Friday, October 11, 2019

Herniated Disc Update #7 - Post Surgery

According to my surgeon, the recovery time for a laminectomy and discectomy is six weeks.  Considering I'd been dealing with a herniated disc for six months, six weeks didn't sound all that bad.  Besides, both the PA and my doctor said that after the first two weeks, I could go back to my normal life (whatever that is) with just a few caveats until the six weeks were up.  You'll want to stay tuned for this...

But let's back up to surgery day.  After I got home I parked myself on the couch, had a light dinner, visited with Diane who'd brought me some flowers, and finally felt enough pain in my back to warrant some Tramadol.  Of course I was really wary of taking anything thanks to how barfy I got from most everything I tried in the months leading up to this, but along with the pain meds I was also sent home with a prescription for an anti-nausea medication; I took both and fell asleep. 

On Tuesday I woke up feeling crummy but not barfy, so I continued with the pain meds.  Really it wasn't that bad but considering I'd spent enough time at 10 on the pain scale in the early months of the herniation, I decided to not go there if I could help it.  The pain was mostly located in my back but I still had a little bit in my leg from the nerve.  The other oddball thing was that I'd be perfectly still, standing or lying down, and I'd get the biggest ZAP of pain - it'd take my breath away for a moment.  This was the nerve reacting to surgery, yay.  When that happened for the first time I was glad I hadn't started tapering off Gabapentin just yet.  I needed as much help as I could get for that nerve.  It wasn't something that warranted taking Tramadol because it was too unpredictable - the zaps would just happen whenever they felt like happening.

Wednesday was my worst day with pain from the surgery - the incision area hurt plus my back ached pretty bad.  That was the day I could also remove the dressing covering the incision, and even though it was covered with steri strips, I could see some deep red bruises forming.  But hey, I got to take a shower, so that was great.  Although it was also a challenge since the post-op instructions said to not let the shower spray hit the incision.  I was paranoid that I'd accidentally turn with my back to the spray out of habit...let's face it, at 56 I've been showering for a lot of years without any thought going into which way I should be facing.  I made it through that OK, feeling both better as well as beat afterward.  I took the pain meds and for the first time since surgery on Monday, took the muscle relaxer that I'd gone home with - and side note, let's hear it for an in-hospital pharmacy who filled everything and sent it up to recovery; one less errand for Jeff to do afterward.

On Thursday I felt so much better that I only ended up taking half the dose of the muscle relaxer before I went to bed; no pain meds.  I thought that was really great - I've had so many pain meds in my system this year that not needing anything was better than good.  The zaps continued.

I spent the rest of the week and weekend feeling sore from the actual back surgery but overall not too bad all things considered.  I was trying very hard to rest and not do the things that were on the forbidden list for the first two weeks.  These consisted of:
  • No bending forward beyond a 45 degree angle
  • No twisting side to side
  • No lifting anything over 15 lbs and if I had to carry something, to hold it close to my abdomen
  • No driving
  • No exercise or physical therapy
  • And the big kicker, no sitting for longer than 20 minutes at a time
I tried to behave myself, I really did.  But similar to subconsciously putting my back to shower spray, it was really hard to not to bend forward beyond 45 degrees - I'd catch myself bending forward to reach a drink from the coffee table as I was lounging on the couch.  Or I reached into our bottom drawer freezer for an ice pack - argh!!  I was very frustrated with myself every time this happened.  I was pretty much perfect with the sitting, lifting, and driving, but bending and twisting really vexed me.

Which leads me to week two.  On Monday I woke up and felt like myself again.  I walked with my normal stride and while my back hurt a little, it mostly only bothered me getting on or off of something, like the couch or bed.  And yes, I was still getting zaps of pain, yay.

But then came Tuesday.  I woke up feeling good again, carefully swung my feet off the bed to start my day, took a step, and pain shot through my leg like fire.  After catching my breath, I realized that this wasn't a zap of pain but rather, it was the same nerve pain in the same area - groin, front of thigh, and top of knee - that I'd been dealing with since this entire thing began back in March. 

As you might imagine, I started going there:  the surgery didn't work, I'd accidentally bent too often, I'd twisted and messed it was not a good place to be.  Not only did this continue, but it started hurting worse than before the surgery.  At the same time, I realized that the zaps were easing up and by Thursday I had my last one.  Which meant that the irritation on the nerve from the surgery had stopped, and the nerve pain in my leg was an indication of a failed discectomy.  It was hard not to think otherwise. 

