I injured my back in my 20’s, working in a power plant. One night, after I had to lift something in a bad position, I woke up thinking I was going to snap in half. The pain was awful, and I couldn’t move. Thankfully I had a roommate who was able to get me up and to the doctor. I had “slipped 2 discs” in the lumbar area and was unable to stand straight up, leaning to one side.
After lots of physical therapy and healing time, I was rear-ended 6 months later and the same thing happened, making that area weaker. I was in physical therapy (PT) for years, as something would flare up in my back. I had to go to PT to learn how to carry my baby when I got pregnant. Over the years my back grew bone masses in the area to try to compensate for the loads but mangled my spinal nerve within the growth. I was in constant pain for so many years. I got facet joint injections about 4-5 times in the area which lasted for a few months each time. I was eventually recommended to have lumbar fusion surgery.
I’ll miss the physiatrist who performed the facet joint injections – he was on the same page as me on being healthy in a holistic way. He saw my notebook of years of physical therapy and did not think I needed more PT but told me to keep up what I have been doing. He did one last injection before a trip to Peru and Argentina that we had scheduled. He wanted me to come for follow-up but I said I would be having lumbar surgery later in the year so it wasn’t needed.
I had to look for a surgeon who was highly recommended with lumbar fusion and worked with my insurance. We arranged a meeting with a great surgeon group, and they took images which showed a lot of issues – non-lined up spine, a broken vertebra, a smashed/mangled spinal nerve, and much more. Surgery was put off with initial insurance because they denied it. The next year I got on schedule for the lumbar surgery after our South America trip, but COVID happened so it was rescheduled until May 2020.
I made healthy foods to put in the freezer so my husband could pull them out. He brought me the warmed-up meals in the hospital because I didn’t want to eat non-organic hospital food. I figured I would heal better if I kept my healthy habits.
I went in for spinal fusion surgery in the morning and when I came out, they said I needed to have another surgery from the front because they could not do everything from the back. I was also told that the back surgeon didn’t know how I was functioning with all that was going on (plus it was a more extensive surgery once they got in and had to remove a lot of bone growth without harming my nerve – then straightening it out). They needed to add more hardware from the front including a plate to keep me from twisting. A couple days later I was in surgery with a vascular surgeon and my surgeon. The vascular surgeon had to lift everything out of the way including all blood vessels. After the surgery I felt I had been kicked in the stomach by a horse. It took some days to feel like everything was back in place. I had to sit a lot to help force things to reposition.
The nurses were very concerned about getting my bathroom duty back on track – between no activity and all kinds of medications, I was stopped up. They did put a measuring bucket to see how much I peed compared to the measured amount I drank – I retained no water as everything I drank came out. I already knew I did not retain water, from my acupuncturist, and I was taking electrolytes at home but not in the hospital. I had to pass physical therapy tests (walking down the hall and some steps, putting my own clothes on safely, etc.).
A couple days after that I was able to go home and use a walker to get around. I was weak and in pain but pushed through – I walked laps around the house. I wasn’t even home a week when we decided to walk around the block and lean on my husband instead of taking the walker. My left leg failed on me after a bit. I had to stop then went further – it failed on me three times and I could not even walk into the house, so I sat on our bench. That night my left groin was incredibly painful, and I could not sleep. By morning my whole left leg was swollen and pink – and painful. I called the surgeon office and was told to get an ultrasound as soon as possible. I called and could only get an appointment for the next day. I called the surgeon office and told her – she said that would not do and she would get me an appointment. She called back and said go 2 pm.
My husband drove me to the appointment, and they did an ultrasound. They told me to wait in the waiting room and wait for the doctor to call me. I picked up the call and he said I had a large blood clot and smaller ones – and to go straight to the emergency room. I checked in to the emergency room and was put on heparin drip, a blood thinner. A doctor came in later and said I had a large clot and many small ones in the left leg. He said I had two choices. One – lose the use of my leg and take a chance that the clot will break a piece off and go to my lung, heart or brain (killing me), or have the procedure to take the clots out. I said, “is that a choice?” Of course, I agreed to have them removed,
I was put in a cardiac floor room and then they did the procedure to take the clots out. They would go in just under the back of my knee. They said I had “a lot” of clots and put in a stent. The stent would not open because of the plate that was put in. It was also noticed that I have May-Thurner syndrome in which the “left common iliac vein is compressed by the overlying right common iliac artery” – and the plate pushed down on that, so clots formed.
Doctors conferred with each other to figure the best plan. They decided to go back in through my front and take the plate out – taking me off blood thinners for enough time that I would not bleed during that surgery. So I had that surgery (the nurse asked if I wanted to keep that plate and I said absolutely not) and the vascular surgeon thanked me for taking care of myself and keeping my weight down – it helped to not have a lot of fat to deal with, and would make recovery better for me.
Later that night I woke up unable to move my arms and they were in pain. I could not even call the nurse – I could not hit the call button. I kept trying and finally explained that I couldn’t move my arms. Then a lot of nurses flew in with an EKG set-up and tore off my gown. They stuck the probes all over me and checked my function. They tried to help me, and my arms finally felt better, and I could sleep. The next morning, they figured it was probably the position my arms were put during the clot removal process, over my head in an unnatural position.
I had to have one more procedure to check for any more clots and make sure the stent opened. My 5th time going under and 5th time intubated.
I was able to go home, for good, later that day, after the physical therapist verified that I could do the minimal things to be able to go home. I still had to take blood thinners and wear compression socks for months (until a scheduled couple of ultrasound appointments to verify no more clotting). I had to wear a back brace (and a bone growth apparatus) and use a walker at first. Then a long recovery which I am still working on. I’ll keep updating my progress.
Surgery can help but find the best surgeons and hospital you can.