11 days post spinal fusion I receive my first visitors, begin to emerge from horizontal and throw my support tights away!
January 15th 2017. Day 11 – Interaction, hurray!
The sadness of saying goodbye to mum is balanced by very welcome visitors bringing news from the outside world. When a whole family visits I perch on my bar stool in the lounge interspersed with getting up and walking around. Before I know it, Baby is crying for her dinner and by the end of dinnertime I have been up for 2.5 hours. I collapse onto the bed. I am now getting to read the signals from my back telling me when I’ve done too much, the deep aching which is always there begins to throb and I suddenly feel exhausted. I look normal, walk almost normally, seem normal, but today I realise I am not yet at all back to normal and a lesson is learned.
January 16th 2017. Day 12 – Living in my own world
It’s Monday and time to recover from yesterdays exertions. Life is settling down into something of a routine. Mornings soon turn into afternoons which soon turn into evenings. I have certainly never spent this much time in my bedroom since having kids! Often I lie on the bed browsing the ipad for whatever I am working on, sometimes with the TV on, sometimes I just lie looking out of the window, imagining street life below. Whilst I am still browsing holiday villas, everyone else in back in the real world at their desk, consumed by that thing called work. I am quite useful, a rare advantage of having had a degenerated disk I suppose. I manage to check my own work emails and I am just about keeping up with what’s going on, but nothing more at this point since sitting at a desk is out of the question.
After resting comes activity, I get up and go downstairs to the kitchen. I can make simple meals now as long as someone can get stuff out of our annoyingly low, tiny fridge. I can wash up and I can feed the baby whilst perching on my stool.
When Elder Daughter arrives home from school I get more active, helping with homework, dinner and infinite regular meltdowns which are part of our family life. By the time kids’ bedtime comes I usually feel like my back needs a rest. If you have children and you are considering this operation, don’t ever under-estimate just how much pressure this will place on your partner.
January 17th 2017. Day 13 – Facts of the day
Today I have learnt 3 new things:
- Dog stealing in a massive industry
- A bag of frozen peas costs over £2 in Australia
- Travel insurance doesn’t always deliver what you would expect
So it’s been a productive morning where daytime TV has been interspersed with bursts of housework and attempts to tidy up.
The baby went off to nursery for her first full day which broke my heart into pieces. I know I know it will be good for her etc etc , but the fact that I could not go with her was the thing that broke me – a friend collected her and will drop her back off so that H could take Elder Daughter to school. Recent reports by phone suggest that Baby loves it and is happy.
Meanwhile it’s a beautiful crisp clear day here, the best of British winter and so I took myself down to the river which was a great bonus. Clear blue skies and Kites circling overhead. Sometimes, just occasionally I feel sneakily happy to be on sick leave.
January 18th 2017. Day 14 – Strength can be dangerous
Tomorrow will be 2 weeks. I am generally amazed at how strong I feel now, the pain is still an ache which starts at the site of the operation and can sometimes travel down to my legs, but generally is less now than pre surgery. As of yesterday I am on only 2 paracetamol at bedtime per day, and sometimes 2 in the morning. Gabapentin has gone from my life!
Feeling strong can be a dangerous thing at this point though, as I learnt to my detriment yesterday. I am supposed to rest the lower back at least 50% of the hours I am awake. So if I am awake 12 hours a day that s 6 hours lying flat! If I am not organised this is impossible to achieve. Yesterday went like this:
Tuesdays I have decided it is well within my post operative capabilities to collect Elder Daughter from school at 3.15pm, prepare dinner and basically look after her until Baby arrives home from nursery at 5pm. Easy peasy.
I make my plan: school pick up, prepare dinner whist Elder Daughter watches TV, retreat to bed to do reading, spelling and games until 5pm. I am standing in the playground talking to Other Mum when Other Mum mentions parents evening that night. Oh crap I had forgotten parents evening! What followed over the next 3 hours was not at a slow and relaxed pace: take OD home, give her snacks and start dinner, rush back out the door dropping OD at childminders on way to school. Sit down on ill suited chair at parents evening. Rush back home, collecting OD on way. Finish dinner whilst trying to negotiate with OD over snacks/homework etc. Baby arrives home literally just as dinner is done. By the way all this rush occurred mainly because Baby simply cannot wait for her dinner even one minute after 5pm without serious screaming. So, dinner is served at 5.10pm by which time I feel like my back will give way any minute. I attempt to go and lie down, but am followed up the stairs by moaning OD who maintains she simply cannot eat the lamb kofta “because it’s got green bits in it” (which are of course, mint) I tell her to ask Daddy to remove green bits but apparently he “won’t do it right”, hence I go back downstairs to remove green bits. I retreat again and as I sigh with comfort I hear Baby wailing. I wait 10 minutes then return downstairs to hear Husband cursing that Baby will not touch the lamb, rice or veg; this is Baby who normally chomps down anything. In summary after all of the above events I was on my feet for over 3 hours which definitely hurt! Lesson learned: check diary and know what day it is!
