So tomorrow is the big day – I’m getting my spine fused from the L-4/L-5 disc to the L-5/S-1. I will have approximately 4 screws and two 4-inch titanium rods placed into my vertebrae, and then have bone grafts placed on top of them to ‘fuse’ together. This both terrifies and relieves me at the same time. I’m terrified because I will forever, that’s F O R E V E R, have metal in my body and that part of my back will never move again. The initial pain will be excruciating (and, honey, I know how to handle pain) and I don’t know how long that’s going to last. I’m going to have to re-learn how to sit, get up from laying down, walk – the whole bit. Most of all, I will be completely and totally unable to support myself for a minimum of six (that’s half of a YEAR) months. There’s even talk of worry about my not being able to even be alone. HELLO! I am an only child from a single parent household; I’ve been taking care of AT LEAST myself since the age 15. Heck, I started doing the household grocery shopping at the age of 10! So for medical professionals to tell me I may not even be able to cook myself a meal at the age of 33 sends me into complete and sheer panic. Total, incapacitating panic. And I hate it. Every. Single. Second.
But, then there’s the relief that I will no longer live a life of chronic pain. A life where I drop something on the floor and no longer look at it so forlornly you’d thought I was looking at photos of a long-lost love. A life where I am free to run and hike and jump and climb and not have to worry about pain, injury, or even ability. A life where (and this is the most important of them all) where I am able to bear and have children. Because right now, not even considering the medications I’m on, there is no way my back, in the condition that it’s in, would be able to bear a growing child sitting on top of it. I’ve had doctor after doctor tell me this and that makes me grieve more than if you’d have told me I had cancer. I love, I mean LOVE, children and live for the day when they’re a part of my world, my every day existence (of course I plan on getting married first and felt I should clarify that point). I’d be willing to go through and do anything – ANYTHING – for them and they’re not even here yet. So, no matter what you tell me about how much this surgery is going to hurt, how long the recovery is going to take, or how hard I’m going to have to work to come back from it I’d do it 100 times over if it means one day I’ll hear the cries and laughter of my sons and daughters.
I’d like to insert here a little information for you, my viewing friend, so you know exactly what’s going on. Because when I say I’m getting my spine fused, what does that REALLY mean? What does that look like? What exactly does that entail? So I went searching for some photos and videos I could share with you after being inspired while attending a Spine Academy that went over every. single. detail. of my surgery. While I don’t think you guys will really care about the oh-so-fun cream I got to shove up my nose and leave there for the past five days so I (hopefully) won’t get a staph infection (I’m a carrier) or the deliciously scented anti-bacterial wipes (insert sarcasm here) I got to use, too, for the same reason, I do want to actually SHOW you what’s happening and what will happen. After all, one of my favorite college professors taught me to ‘show it don’t say it’ in my writing. (That’s for you, Robin, and your wonderful zombified Golden Girls!) Please be forewarned: while the photos and video I am about to post will be somewhat graphic, they will not be ‘real’ photos. So no real blood or spinal cord nerves popping out at cha. I will show a couple of x-rays so you know what MY back will actually look like afterwards and some basic anatomy of the area. Again, nothing major but for those who are even the least bit squeamish I wanted to give you a heads up. (See, I was pre-med for a really long time, and still wish I could be, so I LOVE this kind of stuff and am weird like that.)
Let’s start with the most complex, confusing (but most informative) photo first. Below is a diagram of the lower back with disc degeneration (a fancy, medical way of saying the disc has shriveled up like a week old grape), where exactly they’re doing the fusion, the tools they’ll use to do it, and what the fusion is. Take a few minutes, blow it up even, and take a look around. I’ve been studying my own lower back (that’s the lumbar region) for almost 10 years, so this stuff looks pretty familiar to me. Even my orthopedic surgeon commented during our first visit that I had above average knowledge of this area of the body and procedures. There’s a lot going on and it can get quite confusing (and is exactly why I’m taking the time out to show you all of this) so nosy around! And, please, feel free to ask me any question(s) you may have! I’ll be happy to answer them. (but please be patient as I’m going to be higher than the Mad Hatter for the next couple of days from all the painkillers!)
The next couple of photos will be pretty self-explanatory; the first is one that shows what it will look like once they’ve inserted the fusion cage, which is basically like a fake disc, along with the rods and screws. The next show basically the same thing but explains WHY they put the cage in there. (It’s to add height that was once lost. Yes, I will wake up from this surgery taller than when I went in. Oh, didn’t I share that with you already? I use to be 5’8 but am now 5’6 due to the disc digeneration. Yes, I’ve shrunk.)
The last photo I want to show you is an actual x-ray of someone’s back who has had the fusion cage, along with the screws and rods placed into their back. The only thing I don’t like about these photos or the video I’m also going to post, is that it doesn’t show the bone graft that is placed on top of the screws and rods that will be the actual ‘fusion’. THAT is what takes six moths to heal. But I’ll get to more on that later.
Finally, here’s a handy dandy short video (it’s only 2 minutes) that shows you what they’re going to be doing and gives a general overview of the anatomy of the spine. I really liked it and found it helpful when I was going over the procedure and I hope you do too!
