The Back Story

If you don’t like gory pictures, you probably shouldn’t look through the album above, since it includes a close up of the disc material removed from my back.

So, as I previously wrote, I had a lower back event on New Year’s Eve. That appears to have been my L4-L5 disc exploding, squishing like a tube of toothpaste, excess material constricting my spinal canal where the spinal cord splits into the nerve roots that feed the butt, hips, legs, and feet.

MRI on January 16th pretty clearly shows this (you can see the black/gray blob blocking off most of the spinal canal between the last two full-sized vertebrae). By stupid measurements, compared to MRI of the same area three years ago, I may have lost 1/4″ of height by squashing that disc.

I saw a neurosurgeon about whether I should have surgery; his opinion was basically “No-brainer, yes.” He said with or without the surgery, I’ll be in basically the same state after about a year, with basically the same risk levels for re-injury, and the same after 5 years. I asked him about risk of repeat rupture, with versus without surgery. He laughed and said, “Basically the same — but either way, there’s so little disc left that it probably can’t do much.” Way to look on the bright side, doctor! The main differentiator between yes and no seems to be faster relief with the surgery.

Before going through with the surgery, I went back to talk to my regular back doctor to make sure he didn’t think it was a mistake. He thought it was a reasonable decision to make, although he said something like, “If I was a surgeon, I’d want to operate on you, too — you’re young and you’re going to heal well and quickly, versus performing a ‘salvage’ surgery on a 75 year old.”

The surgery is a microdiscectomy, which apparently has some other names. Small incision, grind some vertebra bone out of the way, reach into the spinal column with cutting and grabbing tools (guided by some kind of camera/microscope) to remove the extrusion and any other bulge that the surgeon deems beneficial. Animated explanation behind this link.

The surgery was last Thursday, January 31st, 9:20 AM. Shouldn’t be any real surprises — no drinking alcohol for days beforehand, no eating or drinking anything starting at midnight before the surgery; IV, brief conversation with the surgeon who said it should take about 90 minutes and that he’d give us a picture of the removed material (and that it would look like crab meat). I remember hugs and kisses and see you laters with KrisDi, then waking up in the recovery room with a nurse who started feeding me crackers and soda — feeling groggy, confused, and sore.

Apparently, during this time, KrisDi talked to the surgeon, and he showed her this picture of Krang after removal from my back.

After a while, they moved me back to the same room I was in pre-op, where KrisDi was. Getting from the gurney into the chair was very unpleasant, with a giant shot of pain down the back of my right leg while trying to turn and get up. Continued getting snacks, various blood pressure or other minor medical tests, then they decided it was OK for me to go, around 12:30. KrisDi went to pick up prescriptions and get the truck, a volunteer (who arrived like 15 minutes late) took me in a wheelchair down to the truck.

Then we went out directly to have ramen for lunch. The lack of nerve pinch was already quite noticeable. Soreness and drug affects still had me moving pretty slow.

Before bed, I could already tell standing up straight was better, I could stand up and look up and look around without tweaking in my tailbone, I wasn’t getting shooting pain in my butt or down my legs (I have gotten one or two shooting pains in the process of getting in and out of bed).

Now…entering my fourth 24 hour period following the completion of my surgery. I stopped taking painkillers yesterday. My back gets tired if I sit or stand too long, and I actually feel pretty normal when I stand up after lying down and resting for a while. When I’m not tired, I can go up and down the stairs pretty comfortably.

Bending and twisting is clearly a no-no, aside from the fact that it’s currently forbidden. KrisDi has to do almost everything for me, which is frustrating.

Recovery plan…I’m not sure how long the no bending/twisting stricture lasts; I know I’m not allowed any exercise aside from walking for at least 2-3 weeks. No lifting more than 10 pounds for 3 months (so KrisDi gets to carry all our luggage for a family trip to visit Dad in Florida). In the short term, I’m supposed to limit stints of sitting or standing (which is pretty natural right now). I’ll have a follow up with the surgeon in about two weeks.

On a logistics note…I haven’t driven my car since December, since it’s low (therefore difficult for me to enter/exit) and a clutch. When we bought the truck, one of our lines of reasoning was “Well, snaotheus might get hurt and be unable to drive his clutch; we might have an accident and need a spare vehicle. This way we don’t need to rent a car. It’s unlikely those two things would happen at the same time.” Of course, KrisDi got rear-ended the week of my surgery. I need the truck, her car’s in the shop, and she can’t drive my car. So, Les is borrowing my car, and KrisDi is borrowing his.

Posted by snaotheus

1 comment

SO hugely glad this is over with and you’re doing well; may it never return and may none of the others ever burst their corrals. I hope the car thing gets settled better than it sounded as if it might.

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