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A come “back” story

[This is a continuation of my story, published previously]


First there was the pain. Every day, the persistent, stupid, frustrating pain. Little by little, it replaced parts of me, like swapping out old holey socks for new ones, a pair at a time. Except the opposite. The perfectly good parts of me were being swallowed up by the ouchy, lesser-abled versions. And not just physically. There’s a psychological element to chronic pain too. Where your bright sunny demeanor begins to turn dark and sad, as you come to realize that you don’t know if this is how life will be now. Forever. It’s really hard to see it happening because it is gradual. But one day you just sort of realize that you’re not the same person you were before. And it can be hard to recall what that old version of you was actually like.


Next, there was the fear. Once I was told I’d need surgery to try and fix this, my first wave of panic came when I realized surely there was no way I could have back surgery without ending up on THOSE pain medications. I mean, BACK surgery, for pete’s sake! I had visions of a horrific post-op me, all hooked up to some crazy apparatus to keep me immobile for weeks on end, and having to take opioids for the pain. I already know that opioids and me are NOT friends. They make me sick and miserable and any time I’ve had to take them, I ended up stopping because the pain I took them for was preferred over the horrible way they made me feel. Just horrible. [Full disclosure: there was no crazy apparatus. I went home with a simple bandage covering my incisions and aside from being a slow moving snail at first, you would not know to look at me that I’d had my spine yanked around a few days prior.]


Suffice it to say that I was deeply conflicted about this surgery. But then I realized that without it, I’d be this broken version of me for the rest of my life, and it would likely get worse over time. I still have mountains to climb and races to swim, bike and run. And a growing family of Champion Samoyeds that I’d like to run around the show ring with. So many whys demand a resolution to this problem in order for any of them to occur. So, surgery it is, even though I’ve been down this road and I know it will get worse before it can get better. But I held on to the “better” and I soldiered on.

I set the date and then postponed it. Twice. We can pretend the reason was the COVID-19 pandemic, but in all honesty, that was never the main reason. I dreaded this surgery more every day. While many were happy for me to finally be doing it and getting “fixed” and better at last, all I could think about was the yucky stuff that happens in the first month or two after surgery. But I kept reminding myself that that time would pass quickly in the grand scheme of things, and OH, the things I’ll be able to do again!!


In this weird pandemic-riddled world, unusual new rules have been put in place in every aspect of our lives. Certainly, walking into a hospital for any reason, much less elective surgery, is no exception. I was required to be tested for covid, given special pouches of liquid surgical pre-wash “soap” to bathe at home with twice prior to surgery, and instructed to show up at 5am the day of the surgery, having had the second of those two “pre-surgical” showers that morning. I did all the usual pre-op testing like chest x-ray, blood draw, and was once again briefed on the procedure and what I’d be able to expect during my stay in the hospital. A 3-4 day stay after a 3-4 hour procedure, and depending on my recovery in the first few days, potentially going to a rehab facility prior to returning home. 

The morning of, I set my alarm for 4am, took my pre-op shower and arrived right on time. I was handed 6 packets of special cleansing cloths to wipe my entire body down from head to toe, and then a strange plastic and paper gown to put on. It didn’t breathe and stuck to my body still wet from the wipes, and I itched all over. Then, it was time to sit and wait for hours until they came to take me. Different people came and went, introducing themselves and explaining their role in my procedure, and aside from my surgeon, I likely would not recognize any one of them ever again. At some point I just fell asleep because I missed the part where they put something sleepy in the IV and then wheel you down the hall and then in the OR put a mask on and tell you to count backwards. If any of that happened, I have no memory of it. I mean, clearly i did get wheeled to the OR but i wasn’t aware of any of it.


I remember waking up to loudness; beeps and voices and someone putting a straw in my extremely dry mouth and me thirstily drinking as much as they’d let me, and explaining a bunch of stuff I don’t remember. I do think two people were discussing where I was to be taken and I was told Tim would be in the room waiting for me when I got there. Someone told another someone that I’d be in room 308 and I recall repeating that out loud, “308” as though I needed to remember it for any reason whatsoever. I got to my room and Tim indeed was there, as was some green jello which I think I immediately ate. That same day I got up and walked from my bed to the door and back! Miraculous!


My 3-4 day stay ended up to be just two. I left on the morning of the 3rd day because I was doing well enough to be sent home. So off i went to embark on the next phase of this journey, knowing full well “here comes the yucky part.”

My main directives were, “no lifting, bending or twisting” and I was prescribed percocet and a muscle relaxer. Aside from that, I could walk as much as I could tolerate and was encouraged to do so. So Tim and I walked several times a day, down the street and back.

There are a bunch of weird little extra side effects I didn’t really expect. Like how both legs were numb above the knee, as was a spot on my tongue, and I had terrible leg aches and restless leg syndrome like what I’d had when I was a little girl. Except these were not growing pains.  


At this point, I am 4 weeks post-op, about to start physical therapy and I’m recovering and improving a little with each day. There has been no sign whatsoever of the old pain. At this point it is just surgery pain (which isn’t much, really) and tightness, and nerve pain as everything is waking up. I know it will be a process and I still have limitations for now, but this surgery was pretty significant and full healing will take a good while. I’ll post another report after I’ve made some more notable progress. Have a look at my before/after x-rays. 

Katie's x-rays before and after

Thanks so much for all of your well wishes!

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