So there you have it folks! The ins and outs of what will be going on with me. I hope this has given you more insight into what I am having done and a bit more understanding. Again, please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions, give any advice you have to offer, or just a word of good cheer! Now let’s start talking about POST OP, shall we? Cause, really, that’s gonna be the real kicker.
I will be in the hospital 3 to 5 days (and right into the 4th of July holiday, convenient, eh?) trying to get my pain under control and learning how to sit, walk, lay, and even go to the bathroom with my new back. Once all of that is in order I’ll be fit to go home. Now the word ‘home’ is a relative term for me right now. I have been, and will continue to do so until September, bouncing from friend’s house to friend’s house. While words can not even begin to describe the amount of gratitude I have for the friends of mine who have opened their homes and/or donated to my fundraiser, not having my own place or even a set place to stay has caused me an incredible amount of anxiety. My life is extremely unstable right now and all that makes me want to do is run out and get job. But guess what? I can’t. I literally can NOT go and work. I did apply and was hired for a job that was to be a work from home job, but unfortunately you have to work at their office for 30 days before you could work from home. So that opportunity went out the window with a crushing blow.
From what my doctor and nurses say I will most likely not be able to hold down even a part time job until around the 5 to 6 month mark of surgery. (that puts us at around November/December) For the interim, I will be going back to Arkansas to stay with a few friends out there from July 11 until August 28. From that point, I will be moving into my own apartment back in my old ward in Provo. While I am filled with joy and excitement to be back ‘home’ in September, not knowing if I will be able to sustain a living on MY OWN fills me with great fear and anxiety. I am doing all that I can to help myself, even going so far as to obtain food stamps and being approved for a monthly financial assistance. It’s only a couple hundred dollars a month but it’s better than nothing, right?! In fact, if I’m going to be completely honest and candid with you, I should tell you just how much not being able to care for myself and being sick for so long as begun to take its toll on me. I went to my family doctor this week because I have begun to notice I’m crying (or at least want to) every day (seriously) and am so on edge that when my phone goes off to alert me of a text message or begins to ring I jump as if someone just set off the fire alarm. This is not normal for me. At all. I am EXTREMELY good at recognizing, processing, and dealing with my emotions. The fact that I’m not able to right now upsets me even more. And since after surgery with the increased pain and decreased mobility, my doctor thought it best I begin an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication regime. While I’m grateful to have something to help me cope, the fact that I need this just gets to me even more. It’s just one more way I’m dependent when being INDEPENDENT is so fiercely important to me. But I remember my last post where I spoke about H.O.P.E. I know that to be true. I just need it to end NOW.
I also need to ask for your help. Some very dear friends of mine began a Give Forward fundraiser for me at the beginning of this journey when I had my first surgery. I have had a few generous donors so far and I wish I had the words to say how much it means to me to have their support and help. Because of the donations I’ve received so far I’ve been able to pay my doctor’s co-pays, pay for prescriptions, my phone bill, buy food, and other necessities that are needed. I wish I could say thank you, it’s been more than enough, and move on. But, to be honest, I’m not even half way done. I still have AT LEAST 4 months where I physically will not be able to work but will still have bills coming in, doctors to see, medicines to buy, and many other daily needs. So, please, will you help me? If you’re not able to donate I understand. Or even if your donation is $10 that’s a doctor’s co-pay or a prescription. I promise EVERY little bit helps. Even if all you do is share my story on your Facebook page or on Twitter. Help get the word out. The type of person I am is I want to walk across this desert all by myself without any water. Thank you. I can do this on my own. But, the truth is, I can’t. I wish more than anything I could, but I’m just not capable right now. So, please, will you help me? In any way you can? I promise no good deed goes unrewarded, I will pay it forward, and give service every chance I get. It’s times like these not having any family whatsoever makes things that much more difficult.
But I also know I have a Father in heaven who loves me, cares for me, and will never leave me to suffer or endure alone. I have friends who are family, I have been blessed with so many wonderful people in my life for which my gratitude could never be fully expressed. I know that by enduring this experience well I will grow closer to my Savior, will be better able to serve Him and those around me, and, most of all, be a better wife and mother some day. While I would rather do ANYTHING else or in ANY other way to go through what I am and about to go through, I know I will be all the better for it, there is a purpose, and if I let it, will be used to create and bring much good into my life and the lives of others.
Well, since I have to be up in 3 hours to get ready to go to the hospital I suppose I should head to bed. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Thank you caring about and praying for me, for putting my name on the prayer roll at the temple, for sending me encouragement and love. It means more to me than I could ever say. YOU are what makes this world a beautiful place, makes the sun shine a little brighter, and the stars sparkle like diamonds in the sky. I’m thinking of doing a video diary but I’m not sure I want to be video’d while on heavy narcotics. Who knows – it could make for a hoot one day! Until we meet again, my dear friends. All my love to you. xoxo
https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/cnk4/rally-for-rebecca-s-recovery —– Here’s the link for you to go to donate or share or just get more information. Please, anyway that you will help will be so very appreciated! Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart!