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Finding Strength on Father’s Day

Today is 68 days post-op.

Father’s day always makes me feel sentimental. There have been nine since I lost the toughest, most stubborn man I know! He suffered from a neurological illness called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It isn’t an illness you can cure or slow down, and it caused him to lose all of his motor skills while still maintaining his mental faculties.

Before being properly diagnosed with a herniated disc there were days where I pictured myself in a wheelchair like him; yes, my mind went THERE. In hindsight I see how I was causing myself much more stress and anxiety than needed, but there are certainly some positive takeaways by reflecting on my Dad’s journey. My favorite story to tell people is about when he came to visit me in Boulder:

I had been living in Colorado for about a year, and this was the first time I was living out of my parent’s house. My dad had been diagnosed not long before I left New York (and insisted I go!), so he and my mother were coming out to see my new digs. I contacted the local ALS chapter to borrow some essentials for him while he was here (wheelchair, toilet chair with handles, shower bench, etc) so that my mom didn’t have to pack those items along with the medications, bibs, and numerous other items it took just to get him through the day. I got them a room at the hotel I worked at, which was just a few blocks from my second-floor apartment. My father was determined to see what my new home looked like. It took him nearly twenty minutes to get up two flights of stairs (and would not let any of us help him). He would stop frequently, give us a big grin, and shout OORAH in true Marine fashion. He was weak, often in pain, but wasn’t about to let that stop him.

That will forever be burned into my brain, and I think of that when I’m throwing myself a pity party over something much less severe. I’ve been relying on that memory a lot lately, and trying to turn the “I can’ts” in my head into “I will’s”. I recently started seeing a trainer (Nicole) again in order to make sure I’m exercising the right areas of my body to regain strength, and using proper form to prevent injury. I have been telling myself “I can’t do plank. I’ll hurt myself.” The thought of letting my core dangle in space without support is terrifying. During past workouts with Nicole I had been doing modified planks, and yesterday I wound up doing mountain climbers. The first set was shaky and difficult, but not because it was physically hard. I had been telling myself for so long that I couldn’t do it that I had to overcome that mental hurdle. By the fourth set I was sweating my brains out but managed to do a full rep of 12 with only one break halfway through.

Today I went on a long walk and wound up at the beautiful pier by my house (Belmont Veteran’s Memorial Pier), which naturally reminded me of Dad. I came home and wanted to try out a regular plank. I did. I did it.

Plank June 18, 2017 (First Plank since December 2016)

Plank June 18, 2017 (First Plank since December 2016)

6 Weeks Post Op

Six weeks since surgery and it already feels like another lifetime. I have plans to resume workouts with an amazing trainer who I worked with a few years ago.

There is still a small tendril of the end of my stitches that sticks out of the top of my scar. My daily walking goal is up to 4.5 miles, and this Saturday I will walk my second 10K since surgery (the first was May 13).

My final follow up with my surgeon is this Friday, and I am so eager to close this chapter in my life. This past weekend I saw a friend who has had not one, but TWO discectomy surgeries AND a fusion in her lifetime and she gave me some great advice: don’t hold on to the story forever. While I am currently “Jessica, recovering from back surgery” that will (and needs to be) eventually old news. I don’t want to be “Jessica with back problems” forever. I want to be “Jessica” without any story or weakness. I am already on my way!

Milestone at 32 Days Out

18403778_902407843231632_3641770894472315923_oThe photo above is from May 12th, which was 32 days post-op for me. The original caption was:

“I had something to prove to myself at 32 days post op: that I am still strong, with plenty of active years ahead of me. For that reason, I walked a 10k this morning in 1 hour, 53 minutes (18.5 minutes per mile). Thanks to Charlie Alewine Racing for the motivation!”

I am still in awe that my body is strong and resilient and cooperative as I push myself to overcome hurdles and new obstacles. This is just the first of many successes I am working towards, and am so glad to have so many people following along in my journey!


29 Days Post Op

When I first started blogging about my back troubles it was mostly to have an outlet for my emotions and stress. I knew a few people read it (thanks, Mom!) and figured that it was a good way for me to update my close friends and family of my progress since I no longer have a personal facebook page.

I had no idea that this would turn into a helpful tool for others, and I am so happy to hear that it has helped others. I have received several messages from friends saying “I know someone going through this and I sent them to your blog”. I’ve gotten emails, texts, and Instagram messages from people at various stages of similar injuries.

To any of you who have shared my story, or who have read it and found some motivation, hope or inner peace (or maybe just relieved that you are not alone): Thank you, thank you, thank you! The internet is an amazing place where we can connect with people we never would be able to otherwise, and I am so glad that it has brought new friends into my life (and strengthened the friendships I already had).

Three Weeks Post Op

Well, it finally happened: that moment when I thought it had happened all over again. I had been sitting on the couch for about a half hour, and I felt a familiar tingle on the back of my left hip. It was that sensation of the nerve pulsating, and I was convinced that I had pinched it all over again and was doomed for another round of torment.

