“Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.” Psalm 6:2
One of my kind readers asked for an update and prayer requests about my spinal fusion I had done on March 2 for severe spinal stenosis. The lower part of my spine had arthritis deposits which narrowed the canal. My discs between the vertebrae also dried out and shrank as I aged and one vertebra slipped forward pressing on the spinal nerves. In summary, it’s called degeneration of the spine. This is common in older nurses like me who have spent 40 years on their feet bending and lifting patients.
If you’re short on time, please scroll down to my prayer requests.
After three surgical consults, I chose to go with a woman surgeon who has done hundreds of fusions. She was highly recommended by many of my colleagues. She said 80-90% of her patients were pain-free after three months. She said for three months after surgery I would need to wear a back brace, could not lift more than 5 pounds, or twist. I should be able to drive short distances two weeks after surgery. I asked her to schedule it. They coordinated it with a vascular surgeon for March 2.
I ended up with an 8-inch abdominal incision to remove one disc and replace it with a hollow plastic disc filled with bone graft and “miracle grow”, a left side incision to remove the second disc, and five incisions on my back to place rods and screws to stabilize the fusion until my bones grew and solidified it. Her assistant gave me a spine camp booklet that I read through. I neglected to ask how much pain I would have after surgery. I don’t think I would have had the courage to go through with it if I had known.
I woke up in the recovery room after the eight-hour surgery crying in pain. The kind male nurse asked me to rate it and I said 12/10. He apologized and said he would give me medications as quickly as possible to decrease the pain. After a couple hours, they transferred me to a room where I spent the next four nights. I’ll spare you the details of all my discomforts and frustrations during those four days. I wrote a four-page letter to my surgeon and the orthopedic nurse manager with the hope they could improve their care of future patients. I never had a response from them.
Over the weekend they arranged for me to be discharged on Monday morning to an excellent acute rehabilitation center for 7-10 days since I live alone. Instead, the Occupational Therapist (OT) walked in and said they were sending me home that afternoon rather than rehab because I was “too high functioning.” I later discovered the rehab center didn’t have a bed for me. I stared at her in disbelief but didn’t argue because I couldn’t think straight nor make rational decisions when I take narcotics for pain. They never called my Health Care Power of Attorney to notify her.
The OT showed me how to shower myself and the Physical Therapist (PT) showed me how to walk up and down one step with my new walker and how to get in and out of a car. No one was with me to watch this and reinforce the information. I later couldn’t remember what they taught me because of the pain meds. This was a very unsafe discharge.
I found a friend to take me home and stay overnight with me. The next two weeks were some of the most difficult of my life with the pain and confusion from the narcotics. I had ten pounds of water weight because my lymph system was interrupted by surgery and my legs swelled terribly. My muscles spasmed all night. I couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time because I moved so slowly. My friend had to leave the next morning. It took 21 hours to get my pain meds because they called them into two wrong pharmacies.
In retrospect, the surgeon should have told me to find someone to live with me for the first two weeks at home. The only professional help I had the first week was a one-hour visit from the Physical Therapist three days after I arrived home. A number of my friends kindly stopped by and brought me meals and helped me. By God’s grace, I didn’t fall. If I had I’m sure I would have died there on the floor and gone to Heaven. So the Lord has something more for me to do here on earth!
Every day has become easier and the physical therapist discharged me last week when I met her goal of walking 15 minutes outside with my walker. My surgeon’s ultimate goal is to walk 45 minutes daily without any assistive device. Currently, I walk 7 minutes without my walker and 39 minutes with my walker split in half.
I’m sleeping much better and thank God for my electric memory foam bed and electric recliner that I bought last year.
My surgeon ordered an electric bone growth stimulator that I will wear for the next few months to make my spine heal faster. I have two electrode patches on either side of my spine connected by a wire to a rechargeable battery the size of a cell phone that I wear on my belt. It’s connected to an app on my phone where I record my pain level three times a day. I change the battery every night before I go to bed. Indirectly it will decrease my pain as my spine heals. After the batteries die, the nurse instructed me to throw everything away so it can’t be resold. I suspect it’s an expensive gadget, but thankfully Medicare pays for it.
I was thrilled to be able to return to church for one service two weeks ago. I now have my tall folding rocker with arms which allows me to stand up independently. Because my hips are now higher than my knees my legs don’t swell.
I’ve learned to do all my laundry using a reacher so I don’t bend over. I transfer one wet item at a time to the dryer so I don’t go over my 5-pound limit. My electric bed raises to waist high so I don’t have to bend over when I put the sheets back on. I can’t bend over to tuck in the top sheet or blanket so they just hang freely. My usual bedspread was too heavy and caused too much pressure on my swollen feet.
I’m getting better at dressing and undressing the lower half of my body with my reacher and sock applier. The easiest way to get my socks off is with a long-handled shoe horn.
I’m so thankful for my walk-in shower, shower bench, shower hose, and long-handled scrubber. Since coming home I also bought two stick-on shower hose holders that I applied so I can reach the hose when sitting or standing.