The pain continued to increase in intensity and duration.  My despair was ramping up because if this didn't work, was I stuck living with nerve pain for the rest of my life?  Jeff was trying to stay positive but even he got a little down as the leg pain happened again and again and again.  There's a bit of a stigma with having back surgery as it's one of the more notorious in terms of failing, or being worse off than before, so you can probably understand why things looked bleaker and bleaker to us as I continued to hurt.

I had my two-week follow up appointment with the PA on Tuesday afternoon.  I was blunt in telling him that not only was I hurting, but that I was hurting worse than before.  He reassured me that I didn't screw it up with random accidental bending or twisting but rather, my nerve was extra irritated thanks to the disc fragment pressing on it, and then with the act of removing the disc fragment.  He said it's not common to have an increase in intensity of nerve pain after a discectomy, but it's also not unheard of, either.  I'm in the 10 - 20% of people who experience this.  Of course I am. 

My PA told me to continue with the bending and twisting limitations, and that I still should not start physical therapy or exercising, beyond walking as tolerated, for another two weeks.  He also offered to prescribe a round of steroids to help speed this process along, which I jumped at.  Anything to stop this pain.  He thinks the steroids will get enough inflammation reduced that I should begin to feel better over the weekend.  Please let that be the case!

So that's where I'm at as of about two and a half weeks post surgery.  It hasn't been the miracle cure where I woke up with the nerve pain gone, and all I needed to do was recover from having back surgery; nope not at all.  But my hopes are up once again and this time, I hope they stay up. 


  1. Oh man, Shelley! I think it's time for you to catch a break. Here's hoping the steroids calm that nerve the hell down!

  2. Dang it! You really need to catch a break!!! Why do you have to be one of the uncommon ones!!! It’s coming though...pain free is just around the corner!!!!

  3. It's so hard to be a patient patient! Especially when you hoped for some sort of miracle healing. You are so right about the bending thing! Or as in my case, every damn day when I creak out of bed and try to figure out what is aching today and what I can or cannot move lol.

    1. It's challenging - I've hurt for so long and I didn't think that the nerve would be THIS pissed off after surgery.

  4. Here's hoping the steroid medicine kicks in and gets rid of the pain once and for all! Thanks for the update I was wondering how you were feeling.

  5. Nerve damage is something that takes a LONG time to repair. But it sounds like you got a good report at the doctor's, and maybe the steroids will help out.

    1. It makes sense that, having had this nerve issue for 6+ months, it would take a while to heal, even with surgery. I wish I had been more aware of this before surgery; maybe I wouldn't have freaked out so much when the pain got to be so bad afterward.

  6. We all knew you were uncommon, Shelley, but does it have to be at the sucky stuff too?!? Crossing fingers the steroids help and that all zaps, shoots and dangs are behind you! Well, of course they're behind you, it's your back after all, but you know what I mean. Hang in there!

  7. I've never heard that stigma before, but I can see why you would be frustrated and doubting your decision. How could you not? I was definitely hopeful that surgery really would be a miracle cure for you, but you've got to be so darn special in that 10-20% :) I'm glad you happened to be seeing PA while that was happening, and especially glad that you've continued to be so blunt and vocal about what's been happening to you (not everyone advocates for themselves as much). I hope the steroids give you some relief!

    I know every surgery and every patient are different, but for what it's worth 22 years after having back surgery myself, even one with a really long and hard recovery, I can say with 100% certainty that it's the single best thing I've ever done (I was a minor, so not a decision I made on my own, but still). Even with a few bumps in the road, I hope you find that it was all worth it someday soon too and can put this all behind you (ha, stealing Emmaclaire's pun because I can't help myself).

    1. I've heard about back surgery stigma for years, and I knew it had improved greatly over the last couple of decades, but still, when someone who I trust and who's opinion I value strongly tried to dissuade me from going forward, that brought the worry front and center, and with every day that passes where I'm not healed, I think about what he said.

      I am really happy to hear that you feel so good about your back surgery and I am hoping to feel the same way. I'd just like to have an idea of when...two months? Six months? Uncertainty is not my friend.

  8. Of course you are in that special 10-20%. Sigh. I would have been freaking out and second guessing it too. I am glad to hear that it's not totally unusual and a sign it didn't work. But man, what a list to have to contend with. It would be so easy to forget all of those!!!


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