Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Good news from surgeon -- on my own now

Today was the final follow-up visit to my surgeon, who performed the L5-S1 bilateral discectomy on January 18. So at the two-month mark, since I am not experiencing any acute pain in my back or left leg, he released me -- no follow-ups unless I somehow get into trouble doing too much.

He said that because my herniation was so bad -- once he got in there part of it was calcified and he had to chisel it out. The more recent herniation he was able to slice away. But it was bilateral and today he said again that it was one of the most challenging ops he's had in a long while.

I am walking up to 2.25 miles a day and doing my stretching, so he said to keep that up. I still have 1) occasional odd shooting zaps down my leg (normal), 2) some numbness down my left calf (normal), and 3) numbness on the bottoms of my feet (possibly normal, but I had existing neuropathy from diabetes), and 4) on top of the left foot (unclear the cause, possibly neuropathy).

It's likely that 3 and 4 may never resolve; he thinks over the next 6 months #2 will resolve.

I still have to avoid lifting more than 10 lbs, and definitely not sit without a break longer than 30 minutes at a time. I can tell because we were at Target the other day and they had some hand weights on sale. I picked up the 10 lb. weight and I immediately felt it in my back -- not like acute pain, but it told me "put that down."

The walking is great for the back; I am usually pretty stiff before and after, but during the walk I am comfortable. Well, except for the feet. Today the neuropathy was so bad that I had to wear two pairs of socks because they were hypersensitive and were burning and tingling. Yes, folks this is normal, and it sucks, but I have to push past pain that I know I'll have to live with -- meds haven't seemed to quash this; at most Lyrica takes the edge off of it, along with Calan. Cymbalta was horrible, got off of that quickly. Amiltriptyline was equally annoying and didn't do crap.

So I'm resigned to dealing with that and the RA -- compared to the acute herniation pain, staying at a 4 out of 10 on a pain scale beats 8 any day. It was only a couple of months ago that I was being shuttled around in a wheelchair to see the doctor.

I hope to stay out of one for a long while, and certainly not because I did too much too soon and  re-herniated. I spoke to one colleague at work who had the same operation and he said that he didn't do the PT walking, ignored the stretches, and yes -- he re-herniated and ended up with operation #2.

And he followed post-op instructions that time around and is doing well now, but he reiterated to me that I was doing the right thing by taking it slow and steady.

Casualties of this whole mess:
1) I have a lot of bills to pay (thankfully the insurance covered $32K of a $34,328.82 hospital bill!), but I did (and still do) have to lay out quite a bit of cash. It's sad that even with health insurance, people can be bankrupted by medical bills. I'm lucky this time around.

2) Lost wages: I was off for 6 weeks, most of it unpaid leave. What paid time off I had is long gone. So no vacations for me...that means no Netroots Nation in 2013. I won't have built up enough time off by then to go to San Jose. I have to save what I do earn to go to NYC for my birthday.

I'm trying not to take on any blog-related engagements these days; it's enough to keep my health on track, though tempting it may be. I know there are opportunities to get myself overworked and physically spent, so activism has to take a back seat. If I cannot even churn out regular blog posts, I have no business traveling around and putting miles on my body either, lol.

But I have some of my health back.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Being OK with getting lapped around the lake

Physical therapy walk today - 2.25 miles! I passed this mallard duck at the lake that let me get pretty close to take a pic.

Since it's Saturday and in the 60s (F), there were a number of fast walkers and joggers on the walking trail. It's kind of demoralizing to be lapped around the lake by these fit folks. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm doing the best that I can and to be thankful I can walk this far at all given where I was two months ago.

Like I would be able to run laps around anyone aside from the sedentary at this point.

In the past I really would have been down on myself about it, pushed myself too hard, and ended up injured or worse -- in this case back on the operating table, back cut open and the surgeon chiseling another disc herniation out or fusing my spine. But I don't want to get sliced and diced again (with the awful, long recovery), so I have to clamp down my drive to do too much too fast.

There are always a mix of ages and physical abilities on the trails during the week; today there just seemed to be more well-trained fitness runners who didn't look like they were breaking a sweat. They make most people look bad, lol. It is an annoying reminder (to me) that I'll never be one of those people -- I've got too many pre-existing degenerative conditions. Maybe the next life. I have to be happy with what's left of this body and maximizing what it can do. Acceptance is difficult, but not out of reach.

