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

A Graceful Rehabilitation

I’ve been thinking I need to give an update, let you all know how the rehab is progressing. The change of physical therapist has been good. I’ve been able to switch things up and make some real progress. I’ve seen Brenda 3 times now, and have been doing my home exercises and when I see her each week she works on something else.

The first week was that darn IT band and trigger point massage in my hip and glute, and using my roller massage stick on my hamstring and the IT band itself. The incredible tenderness has diminished, and the tension has released significantly. I continue with stretches and work to build balanced strength. It’s clear it’s all working, as my SI joint is much more stable, my pelvis aligned, and the IT band isn’t holding so much tension.

The second week, she worked the soft tissue in my hip and then put me through the paces on the Pilates Reformer – doing a lot of core work and leg work. More stretching and a reminder to keep the rest of my spine above the fusion mobile. While we want good stability around the fusion, we want strength and mobility in the rest of my spine.

This week when I saw her, I asked her to help me trouble shoot the left foot nerve pain. We went through what I have been doing at home, the stretching and “neural flossing” and she did a body mechanics assessment. She had me make some small changes to the way I had been doing the neural flossing, and focus on a couple different ways to stretch and work my ankle and foot. With some soft tissue work – more trigger point massage- in my calf and ankle area she helped release some tension, which should help that nerve to glide more freely. I’ve had to do some home massage and really work at the hot spots – so as it heals from the massage work, the hope is that the nerve will glide smoothly and that annoying nerve pain will diminish. Again I’m in a work it hard for a couple days, and let it rest and heal a day or two and then go back after it for a couple days. Hopefully soon I’ll see some progress.

I feel like I’m at a point finally where I’m really ready to go at this rehab and recovery thing on my own. I’m glad I’ve pushed to continue with the physical therapy past the initial 6 week protocol. I’ve needed to work through problems that have developed as I’ve healed – the SI joint, the IT band, the nerve in my left foot – all the while continuing to retrain muscles to support my spine. I’ve been careful, but I’ve also pushed myself in rehab. I didn’t want to just heal the incision and let the bone heal – I wanted to really rehab my body to get back to a place of strength and stability that I haven’t had in several years. I wanted a new lease on life, so working on healing and rebuilding strength has been important to me – a full recovery. I’m so thankful that I have good insurance and the ability to take the time to recover that I’ve needed.

I see my surgeon again in February – almost exactly 6 months from my surgery. That’s about when my physical therapy “prescription” runs out again. I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, like my recovery and rehabilitation has been a success, and that I will back to myself and my “pre-fusion” activities soon.

I’m looking at spring and summer craft fair dates, and feeling like I am physically able to do the work of setting up and tearing down shows. I need to spend some time making soap in preparation for that – and I feel like I’m physically able to do that too. I have to admit, there was a time when I was wondering if I would be able to get back to the soap biz – so it’s a very good thing that I’m feeling like all my hard work in rehab has been worth it!

I’ve been consistent for over 3 weeks with clean eating and exercise. I’ve been taking my vitamins and supplements every day and doing everything I can to fuel my body well. And I’ve been giving myself grace to just live a little too. I have found the balance that has been lacking for a while in my life.

Oh yeah…and it was recently my baptiversary – so I treated myself to a new bible and bible cover. With my focus on women’s ministry I have been doing a lot of bible study on women in general, and leading our local Ladies Night In ministry – so I wanted a bible that would help me do that. One of my favorite blogs put out a devotional bible recently, and so I treated myself to one. It’s visually a beautiful bible, but it’s also chocked full of reading plans, devotionals, and highlights over 50 women of courage. I’ve really enjoyed skimming through it and prayerfully considering which reading plan I wanted to start with. As usual, God had a plan and led me right where He wanted me to be.

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.