January 19th 2017. Day 15 – small achievements
Today achieved a fair amount. Firstly I walked for about 50 minutes, to the river, along it for a bit and then back. The pain had spread into my left leg by the time I got back, but I am still pleased I managed it. I am so lucky to live a few minutes walk away from a gorgeous stretch of the Thames and I don’t often get to walk child free along it. I feel guilty!
Secondly I achieved getting into and out of the car to go to an appointment with Mr Consultant. On arrival we were told that Consultant was still in surgery and therefore running very late. This meant I had no choice but to sit in…. a chair. Wow. That felt good. The Physios have basically convinced me that hairs are bad, chairs are the enemy and are out to destroy your lovely new spine… ignore their allure and stand or perch. Well sod that. I sat down for about 20-30 minutes and my lower back was supported and it felt good. OK I will return back to Physio-led world tomorrow!
Mr Consultant removes the dressings and stitches revealing 2 small scars of around 3cm in length in amongst a whole heap of glue lines, swelling and bruising. He notes that the skin underneath has “bubbled” somewhat creating a sort of lumpy area, but “it will reduce in time”. I must admit it doesn’t loom pretty but that’s kind of the least of my worries right now. The great news is that chairs, for short periods, are ok as long as my lower back is firmly supported, baths are allowed (Yippee! The Physio had initially said 6 weeks!) and best news ever, swimming is allowed if it doesn’t hurt! I am on cloud nine.
Summary of abilities 2 weeks post fusion:
Getting on and off bed – only mild soreness at the sites of incision
Showering- I am able to shower in the bath, no issues. Picking up towels or clothes of the floor only possible with grabber.
Getting dressed- I can dress myself in easy to get on clothes, need help to put on socks/shoes/boots. The support tights are in the bin, yay!
Sitting- ok for about 30 mins in a well supported, hard chair. No sitting on sofas or low chairs. Lying down is still optimal
Walking – fine for around 30—45 minutes. Walking and standing is best interspersed with sitting or perching.
Rest levels – still recommended to rest 50% versus 50% activity, gradually increasing over the next 2 weeks.
January 22nd 2017. Day 17 – Weekend wonders
My new found confidence in the ability of my body continues and I spend Saturday morning cooking and doing washing just like the old days. However, my plans to go out ‘en familie’ in the afternoon then have to be shelved as suddenly my back tells me to stop. Damn it. Getting back to normal life and then, bam, nowhere near. It’s all about organisation. The rule is simple: activity must be followed by rest. I try to plan Sunday better and manage a trip in the car to the park. This feels good, except whilst at the park i realise that normal park activities such as helping children onto various play equipment is only possible with Daddy near by and being able to take them both to the park is a long way off for me. We also manage to squeeze in visit to friends too, but by the time we get home and baby is crying for her dinner I have to lie down and this wasn’t good planning….
Slowing down certainly makes you realise how fast paced life normally is. I realise that from 3-8pm normally there would be about 30 minutes spent sitting down!
January 23rd 2017. Day 18 The miracle of water
Despite waking up exhausted from the weekend I have a carefully planned schedule. Rest in the morning and at 12pm I have a date with the swimming pool. It is a teensy bit nerve racking I admit. Thankfully my swimming costume covers up the distinctly unsightly black and blue lumpy mess that is my lower back. I tentatively shuffle across the tiles and lower myself and in….ahhhhh… it feels so good to be in the water. I start walking lengths and progress to swimming and it really feels like walking on air. I can feel something strange deep inside my back but the achy pain is minimal. After about 20 minutes I feel its enough so I stop. Mission accomplished and I really feel this was the first step in rehabilitation.
I do have pain later and it feels a bit familiar. For the last few days I have continued exercising despite back pain and I always suffer for any exercise I do. Taking things slowly is going to be frustrating but definitely necessary.
January 26th 2017
Day 21 The Physio’s word..