After all, here I am, still walking 2+ miles, with my feet numb and hurting from permanent neuropathy AND a swollen left ankle, the edema straining against my shoe. I think I can, I think I can...

One of the fun things that occurred on the walk today was running into a fellow Woodlake resident, Jon Parker, who recognized me from PHB/Facebook/Twitter (not sure which), and said he saw my prior photos of the lake. He said to look up his recent video of his own photos. We have a wonderful active neighborhood full of good walking resources that makes my PT so pleasant on days like today. Thanks Jon!

The small things that count...being able to do housework again.
A reminder when PT is hard...be good to yourself
* Back to work...butthurt begins in the chair
* Cleared to go back to work!
* Working my way back to trek across the Brooklyn Bridge for my big 5-0
* Milestone: tanking up...and a good day for PT walking (finally)
* RA rears up and says "don't forget about me."
* Can put on jeans again!
* Not so fast, young lady...your back is still f'd up
* Post-surgery update: tail end of flu; may need another MRI
Week 3 post-spine surgery, week 2 of the flu
Week 2 post-L5-S1 slice and dice: good news, not so good news
News on life after the L5-S1 slice and dice

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Happy birthday, mom...we miss you.

Today is my mom's birthday. She passed away in 1998, and we miss her. A little tribute...

The small things that count...being able to do housework again.

Today's mundane milestone - back to housecleaning chores. Major dusting high and low scrubbing surfaces. Had extension poles and the like to avoid rough bending. Result? Good deep clean on that front since surgery, and quite a lot of pain. Don't think I re-injured anything (no lifting anything heavy); just hurt enough from all the repeated stretching to pass out for a few hours. The chores replaced my walk. I was too worn and sore. Back on that path tomorrow...

A reminder when PT is hard...be good to yourself

Clocks spring forward...that means looking forward to another good day, right?

PT still going well -- walked another 1.5 miles on Sat; the weather here was beautiful, in the mid 50s, sunny, low humidity. More hilly path + more around the lake yesterday. Will see if my back can get in gear to do it again today.

Uphill routes are really challenging -- not so much aerobically -- it's that my post-surgery back muscles are really tight and it slows me down. Even with PT stretches before and after, argh...like taut rubber bands. Everything takes time.

Reaching 1.5 miles means I've been able to reach my distance goal to cross the Brooklyn Bridge (1.13428 miles=5,989 ft) for my 50th birthday (July 8). That probably doesn't include length of on/off ramps. I now just have to be able to do it in a decent strolling time. I'm pretty slow now. But before surgery, I couldn't walk one block, let alone a mile. I am thankful, I'll take slow + dealing with my normal chronic pain from my RA and fibromyalgia and being able to walk again.

But on these hills during my PT walks I just pump up the music, forge up the freaking hills (seemingly slow as a turtle!) and remind myself that only a few weeks ago, right after the discectomy, my goal was to just make it around the cul-de-sac...and that put me out for a four-hour nap...

"Be good to yourself when, nobody else will 
Oh be good to yourself 
You're walkin' a high wire, caught in a cross fire 
Oh be good to yourself ..."
--Journey, Raised on Radio (1986)

The original:

With Arnel Pineda:

* Back to work...butthurt begins in the chair
* Cleared to go back to work!
* Working my way back to trek across the Brooklyn Bridge for my big 5-0
* Milestone: tanking up...and a good day for PT walking (finally)
* RA rears up and says "don't forget about me."
* Can put on jeans again!
* Not so fast, young lady...your back is still f'd up
* Post-surgery update: tail end of flu; may need another MRI
Week 3 post-spine surgery, week 2 of the flu
Week 2 post-L5-S1 slice and dice: good news, not so good news
News on life after the L5-S1 slice and dice

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Back to work...butthurt begins in the chair

I received this wonderful "welcome back to work" after my medical leave from my ace IT staff...thank you! Nice to be back. Trying to be mindful by taking breaks from sitting too long; I'm walking around the office for a few minutes to rest my spine every 30 min or so.

I think I might need either a device to raise my laptop so I can work while standing, or some sort of table, because sitting in a chair (albeit a nice adjustable desk chair) is just torture on my spine for more than a half hour. I'll have to ask about that with the powers that be. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cleared to go back to work!

