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One Day Post Op

It felt like this moment was never going to get here! Firstly, I will recap the craziness of yesterday:

My best friend Marina (which she proudly declared to every staff member when they asked who she was) and boyfriend came along. I checked in and was brought back almost immediately into the prep area. Since they were squeezing me in, there was a little delay before getting started because they had to reset the operating room from a urology procedure that had gone on before me.

I was so excited that it was THE DAY that I was in great spirits and cracking jokes with all the nurses when they were taking my vitals and getting me hooked up to the IV. Only one person could be back there with me, and since I was trying to find Marina a doctor husband she was my +1. I’ll admit, it didn’t start to get scary until the anesthetist came back to talk to me. She had sciatic pain before as well and had done four epidural injections so she knows the pain I was in and could totally empathize that I was at the point of surgery. However, then she started to walk me through what would happen once I was put under: breathing tube down the throat which would likely leave me with a sore throat (it did) and all sorts of other uncomfortable prep when I was not awake. I honestly wish she wouldn’t have told me, but I suppose it makes me feel a little tougher now.

It felt like the time passed pretty quickly and soon enough my doctor came over and asked if I was ready to which I think I may have responded, “SO EXCITED! SO READY”. They gave me some Pepcid AC in my iv to help with the acid reflux from the anesthesia and medications I would be getting, which I was thankful for later in the day. As they started to roll me towards the operating room, I couldn’t tell you a single thing that happened after that.

When I came to, I think Marina was already back in the room. I was shivering and shuddering like crazy and felt like I had marbles in my mouth. When I asked the nurse why I was shaking so much she said it was the anesthesia. I guess when you have a person as big as me you need anesthesia doses in big quantities too! The incision site definitely hurt so they gave me a few doses of pain medication through the IV which were a HUGE help.

I remember Marina leaving and Rocky coming back to see me, and I was crying and so happy to see him. They sent him to go pick up my medications and Marina was back as the physical therapist arrived. I am sure this was about four hours from the time I went into the operating room but I really have no concept of time. The physical therapist wanted to make sure that everything was working properly so he showed me how to get off the bed without twisting my spine or bending anywhere. I am unable to twist, bend, or lift objects for the next 6 weeks as the wound heals and the scar tissue builds around where the herniation popped out.

He had a strap around my upper torso and under my armpits in case I started to fall, and I was so drowsy still that I was glad to have him there. He said the Frankenstein footwork was normal as I came off the drugs but he asked me to start walking away from the bed – AND I DID. I walked, and then walked a little more, and a little more. Marina was like a proud mom standing in front of me watching. I was tearing up and clapping for myself and kept telling the physical therapist that I couldn’t believe this was happening. Since I have two steps leading up to my front door at home he had me walk up two stairs in the stairwell nearby. After walking at least FORTY FEET while standing upright, which is a personal best in 2017, I walked up and down two steps like it was no problem.

I was back to the bed (now at personal best of 80 feet round trip while upright and no pain, thank you very much), and rested a bit more. The rest is sort of a blur; I couldn’t keep much water down and I had to close my eyes on the drive home because the moving objects out of the window were giving me vertigo. Once I was home, I laid down and slept for about six hours (I think), and then got up for about two hours to eat some chicken broth and water. I still felt so nauseous so I was back in bed for the night after calling my mom and returning some messages. I slept most of the night on my back because I didn’t want to do anything drastic, but I am usually a side sleeper and since I had to roll onto my side to get in and out of the bed I knew my body could be in that position so around 3am I rolled onto my side for some more Z’s. I slept well, but woke up still feeling nauseous and lightheaded. I am writing this around mid-day Wednesday and only now am I starting to feel the effects of the anesthesia really start to wear off.

It is still very strange for me to be able to move around without discomfort. I also have not been able to stand upright since before moving into our new apartment in early February so now I am noticing how low to the ground everything seems. I am so glad to be tall again! I had hoped to be able to see and get a photo of the disc pieces they took out but unfortunately forgot to ask beforehand and was in a blur afterward so no evidence to share! I took a back selfie of the bandage and was surprised at how small it is. The bandage will come off Thursday afternoon and there are other bandages underneath to help everything stay together nicely.

