’s doing the trick. Kind of like a begging toddler – you just irritate it, nag it, and keep after it constantly until the muscle gives up and relaxes. It’s still very, very sore – but the memory pain of the sciatic nerve that I thought was going on, is diminishing. So that suggests that what I’m doing is helping.

I’ve also been doing massage on my left foot – the one with the nerve pain, trying the same theory – lets see if I can irritate it into healing through persistent massage. I’m also working on ankle stretches, because as Brenda put it, “On the spectrum of flexibility – you are quite stiff. Your joints don’t move enough to be able to stretch the muscles that are tight.” Um…thanks, I think. So ankle stretches a couple times a day has been added to my PT rehab plan.

Since my last post I’ve been doing well with eating clean and with tracking my calories. I’ve reigned in most of my bad food habits. I’ve set up a routine of riding my exercise bike each day and have worked hard to move more in general. The scale has appreciated my efforts. I’ve also gotten much better about taking my supplements each day. I think all these things together are working to help me feel better not only physically, but emotionally. The whole adage of garbage in= garbage out is so true. When I fuel my body well, both nutritionally and with exercise and movement – the results are always better. So that’s my words of advice for all of you – treat your body like a temple. Be respectful and humble, know your limits – but push them a little too!