Five years. It’s been five years ago today that I limped into the Parkview O.N.E. facility in Fort Wayne, IN and went under the knife. March 31st, 2016 was the day I had a date with an orthopedic surgeon(one whom I can no longer remember his name) and he filet’d my lower back open and performed a Discectomy for a herniated disc. Working in the orthopedic industry for at that point 25 years you’d think I would’ve been pretty confident in the outcome, but I had my doubts. The spine is a very delicate piece of equipment in the human body. It’s the interstate where all the impulses to do things like move, breathe, eat, and breakdance all on your own go thru. Without it, well, no more horseback riding or crime fighting or living for that matter. Despite working for a spinal company since 1999, I knew that without the right doctor things could go south quickly. From nerve damage to spinal cord scarring to permanent numbness to even worse. My paranoia levels were on high alert that morning, to say the least.
Despite the worry, I kissed the kids goodbye before they got on the bus that morning and told them I’d see them after school. My wife and I hopped in the car and made our way thru heavy winds, rain, and just a generally dreary day to the Parkview campus where I was to have a date with destiny. My parents showed up for support and sat in the waiting room while I pretended I was listening to what everyone was saying. In my head I was buzzing and sparking like a downed electrical line, but soon enough the nurse came in and gave me a shot which was supposed to relax me. It did, and in record time. By the time they wheeled me to the OR room I was already spinning into a glorious, narcotic-fueled nap. Next thing I knew I was groggily waking up in recovery, my dad sitting on a chair looking as if my mom told him to sit there. I don’t remember the conversation, but he said he’d get my wife and that he’d come visit the next day at home. The deed had been done. The herniated part of my L4 had been trimmed off, the part that was pushing against my spinal nerve. The disc was sutured, as was my back, and my wife and I were escorted to the curb of the Parkview campus and we were off to home.
I spent the next three weeks at home resting, then slowly rehabbing myself. I’d walk laps in the neighborhood once I got the ok to do so. When I’d had my consultation with the doc initially I’d had a pretty significant drop foot. I had numbness that ran from my right butt cheek down the front of my right leg and clear through the top of my right foot. I could barely lift my foot as it sat flat on the ground. Within two weeks the drop foot was subsiding, as was the numbness. I walked everyday after my initial check up and given two extra weeks to stay home and recuperate. I spent a lot of time writing, listening to music, and walking whenever the weather allowed. I walked a few laps at the YMCA a mere 4 days after my surgery. That was a bit much, but I was committed to getting back to normal.
By the time of my final check up with the surgeon, which was the first week of May, roughly a little over a month since my surgery, the drop foot was gone. I had almost all of my strength back in my foot and leg. The doc had to double check the records as he was pretty amazed at how well I’d bounced back. I think his prognosis for my rehabilitation was far worse than where I actually came out. He honestly looked shocked at how well I was.
I always took for granted my back health. I always heard my dad talk about back pain when I was growing up. My older brother even had issues after falling on the ice at work many years ago. He even went to a chiropractor at his wife’s suggestion, only to end up being in worse shape than before he went. My paternal grandfather had back surgery in the 1950s. He owned his own building goods business(a precursor to Lowes and Menards.) He’d drive to the rail yard and unload flat bed trailers filled with lumber, hardware, and 100 lb bags of concrete by hand, so of course he was going to have spinal problems. My dad said it looked like he’d been filet’d like a fish the incision was so big. Fortunately things have come a long way in the field of spinal surgery over the last 50 years.
But despite all of the back issues in close proximity I never thought I’d have a problem. I’ve always been pretty strong. Not like football player or professional athlete strong. More like big dumb ox strong. I’d move my bedroom around when I was 7 or 8. Bunk bed, dresser, and desk in an 8×12 room. Then that turned into me moving the living room around every six months or so. At work I’d haul 220 lb crates of 12′ bar stock out of the back of semi trailers by hand when the truck wasn’t secure enough to drive the fork lift into. I would adhere to smart lifting techniques….most of the time. But after years of that kind of tomfoolery my lower back just said “Enough!”
Since that surgery I’ve been extremely cautious when it comes to lifting and the manual labor stuff I do, both at work and home. They say that you have a 25% chance of re-herniating that first year after back surgery. After the first year that percentage drops 5 to 10%. So I’d say that my discectomy took. I still have back pain, and I can definitely tell when I’ve done too much. Not only does my lower back let me know, so does my upper back. And my shoulders. So do my knees and ankles. Occasionally I’ll have some tennis elbow flair up, too. I don’t play tennis, but I guess that’s just a bonus to being a bonehead for the first 42 years of my existence.
So kids, remember to lift with your knees. And when your knees give out, get someone else to lift it for you.