I knew this would be for the best, but I cannot describe the amazing, incredible, fabulous way that I feel inside now that this is done. The emotional distress on some days was worse than the physical pain and having my emotional and mental stability back has been an immediate and dramatic effect. I have been so incredibly touched by the outpouring of love I have received. I am terrible at asking for and receiving help (it is an uncomfortable feeling of weakness and vulnerability that just makes me feel icky) but in the last month I knew that I and Rocky both needed some help for both of our sanity. The phone calls, visits, delivery of delicious food, emails of encouragement, texts, and every little bit of acknowledgement that I received has made this so much easier for me.

It took a long time for me to accept that I was hurt, and then to accept that I was hurt this badly. I think once I started to tell people “I hurt, I need support” it made me feel so much less weak and alone. Some days all I needed was for someone to say “how are you doing?” and it pulled me back into reality and out of this endless cycles of worry that I would never get better. I can’t wait to get back to my daily routines, and am already back to smiling that big Rienecker smile. Thank you so much to everyone for helping me through this!

One Day Pre Op: Long Story Longer

I am a textbook extrovert. During this process, I have found that the best way for me to cope with this pain has been to do the only thing I know how: share, and overshare!

When I am writing this blog post, it is just under 24 hours from when I will have surgery. By this time tomorrow, I should be about a quarter of the way through the two-hour surgery that will remove herniated disc from my lumbar spine (or in laymen’s terms, they’re taking out some of the disc in my low back that has popped out of place).

A great deal of my suffering has been due to the prolonged process in getting a diagnosis, which I understand many others go through. I am going to document the last 12 weeks in greater detail in hopes that someone might catch this sooner than my doctors and I did!

2013: Yes, it goes back this far. I made dramatic changes to my lifestyle and became a certified yoga teacher. In doing so, I lost about forty pounds and had maintained that healthy weight since then. However, when I started all these new exercise routines I started to get chronic hip/back pain from a weak core.

Early 2015: I am VERY active, but the imbalances in my body only continue to grow. My right side is strong and inflexible; my left side is flexible and weak. This is important to note because this will impact my body later on. As a side sleeper, I can no longer sleep without a pillow between my knees and can only sleep comfortably on my right side.

Spring 2015: Knowing that I have a weak core and am susceptible to back pain I work with a personal trainer to try and strengthen those areas and gain more muscle.

December 2015: I had thrown out my back a few times in recent years but always recovered within a week by taking anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxers. This time, my doctor sends me for an MRI because I am down for the count for over a week. I see an orthopedist who looks at the imaging and can tell that I have slight (but not abnormal) degeneration I my lumbar discs. Over time, everyone’s discs between the vertebrae start to wear down from natural use and age. Older people especially have smaller, weaker discs simply because our bodies were not initially designed to last this long! The doctor also finds some very minor scoliosis (curvature of the spine), but nothing that seems concerning at this time. Check out my January 2016 blog post with images.

January 2016: I change my insurance provider so the medical history/imaging does not transfer over

Summer 2016: I am back with a personal trainer and working on my core/back strength. I am in the gym 4 to 5 times a week and taking yoga 2 times a week or more to balance my strength and flexibility.

December 2016: I am so thrilled to be starting a new year. I am healthy, just bought my first home, and decide to start off the new year with a ClassPass to try some new workouts.

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Just hanging around in Dec 16

January 2, 2017: I take a barre class, which I have taken before at other studios.

January 4, 2017: I am unable to stand upright due to back pain and presume this is the aforementioned back strain that I have experienced. I can barely get myself to urgent care, only to find out that the medical facilities in Long Beach where I live do not have urgent care. I go to the nurses station and she makes a few calls to get me in to see a doctor (not my primary care physician) that morning. I am prescribed prednisone, a steroid, and muscle relaxers.

January 11, 2017: I have finished the round of medication and have a follow up appointment with my doctor. She arranges for me to begin physical therapy to work on rehabilitating my back and rebuilding strength. I am relatively mobile at this time.

January 14, 2017: I am walking in my neighborhood and unable to go more than about three blocks before I begin to feel pain in my outer left calf like a charlie-horse. It is tight and tense and feels like the outer calf muscle is being pulled.