My PT showed me how to use the top rack of my dishwasher and slide Cascade soap pods in the partially opened door while doing a little squat.
I also put some of my smaller metal and silicone baking pans, plastic storage bowls with lids, battery operated beaters on a waist-high shelf in my living room so I can bake small things on the top shelf of my oven. My glass blender weighed over 5 pounds when full so my friend loaned me her lighter plastic blender so I can make smoothies.
I’m slowly learning to be patient with myself when I drop about ten things a day. Most I can pick up with my reacher but some I can’t. I stop and pray and ask the Lord to show me how to pick it up without bending over.
Yesterday I saw a sewing needle on the floor. The Lord gave me the idea of putting a piece of tape sticky side out on the end of the reacher and it worked! The needle stuck!
I also dropped my comb and couldn’t grab it. I got my broom and stand-up dustpan and was able to sweep it in. When I dropped my cell phone, I managed to get it between my two feet and work it until it was up on its side so I could grab it with the reacher. And so on.
I have 8 weeks of rehab left. Please pray I can sleep at night because the sciatic nerve is still quite painful at the end of the day. Sometimes it takes me hours to go to sleep. The PT said it will take months to heal because it was irritated for so long.
Pray that I won’t overdo it. I need to do a little and rest a little. And remember not to bend over or lift too much!
Pray that I will ask my friends for help when I need it. As a caregiver all my life, it has been hard for me to receive help but I know that’s my foolish pride. The Bible says “it is more blessed to give than receive.” As a wise missionary once said, somebody has to be willing to receive for the giver to receive the blessing.
Pray that I will keep my eyes on Jesus and rejoice in Him, and learn all the lessons He has for me in this exercise.
SHOPPING LIST BEFORE SURGERY
This spinal fusion seems to be increasing in frequency, especially for nurses. A number of these things I bought before surgery, but I’ve had to buy many items from Amazon after I arrived home.
Essentials: rollator (rolling walker with brakes and a basket), 3 reachers, toilet riser, shower hose, shower bench or stool, long-handled shower brush, long-handled lotion applicator, long-handled razor extension, long-handled toe dryer, sock aid, long-handled shoe horn, bed pads, incontinence pads, lightweight blanket for bed, large slippers with arches if possible for swollen feet, large diabetic nonconstricting socks, Dulcalox suppositories, Fleets enemas. 8 hr Tylenol, Milk of Magnesia, Miralax, Senna S, Icy Hot, large gel ice pack. Move all your needed cooking items and needed foods to waist-high counters or higher cupboards.
Very helpful: electric memory foam bed, electric recliner, bedside commode, plastic blender, favorite meals in the freezer, well-stocked pantry and freezer, standup dust pan with a lightweight broom, tall kitchen stool to sit on while cooking or chopping food.
HOW TO ENCOURAGE FRIENDS AFTER SURGERY
Schedule a visit if you’re local. Call and ask what you can bring or do for them. I prefer calls to texts because it’s so nice to hear a friendly voice. Always pray for your friend before leaving and hold their hand or put your hand on their shoulder. Touch is very comforting.
If you live out of town call them often and check on them and pray for them on the phone. Read scripture to encourage them. Tell them a funny story to make them laugh. It’s much easier to answer the phone than call someone. The first two weeks, I felt like I was drowning and didn’t have any energy to call anyone.
Fresh flowers are delightful and cheery!
Give them a foot massage! Three of my friends did this for me which was wonderful since I can’t reach my feet.
Take them for a pedicure.
Clean their house for them. Do laundry for them in the beginning. Drop off a meal that only takes 1-2 minutes to reheat. In the beginning, I was so weak and had so much pain I could only stand for 1-2 minutes. Check for food allergies. Bring them a meal and eat with them. Eating alone all the time becomes depressing.
I realize this post is longer than usual and not my best writing since I still struggle with pain and fatigue. Thank you for praying for me.
If any of you have been through a similar surgery and have suggestions, feel free to put them in the comments. Also, feel free to forward this to someone who will be having this surgery. I hope learning about my challenges makes it easier for someone else.
I am so thankful for all of God’s promises! I didn’t have time to share all His blessings and wonderful things He has done for me this past month. So many people have visited me and encouraged me.
To help me count my blessings rather than my trials I made myself a Blessing Box. Every evening before bed I write down my blessings on a slip of paper with the date and thank God for them as I put them in my box. It’s filling up!
I praise Him for carrying me along, especially when I was so weary and couldn’t think straight. I thank Him for putting a song in my heart. I sing praises to Him every day and night which helps decrease my pain. I listen to my Bible on the Blue Letter Bible app as I walk. He is my great Comforter!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
2 thoughts on “My Spinal Fusion”
Thank you, Pam, for all you shared!! What an ordeal the Lord allowed you to endure. Perhaps others can be helped or spared. I’m forwarding to Janet.
I cannot believe they sent you home so early following surgery, nor can I believe Medicare did not supply you with a reached, bedside toilet etc.
So thankful you are improving daily! May the Lord comfort you and give you His peace!
Love and prayers, Shirley Kay!