One Year Surgeriversary

Maine, Sept 2021

This week is the anniversary of the two part back surgery I had in 2021 to fuse three levels of my lumbar spine. I chronicled the history of my back and my decision to have surgery here. It was the hardest decision of my life. I don’t know if it was the right decision and I never will. I could have put that surgery off longer or declined it. I did that twice, once because I didn’t believe I couldn’t fix it myself (6 years earlier) and once to get myself physically and mentally in shape just prior. My case was not the worst or the most dire. Outcomes for this surgery are better (relatively speaking) when the situation is dire.

I still have a numb left foot on ambulation, one symptom I wanted more than anything to resolve. There was no promise, but a hope that the surgery would fix that. Dire would have been: I cannot control my bladder, or stand on my two legs, both of which would have required near immediate attention. Surgeons make a lot of money. And they know how things progress. They can convince you if they sense your fear… Don’t ever stop thinking independently.

What has happened since then? After the surgery and three months of ‘no lifting, bending or twisting’, I started rehab physical therapy and it took 5 more months to get a ‘new’ normal that I could live with, with the following caveats. In addition to the foot numbness, I have the permanent constraint of the hardware in my back meaning that: it is harder to put on socks and pants; toe-clipping almost impossible; sitting anywhere for a long time is very uncomfortable, especially if my hips are not well above my knees; the lumbar area of my spine cannot ‘slouch’ into a bucket seat of a car nor sadly into a comfortable couch; getting into a small car is nearly impossible; and driving in my SUV is bearable for a mere 1/2 hour. I did travel by air twice last year for about 2-3 hours on each segment. It was hard. I would like to fly to Europe. Maybe I can endure 7 -8 hours if I can stand up as frequently as I am allowed if I book an aisle seat.

My upper back has its own scoliosis issues. I have continued physical therapy for that until the present. Spine surgeries often beget ‘adjacent segment’ issues because of compensatory changes and stresses, although I had the thoracic issues well before the surgery. I’ll get new X-rays at my 1 year checkup on Friday and we shall see what has changed.

I also experienced grief this year. The changes in my back, the ‘loss’ of my daughter’s presence in my life, and not feeling able to work full time led me to explore my own philosophy of life and spirituality. I read a lot about grief, ambiguous loss, self-compassion and forgiveness. I ditched a whole 4 linear feet of agile books and replaced them with all kinds of enriching books to help me make sense of my life. Last year I trained as an end-of-life doula. I am a volunteering with hospice and accompanying patients at their end-of-life. I was able to turn my grief to something very positive.

Several times a week, and sometimes daily, I turn my own fortitude gained from facing hardship and pain into compassion and connection with the hospice patients who are often confused, angry, in denial, or sad that they face their end-of-life. I understand that and I learn tacitly from them that I do not want to wait until my own end-of-life to be processing those complex emotions of regret, shame, or estrangement when so much else will be in decline physically. I help patients gently if these things come up, and encourage connection and sharing.

Working at hospice takes courage and presence – especially hard when my body objects. Physically, I am not able to sit for a long time. I explain I have to stand and talk when I am not comfortable. When I dealt with my first patient who was in a sleep coma, I felt better kneeling by her bed, and rubbed her hand as I talked to her. It was more comfortable that way for a time. I sit then stand then sit again. Such is the coping.

I value facing my own mortality openly now. It means so much to me to now be able to talk about death, love and grief with ease. To be able to tell my soulmate I love him. To tell my son the same. To send occasional letters to my daughter (as yet not acknowledged). To be in contact with my siblings and their families. To be kind to myself. To be in awe of nature, of the sky, animals, and of little humans. A year ago I didn’t know my future. It was a crapshoot risky decision. Somehow it turned into a very good year.

Value what you have; take care of your mind, body and soul well. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Tell your loved ones you love them as often as you need to. Find awe in what’s right in front of you.

Explore posts in the same categories: Courage, Personal Growth

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