January 24, 2017: 22 days from injury, and I was supposed to get on a airplane on this day. The pain in the outer leg is now so bad that I am unable to get downstairs in my building. Back pain has also returned. My boyfriend talks me out of getting into the uber and I go back to see a doctor. I tell him about the pain in my leg and that the back pain has worsened, so he prescribes me Tylenol with codeine for the pain and tells me to sit in a Jacuzzi because they will not be doing any imaging until 6 weeks from injury. The Tylenol/codeine make me nauseous and drowsy, so I do not continue these. Like most other people, I also don’t have a Jacuzzi laying around! Chalking this up to a muscle pull, I treat it as one and try to stretch my back/glutes repeatedly and roll on a foam roller (which feels like knives).

January 30, 2017: I have another work trip this week and know that I cannot continue to suffer like this and likely cannot travel again. I return to the same doctor as last week who tells me again that they will not take any x-rays or do any imaging until six weeks so I need to continue taking medication and take it easy (and he mentions the Jacuzzi again). He says jovially that he hopes to never see me again.

February 7, 2017: I have struggled to get an appointment with my primary care doctor (there was a two week wait). I finally get in to see her and complain of not having any improvement, and that the previous doctor told me to wait six weeks. At five weeks, I beg her for some imaging to be done because I am in absolute agony and can barely get behind the wheel of a car, and probably was not in any condition to be driving. By this time, I have also been seeing a chiropractor, acupuncturist, getting massages, and essentially sitting all the time. X-ray is taken that same day.

February 12, 2017: I have not heard my x-ray results so I make a phone appointment with my doctor to find out what is going on. The appointment is set for February 14.

February 14, 2017: Happy Valentine’s Day to no one. My doctor and I speak, and the x-ray results showed nothing wrong with my bones so no further action was taken.

Week of February 20, 2017: I am now in so much pain that I can barely get to work. Once there, I am unable to sit or stand comfortably and wind up rolling around on the floor to find relief. I call to open a grievance case. I am told that my file will be reviewed and that within THIRTY DAYS they will decide if I need to take further steps to determine what is wrong. Thankfully, within two days my doctor calls me back and says that I am now referred to a physical medicine doctor.

March 1, 2017: after having to wait several weeks for the referral to go through, and to get the appointment, I see a physical medicine doctor. After seeing how I limp into the office and hearing my ailments he almost immediately assumes I have a bulging disc and orders an MRI. He also puts in a referral for an epidural so that if I need one, the paperwork is already done (because he can sense that the waiting has done me no good so far!). Lastly, he refers me to a neurological surgeon who will be able to evaluate if the disc is causing any damage to the nerve since the nerve pain radiates all the way down to my toes.

March 4, 2017: MRI imaging is done

March 6, 2017: I am now unable to get into work at all

My modified work station at home

My modified work station at home

March 9, 2017: The physical medicine doctor calls me with the results of the MRI. He says I have a “fairly large” herniated disc (not just bulging!) between my L4 and L5. Most of this sounds like another language to me because this entire time I have been treating this like a muscle injury and likely aggravating it even more. This is a diagram of what has occurred:


March 13, 2017: my referral for the neurosurgeon is approved but the earliest appointment I can get is for April 7. Each visit to physical therapy during these weeks winds up being a half hour of me in tears and my physical therapist putting ice on me since there are no other things we can do that do not cause me pain.

March 27, 2017: I am no longer able to tolerate the pain despite being on several different medications. I decide to move forward with the epidural injection which will be an injection into the lower spine to aid with pain and inflammation. This cannot address the issue though, which is the herniated disc. These are expected to heal on their own over time.

March 30, 2017: I have a panic attack at the hospital as they begin to tell me that they will be sedating me. I am in so much pain that I cannot lay on my stomach for the injection and they have me rolled over on my side while nurses hold me still in the fetal position to receive the injection.

April 5, 2017: I am two days out from seeing the neurosurgeon and the injection has calmed the swelling but has done nothing for my pain. In fact, the pain worsened (which is expected) for the two days after injection. The pain is so bad I am moaning during the night. The neurosurgeons office calls to tell me that he is no longer available and they can reschedule me for the following Thursday. That same day I call my case manager again to insist on seeing someone urgently.