I got up from sitting and paced the floor of the living room, hoping that the sensation would subside. I had already convinced myself that it had happened, so I couldn’t gauge if the sensation was worsening, lessening, or the same. I was so fixated on trying to tell if it was the same feelings I had felt before surgery.

I immediately went out for a long walk with the dog to feel my muscles move as they should. It was almost like I was testing my body to make sure it could still function the way it was supposed to, even though my mind was already off the deep end. I wound up being just fine that night, but there have been several ‘scares’ like this but none that rattled me as much. My bandage is off and my incision is healing nicely. My stitches seem to have dissolved so it’s just the tissue on the outside that is visibly healing on its own.

For the next few months I will still have twinges in my leg and foot as the nerve continues to decompress. I get phantom pains thinking about certain things but I have already felt myself slump on the couch or stand with bad posture and I am so glad that I have the awareness to notice and correct it still! Physical therapy is not far off for me, and I am so eager to get back to different forms of exercise!

Ten Days Post Op

It has been ten days since surgery and 8 days since the outer bandage came off the incision. I have several strips of a smaller bandage on there that looks like medical tape. This second bandage will begin to fall off on its own, but I have been diligent about not getting it wet or wearing clothing that will pull or tear it.

The pain levels I am having are certainly substantial but still nothing like the nerve pain. I have aches in my lower back and outer hips that have made it a little difficult to find comfort at night but I am still sleeping about eight hours each night. I am still determined to not take the pain killers, so I am officially eleven days free of any medications – just my gummy vitamins. Woohoo!

Since I had previously been on my hands and knees to get around the house so often, my right knee had developed some tenderness and it finally is starting to work cooperatively with me and not provide additional pain when I am lunging/squatting to get things off the floor. I cannot bend or twist anything or lift more than 10 pounds for 6 weeks after surgery I have two new favorite toys as well:

Gopher Grabber

 A Gopher (see another version on Amazon here) is a grabber tool that I am using to pick up the things I drop on the floor (which is a lot!). I have dropped my toothbrush cap, pens, utensils, mail, and just about everything else I come in contact with during the day so this is a life saver. It has an elbow that locks and suction cups on the end so I have even used it to pick up things like a lotion bottle or my shoes since it has a bit of grip on it.

Pick A Poo

Pick-A-Poo Pooper Scooper (see it on Amazon here) is another grabber tool, but this one is just for the pup! I got this one because it has an extra long handle so I REALLY don’t have to bend down or lean at all when using this one. You thread the bag through the opening and then secure it around the claw portion so when you pick up the package, it falls deeper into the bag so you can remove it and toss it without having to play with it. This is seriously my favorite thing right now and I will likely use it long after I need to for my back, since it is just a useful tool. It also has made me quite popular with the other dog owners in my neighborhood who see me out with it and want one of their own.

I see the neurosurgeon April 26 (next Wednesday) for a checkup, and should be back to work in the office May 1st. There is still some very strong anxiety and paranoia about re-injury. I got a cramp in my outer right calf (not the leg that had been in pain previously) and immediately thought that it was the nerve being pinched on the other side! I kept checking and pressing on the muscle to be sure it was muscle tissue and not nerve pain that i was feeling, but my brain keeps telling me that this will happen all over again. My movements are still somewhat robotic while I steer clear of any jolts. There is still numbness in my left big toe since the nerve has not fully decompressed but I would love myself no less if that little toe stayed numb forever. I wake up each day grateful for movement, independence, and a chance to life my life again.

One Week Since Surgery

I have considered lately if my tolerance for pain has gone up. As I am not taking any of the hydrocodone I was prescribed, there are certainly times that I am feeling super sore. I try to remember what it felt like when the pain was its worst. I can remember when that was: the evening after my injection. I was home alone by myself. I had read on the paperwork from the visit that pain would worsen before it got better. I was in such great pain trying to walk the dog and needed to find relief. The only position that was comfortable was to get down onto the floor onto all fours to allow the bend in my knee to reduce the pressure of the bulge against my nerve. I was on all fours, on the sidewalk outside of my house, with my dog on the leash wrapped around my hand and wrist. I was crying, and begging her to go to the bathroom so we could go back inside. I asked her for help, and for patience. I was sobbing this to a seven pound dog in the dark on the sidewalk.

Well into the evening I was in agony, and when I was laying in bed I was in such pain I was screaming. There was no one around to hear me or help me. There was no sympathy I could gain by expressing my pain, but the pain was so bad that I could not HELP but to cry and wail and rock back and forth. I climbed out of bed twice that night to lay on the floor for relief, and curled up into the fetal position. Even while writing this blog, I am getting emotional. How did I let it get that bad? How did I not ask, and push and beg to be taken more seriously and get more critical care? I suppose by that point I had given up because I had no more strength. I hardly slept and when I didn’t sleep I was uncomfortable. When I was uncomfortable I was angry and sad and irritable.

Today I held the dog’s leah while we walked a little bit. The last week my mother has walked her and I’ve been walking with them (or behind them) just focusing on getting stable. It was incredible to have that cute little bun with me this whole time – she has been my therapist, cuddle buddy, and companion!