The busiest morning I have had in a long time! A physio appointment has good news and bad news. Physio Emma is very kind and gentle but her firm side comes out when we speak about going back to work. She informs me that I cannot go back full time, but instead must only work 4 hours a day and from home sometimes, progressing to 6 hours in week 3. This is a shock and more importantly will be a shock to my manager, who is having to do my job whilst I am away. I work in a small team and to a schedule of deadlines, this will not be good news for anyone. Emma is pleased with my progress generally but confirms my suspicions that lifting Baby even after 6 weeks will be very difficult and not advisable. So now I am left with a childcare dilemma…
Day 23, the Chair of Dreams…?
A few weeks ago I was wondering how would could sit downstairs again, since I cannot sit on the sofa. I was, for first the first time in my life, fantasising about a reclining arm chair, some sort of ‘Lazy boy’. Ignoring the fact that we don t actually have space for one of those, I quickly discovered they are pretty pricey. Enter zero gravity recliner chair which I found on Groupon. A slimline, moveable model of a lazy boy.
Some googling revealed that people do use these post spinal surgery. I did actually ask the physio before hitting the buy button and she was happy with it, as long as it did not strain the back to get up from it or recline it. Great, i thought, the answer to my sitting woes. Today it finally arrived and Husband duely assembled it. Immediately Elder Daughter sits herself down and decides to play hospitals with it. When i finally get to try it, it seems comfy enough, but when i attempt to actually use the recline function doubt begins to creep in. It only reclines using one’s own bodyweight and supposedly fixing the recline position is achieved via the 2 side knobs which can be tightened. Except as tight as you screw them they don’t fix it, and if you even put a cushion behind you the centre of gravity moves meaning you can t recline. After much faffing I finally get into the fight recline position. Great. Now all I need is a cup of tea. Oh, hang on, if I move an inch I will have to start the whole process again! Needless to say the Zero Gravity Recliner has not quite lived up to expectations. Although comfortable when reclined it takes a large effort to get to that point, and somehow my lower back does not feel 100% supported as i thought it would. Its not a bad looking beast, and if we had the space I would keep it, but as it is I might have to let it go… to Husbands tune of “I told you so…”.
30th January 2017. Day 25 – Mondays are for rest
Another exhausting weekend done. I am so grateful for slow paced Mondays right now. Luckily my mum came to stay last week and since Baby came down with something her help was much needed. Yesterday I let long-suffering husband out for the afternoon and evening. To do this I had to recruit a veritable army of friends to help. Hence ending up with 6 children and 2 babies for dinner and 3 very helpful mum friends. After they left the task of getting Baby to bed would not have been possible without lifting hence I was forced to ask another friend, let’s call her Young-Child-Free-Friend around to kindly help. Young-Child-Free-Friend is always bursting with energy and Elder Daughter loves her. By the time the house was empty again I was exhausted, but I had seen lots of friends and Husband was out on the town enjoying himself which was the aim. Husband often asks me why my friends are so important to me. No need to answer that!
3rd February 2017. Day 30 – The big 4 weeks
So yesterday I reached 4 weeks post operation, hurray! Each day I feel stronger and I am able to live a routine getting nearer to pre-operation life. I just need to be more organised each day than usual! I am getting a lot of comments from people to the tune of “you look/seem normal”. This is true, I feel normal, but for one important thing which i think could make or break this – I can only be on my feet or doing anything for a limited time, and so I need to schedule in lying down after each session of “activity”. Get the kids up, get breakfast/put the washing away – lie down, go for a walk – lie down, homework and dinner time – lie down. This works pretty well during the week when I still have childcare, but at weekends is much more difficult to achieve and that usually needs in exhausting pain.
Lifting my 10-ton baby is also sadly still not an option and it is not clear when it will become an option, which is a huge issue for me.
I am now able to full enjoy walking again as I can pretty much walk at normal pace, and even keep up with “mountain goat” husband!
So what about the pain levels? Well on a good day when I have slept well and do lots of lying down the pain is only a dull ache around the site of the wounds. On a baby day, when I l didn’t sleep well the pain is much worse, in fact amount of hours asleep is a good predictor of pain levels for me. The last 2 years I have alot of referred pain in my upper back and shoulders. However none of this comes close to the pain pre surgery so I am not complaining.
Summary of abilities 4 weeks post fusion:
Getting on and off bed – no pain
Showering- I am able to shower in the bath, no issues.
Bending – I can pick thing up of the floor of i need to but this does cause pain
Getting dressed- I can dress myself in easy to get on clothes, still need help to put on socks/shoes/boots.
Sitting- ok for about 45 mins to an hour in a well supported, hard chair. No sitting on sofas or low chairs. Lying down is still optimal
Walking – now walking as normal at normal speed, up to an hour but rest is needed afterwards