April 6, 2017: I leave a second, less patient voicemail for my case manager. I tell her that my condition is worsening because I am unable to seek care. She calls me back shortly thereafter and manages to get me an appointment for April 4 in the afternoon. Go figure.

April 7, 2017: I get to the neurosurgeon’s office and he asks right away “How long have you been WALKING like that?!” When I tell him three months, he is apologetic. He looks at the MRI from last month and tells me that they need to do surgery because the herniation is so big. In fact, he wants to do surgery the following Tuesday. He shows me a top-view of the MRI going down the spine at each disc. When he gets to the herniated disc the abnormality is so apparent that even with my untrained eye I can see: this is bad.

April 10, 2017: Today. The day before I get my life back. I have been looking up Instagram accounts, forums, and blogs of others who have had a lumber discectomy. They look like they have been able to take a shower, brush their hair, and go outside all on their own just days after surgery. They are walking dogs, exercising, and going to concerts. They are smiling, going to coffee shops, and living their lives. I AM ONE DAY AWAY FROM THE REST OF MY LIFE!

Two Days Pre Op

I have been off anti-inflammatory drugs for nearly two days for the first time since January 4th. The swelling in my back is nearly back to the pre-epidural size. The swelling sticks out enough that it looks like a tumor growing on my lower left spine.

Now I feel like the waiting over the next 48 hours will be harder than the last 48 days. I want to be on the other side of this surgery already, and can’t wait to feel full sensation in my legs. My friend Teresa (a badass triathlete) had this surgery last year and very proudly share the photo of the disc pieces they took out from her. The only pictures I love more are the ones of her living a happy and fulfilling life after they got that sucker out!

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. The initial thought of surgery had me so rattled. I didn’t say a word on the entire ride home from the visit (which is very unlike me!), and cried so much that day. Surgery seems so daunting! I went through many phases of grief and acceptance that day, and then finally had a moment where I had to DECIDE that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. I say decide, because I had to convince myself of this fact for a while before I really believed it.

For anyone interested (and who has the stomach for it), check out this link for a video to a lumbar microdiscectomy.

Three Days Pre Op

It was decided yesterday by Dr. Owen that the hernia in my lumbar spine is in need of a trim. I’ll be going in Tuesday morning to have part of the disc removed because it is pressing against my sciatic nerve and has been doing so for nearly 100 days (I have surgery on day 99 since injury, but who’s counting?).

Initially the thought of surgery on my spine sounded terrifying, and I wasn’t ready for it. But as I sat there with the surgeon looking at my MRI images, he said this was one of the top 5 largest he’d ever seen. I’m still trying to get over the fact that even my injuries are competitive – ha! Now that I have accepted that there are just a few days between me and a normal life I am thinking of all the wonderful things I will regain. The emotional strain of this injury has been unlike anything I have ever experienced. The literal helplessness and inability to take care of myself was terrifying, and with a history of neurological illness in my family I was really tested when I started to lose the feeling in my leg. The thought that I might never walk again actually started to feel like a path my life could take and that put me in a very dark place.

My injury took an extraordinary amount of time to diagnose, simply because of the process involved in the healthcare system. My insurance requires referrals to get advanced care and it was nearly 9 weeks before an MRI was ever done. Now that I have lived the life of a recluse, I have a newfound appreciation for how my body has put up with the speed of life. I had to cancel plans to go somewhere on an airplane. This was serious if it was impacting my livelihood and my passion – this is life I live is what fuels me!

When I realized that the isolation at home for so long was starting to test my emotional stability and sanity, I began to reach out to the network of amazing people in my life. I found out that several friends from various chapters of life had experienced this same pain before and I found comfort in them all saying the same thing “Yes, I thought I was going crazy. Yes, it will get better.”

The surgeon says I will feel relief as soon as the anesthesia wears off. I will have a couple of weeks of pain from the incision, which will be the first major one for me aside from wisdom teeth removal. I will be discharged from the hospital the same day unless there is a leak of spinal fluid. If there is, I will stay another 48 hours in the hospital to recover. Within 2 weeks I will be able to begin light cardio again. I have lost most muscle mass on my arms and have dropped about 5 pounds this month. I will be glad to have movement back (and the appetite that will come with it!). The bruises on my arms and legs from crawling around the house will soon be healed. I will be able to stand up in the shower, walk my dog to the end of the street, and stand at the stove long enough to cook myself food.