This week I started reaching out to connect with other members of the discectomy club on instagram. There is so much power in community, and it makes me feel so relieved to relate to other people with similar experiences. Additionally, a friend of mine had a childhood friend experience the same excruciating pain recently and referred her to my blog – I hope this helps! I hope this encourages others to take charge of their health and fight to get the right care and relief.

Six Days Post Op

As I begin to move around the house and be a contributing member of society again, I decided to go through all of my old medications. Aside from the painkiller I was prescribed after surgery (which I have not yet taken), I decided to throw everything else away. EVERYTHING. Old allergy medications, pain muscle relaxers, expired cold medicine. What a therapeutic experience! Also in case you are curious there ARE safe and legal ways to dispose of medications which you should certainly do.

Now that I have made it on the other side of this injury I am so eager to begin taking better care of myself. The amount of damage I must have done to my stomach recently… gross!

I am starting to feel impatience creeping up. Now that I can walk with confidence I want to go further and further. Then stairs. Next, a hill. Mom keeps cautioning me, and I find myself conflicted between “am I pushing too hard?” and “you need to put in the work to regain the strength.” Everyone’s body is different and I have no point of reference for this. When am I honoring my body and when am I being lazy?

The memories of being hurt and so emotionally distraught now don’t feel like my memories anymore. They feel like a dream, or a story I heard from someone. It feels like denial… as if my brain is trying to forget all the trauma and heartache I went through and the days that I thought I would never walk again.

When I was nearing a point of real defeat I caved and bought a cane online. I was so angry that I couldn’t get around and figured at least this would help me in being more mobile. I never opened the box because my ego got in the way. It sat for about two weeks in my house before I had the surgery. Today I returned it without ever opening it and felt another rush of excitement at this small victory. Every day has small wins that start to build back up my confidence as a person, a friend, and a human being.

Returned the cane!

Five Days Post Op

Today is the first day that I fully feel like ME again! There is still some lingering nausea and headache from the anesthesia (seriously guys, that stuff is no joke) but otherwise I feel this is my skin! I got out of bed without having to overthink it, and went for a nice long walk with my mother this morning along the path above the beach by my house.

I think it will be a few weeks still before I start to move without hesitating for fear of pain. My mother says I have been wincing in anticipation each time I sit down. Part of me wants that cautiousness to stay for ever! I could use the constant reminder to sit up straight and avoid positions that are easy to slump into but terrible for a lower back.

Now I have begun thinking of all of the exciting things I will soon be able to resume. I know that my approach will have to be different now when I exercise (I am not invincible as I thought I was). In writing this out for the blog this will be a concrete reminder that I can come back to in the future when I get a wild inclining to be reckless with my body.

There is still no pain at all from the surgery, but as the incision begins to heal I am feeling the tightness of the strips of bandage that run across it. The muscles in my lower back are sore from getting back to work. I had been looking up recovery photos of others on instagram with the hashtag #lumbardiscectomy and found that most people bounced back very quickly. They had photos post op with captions praising their surgeon because they were in days of pain leading up to their surgery. I laugh when I read it, because things were so different for me. I was in pain and trying to find the right help for an entire season of weather and they were in surgery within a week. This has certainly given me better perspective on how I need to actively manage my own healthcare because the system and processes are not in my favor. I jokingly called myself Rip Van Winkle yesterday. I kept saying to my mom that I just feel like I’ve woken up from a long sleep and everything has changed and I can’t seem to account for such a huge loss in time.

I am currently accepting submissions of memes which include some mashup of me and Rip Van Winkle.

Rip Van WInkle

Four Days Post Op

I am starting to feel some soreness in my body now, particularly in muscles that have not been used in a while. My gait was so off for so long that now my leg muscles are starting to wake back up in the right places. I am standing a bit taller with my shoulders back, and also able to comfortably sit upright in a chair on my own.

This has been such an incredible reawakening in my body that every little thing is exciting, and I mean everything! I have had emotional moments while walking around my apartment in circles, brushing my teeth standing up, and dressing myself fully. I am able to enjoy the company of my mother as she totally spoils me, and eat with her and talk without being distracted by harrowing pain.

My body still seems nervous about the movements that would previously cause pain. I can’t let myself sit for more than 15 minutes or else I worry that I’ll have the pinching feeling of the nerve and the shooting pains down my legs. Mom continues to remind me that I need to pace myself, which I learned after getting winded from just a trip into the grocery store.

The smile on my face won’t go away. I am so thankful for the gorgeous days we have had now that I can go and experience them. My hair is longer than the last time I remember doing anything with it, and I’ve lost about 15 pounds total since the start of the year. I have slept comfortably and been able to roll to either side.  Sleeping on my left side had been impossible, and now is just as comfortable as ever.

Four days out I still have not taken any of the pain medication prescribed to me. I have not had a single pill for nerve pain, inflammation, pain management, or muscle tightness. My morning has started with just VITAMINS, and my stomach took about three days to final kick the anesthesia and painkillers from surgery day so I would consider today to me my first day fully drug-free, or at least feeling that way.

Today is an amazing, incredible and beautiful day.