Got some sudden, interesting news on Tuesday. On my last trip to the surgeon his assessment of my condition (recovery was slowed by the flu and a lot of coughing) resulted in an extension of my medical leave to March 19 since the situation was dicey.

Since that February appointment I've been working hard on my recovery, working my way up to walking about a mile a day and doing my PT exercises, as you've seen on the blog.

So yesterday, I sent in my 2-week report to the surgeon on Tuesday and apparently he decided (in conjunction with my employer's disability physician) that I can return to work now. So, I will be in the office on Thursday.

I picked up my return to work authorization letter for the HR files from my doctor, the document clears me for return to light duty as of 3/6/2012 with restrictions of "no lifting, pushing, or pulling over 10 lbs x 4 weeks", noting date of the original injury (herniation) was on 8/30/2012.

Fortunately that allows me to carry my laptop, but not along with a projector, for instance, to meetings. I also need to refrain from a lot of bending and twisting, both still hurt. I may have to have some abbreviated days  for a little while because my back's stamina, for sitting in particular, is not great yet; my left leg has nerve problems at times. The latter is unpredictable since the nerves will take months to settle down. I'll just work through that. I see the surgeon again on 3/19 to see how I'm faring.

I'm eager to get back into the office -- but I'm also little apprehensive of course, having been off for six weeks and there's a lot to catch up on. Email is a beast. I still do hurt quite a bit after walking and particularly sitting, but there's no time like the present to see just how long I can put in at the office without serious discomfort.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Canada Geese are back...that should make PT walks interesting

Today's PT walk showed more improvement. It is kind of cold (43 degrees, sunny, but windy): Distance: 1.24 mi , Time: 36:09. Better to go slow and for distance in terms of PT.

Not that I could go any faster just yet; I still have to battle the neuropathic pain in my feet while walking. I just turn the music on (Journey and solo SP, of course) and do the whole mind-over-matter thing. Otherwise I'd just give up, there's not a day without pain from RA or the neuropathy for me, just the degree of it. But I cannot tell you just how liberating it is to be able to walk more than a block now post-spine surgery. I celebrate what does get better along the way.

Seen while on the walk -- oh no, the Canada Geese are back at the lake! These birds are huge -- and mean. They hiss at you when they are on the walking path and when they are plentiful you have to dodge the sizeable poop they leave behind. Kate reported they are already near her office in Cary, leaving their "gifts" behind and behaving badly as usual.

Thankfully our house is not near the lake so we don't have them using our yard as a "bombing zone." Pity the homeowners who are right on the lake and have flocks congregating in their back yards in the spring and summer. They also multiply quickly, and the chicks grow fast.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Working my way back to trek across the Brooklyn Bridge for my big 5-0

Good news - walked over a mile today by the lake. Not so good news - shooting pain from spine to hip, and down left leg, but made it home safely. Lotsa Icy Hot applied this afternoon after a hot shower, limping a bit this evening. One step forward, ? back. I know, patience and caution. Heading to bed early.

My goal is to be well enough by my 50th birthday (July 8) to be able to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge again. This pic was taken in September 2007 (the full album is here); on that day Kate, my brother Tim and I walked across to Manhattan and all the way up to Union Square. All that was possible before the fibromyalgia, the rheumatoid arthritis and the spine eruption that I'm dealing with now. 

It seems like a lifetime (and another body) ago. At the present time, post-back surgery, as I mentioned I can walk about a mile now, but it wipes me out and the pain is still unpredictable because I'm still on the mend. 

Before the discectomy I could hardly walk a block, constantly limped and was in almost unbearable pain most of the time - there was no way I could make that walk across the BB in that condition, and it was depressing me, thus I had to take the risk of spine surgery after the failure of 3 epidural injections to give me relief. The herniation at L5-S1 was too massive. So I'm doing my best to battle my way to make the trek - and the big 5-0.

Today's walking music:  Revelation, Journey (2008, Disc 1).

1. "Never Walk Away"
2. "Like a Sunshower"
3. "Change for the Better"
4. "Wildest Dream"
5. "Faith in the Heartland"
6. "After All These Years"
7. "Where Did I Lose Your Love"
8. "What I Needed"
9. "What It Takes to Win"
10. "Turn Down the World Tonight"
11. "The Journey (Revelation)"