Best of all, I will finally be able to get to walk down to the beach by my house. I haven’t been able to set foot on it yet and it has been my personal goal to get down to that beach. I can see the ocean from my window and know it’s down there. I haven’t seen the ocean since… almost last year.

Day Before Injection (March 29, 2017)

I typed this into my phone the night before my epidural injection. On March 30, 2017 I received an injection in my lumbar spine for “pain management”. I use quotations with good reason: I haven’t had any pain management with any of the treatments I have sought for the last 93 days, but who’s counting? January 2nd I took a barre class (which I have taken before but do not take regularly), and by the morning of January 4 I woke up and couldn’t stand up straight. Fast forward to March 29th and this is what my life has become:

It is eleven hours and twenty eight minutes until my injection. In researching online and talking to friends, the injection seems to be rather common and effective. Perhaps because I have suffered for the better part of three months, I am more nervous that this will not work than I am nervous that it will be harmful having a needle in me.

It took so long to finally diagnose and has felt even longer after spending several weeks at home. I miss very basic things: walking the dog more than in circles out front of my house, going to work, sitting with Rocky to eat dinner with him, putting on clothes without pain, sitting on the toilet without losing feeling in my leg, sleeping through the night, being able to get to my car, standing long enough to cook dinner, standing long enough to take a comfortable shower, rolling over in bed without pain, working out, taking yoga, and feeling good/ positive about myself.

I have never felt pain so bad before and in the first few weeks I thought I was going crazy because I felt skepticism from those around me that I could hurt so much without having had a major accident or trauma to cause such pain. While I have not given birth or broken a major bone, nerve pain is something so unique. It is like lightning strikes up and down my leg, sometimes without even moving, that hurts so painfully and persistently that I cannot think straight. I recall several occasions where I came home and immediately fell to my knees and curled up on the floor because I could no longer stand, even if I put all my weight on my right leg.

The left side of my back is tight and strained from constantly leaning to the side (which is partially because that causes less disc pressure and also because the herniation has ruined my posture for the time being). Before I knew it was a nerve I thought I was damaging muscles in my body by walking lopsided. I walk like the two legs attached to me are not my own and mismatched.

I will be so careful and cautious and loving to my body if I just get it back to working correctly again. I didn’t do anything so drastic to deserve this, but life isn’t fair, right? I want to feel healthy and stronger, and more like myself. I want to feel like me again.

Why Can’t We All Be More Like Elsa?

[written September 28, 2016]

I haven’t even seen the movie “Frozen”, but I don’t live under a rock so I have heard the famous song “Let it Go” enough that I can sing along. Today, I was reminded of that song while in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I am on the tail-end of a four-day work trip to Arizona followed by a two-day stint in Idaho for a wedding. While on the way back, my boyfriend and I missed our second flight from Salt Lake to Long Beach. Missing flights is nothing out of the ordinary, but after six days away from home and big plans to finally move into my new condo tomorrow, missing this flight was like being punched in the gut.

After huffing and puffing, crying in public (yikes!) and a pep talk from a very sensible partner, I could hear Elsa in the back of my mind. I am the kind of person who likes to plan ahead. I plan everything, and live by a tightly-packed color-coded calendar that guides me from moment to moment in life including scheduled relaxation time and yoga. It is no wonder that when something unexpected happens, several shifts have to take place in order for me to get back on track.

As I was having my episode of emotional distress and anxiety in the airport, my very patient and unphased partner could not understand the weight I placed on our return trip’s timing. “Your dog is fed. You have nowhere to be. What are you worried about?” he posed. I replied quite confidently, “I have the dog groomer at 9, the internet installation at ten, and a house cleaning tomorrow morning! What if I miss them?” Even as I write these words, I see how ridiculous they sounded. I was worried about things that could easily be changed but because life wasn’t going my way, I was angry and frustrated at the world. “It doesn’t matter,” he said.

After I dried my tears, I reached into my bag to check my eye makeup. “That doesn’t matter either,” he assured me. Granted, most men don’t put in the amount of time and effort into their physical appearances as women do before they leave the house but he was so right. I wish that I could live my life with less care about what others think, and less emotional attachment to things that bring no value to my life (like flight plans that are out of my control).

While I don’t think I will ever have the “don’t dwell on what you can’t control” attitude that he does to the same extent, I wish it were far easier for me to let go of my attachment to control and the need to force my life in certain directions. So you get a flat tire. So you forget your lunch at home in the fridge. These aren’t life-shattering things that should send us into disarray. I have my health. I have a patient man to hold my hand while I am on the phone with airline customer service. I have absolutely no reason to get wound up over this flight and I need to LET IT GO!

I am reminded of this once again at the start of the year as we all start to put plans into place to manage the next 12 months of our lives.


What are your resolutions?

Resolutions come up around this time of year as people re-set their calendars, their goals, and their minds on January 1st. Often times they can become a source of stress as the year continues on, creating anxiety and guilt for not sticking to what we set out to do earlier.

I invite you to look at the new year as a way of resolving to find forgiveness! Life happens, and no matter how many well-placed plans you put into place (calendar appointments, workout buddies, savings plans, meal plans, structure of any kind…) there are bound to be times when you’re going to slip up from the exact path you were looking down in January.

Give yourself some room for changing those resolutions as well! Maybe you’re finding that there are different ways (smarter ways!) to reach your goals. Or, perhaps you’re adding in some new things to your life plan that you hadn’t thought of before.

Some of my resolutions include:

  • A continued focus on fitness but with new emphasis on maintenance care for the injuries I’ve sustained in my adult life. What good is to to be in the gym all the time if I’m causing new pains or working on the areas that don’t need that much love?
  • Cooking more at home: this is a financial, and health goal in one. Now that I am a new condo owner, both of those things are important to me!
  • Say “no” more. I’m such a yes person, and it’s easy for me to over-commit. This year I want to focus on being really good at a few things (a significant other, employee, friend) rather than just okay at a LOT of things and spreading myself too thin.

I would love to hear what you’re resolving to do this year in the comments below!

IAEE – Yoga in Anaheim this December!

I am thrilled to announce that my day job and my yoga passion are once again colliding! I will be teaching yoga/wellness this December. For those of you attending IAEE Expo Expo in December 2016, details are available here. I will see you at 6am on December 6 at the Grand Plaza in Anaheim near the Convention Center!


Yoga After Injury

We have all dealt with an injury at one time or another. In the last few years, I have dealt with back muscle pain that ranges from moderate to severe. I started my yoga practice many years ago with hyperflexibility and little strength, so rehabbing my back involved strength training (which is now a passion of mine).

Now that I am often able to practice yoga without pain, it has been an interesting comparison on the mat versus six years ago. My planks are no longer modified, and I can jump back to chaturanga (which took many years of practice). I can hold armbalances with greater ease, and have noticed muscles I never had before.

Going back to the early years of my practice, I was close to Hanumanasana (full splits), and loved pyramid pose. I could barely hold myself up in firefly, but at least my legs extended (which they can no longer do). As the muscles in my body tightened and strengthened, the flexibility I had come to enjoy in my practice has slowly faded away. I use props more now than ever before: a block in half moon pose and a strap for forward folds are welcome additions that I had once been ashamed to use as a crutch.

This change in my ability has been a great challenge on the mat, as I have had to re learn my limits. A sun salutation looks very different for me now versus then, and it has been a wonderful reminder that our practice never ends. We will never become masters, we simply change and grow and visit the mat each time as if it were the first. Besides, now that I’m stronger I can try out new things like dangling from this lyra hoop, and I guarantee that six years ago I couldn’t have even gotten up into it!

lyra hoop

The Wonders of Wanderlust

This year was my first time attending a Wanderlust Festival. I traveled up to Tahoe, California (the northeastern part of the state, near the border of Nevada) with 2 of my yoga-loving friends and set out to align my chakras for four whole days! Okay, so maybe that last part was a little bit in jest… but I was determined to reset, recharge, and refuel myself while at this transformative festival filled with yoga, music, and folks from around the globe who celebrate yoga.

Check out my instagram or the Facebook album I created for all the photos from the event.  Here is my favorite one from the weekend, wearing a tank that we got during wine tasting one evening (who says you can’t enjoy a little wine when you’re sweating it out all weekend?)

Namaste for Happy Hour