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On the Mend

2013 September 11
by Becky

So here I lay, in the nest that was once our bed. Laptop, Kindle, sweatshirts, giant hospital jug of water, candy stash, and camera strewn about. Pride & Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version) on TV…ok and maybe a few reruns of Beverly Hills 90210. A room temperature, oversized ice pack flung onto the nightstand. And no less than seven pillows are strategically placed—under my knees, behind my head, one rolled at my lower lumbar, and another on my lap serving as my  “desk”. The sounds of my parents and Ethan arriving home after a busy morning at the Science Center travel up from downstairs, and Murphy, my glutton of a cat, is splayed out next to me, purring—he LOVES when I’m sick. A pharmacy-worth of drugs is stacked in the kitchen, awaiting my six daily visits.


These pieces make up the puzzle of my recovery from the back surgery I swore I’d never even consider. Yet somehow, after six full months of trying everything else, I went through with it last Thursday.

As soon as my orthopedic doc mentioned Mirco Discectomy, I began collecting stories and realized just how common this surgery is, performed on people of all ages. Friends and family and friends of friends of friends had gone through it, many in much worse shape than me. And nearly every story ended with the patient waking up pain free. Like a miracle.

Last month was really when I finally felt my non-surgical options were exhausted. Yoga, Pilates, chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy, several cortisone injections, and a round of steroids (that made me downright insane) all failed to take even the slightest edge off my constant pain. I realized I was planning my life around my pain, like worrying about attending social events, scared there wouldn’t be a comfortable chair or that it would awkward if I stood the whole time. I avoided activities with Ethan where I knew bending and climbing would be involved. At this point even flight attendants were offering advice as they allowed me to stand in their prep area when my left leg would no longer permit me to sit—things were bad. So I caved and took an appointment with my orthopedic doctor’s top ortho surgeon recommendation. 

Things seemed cut and dry. My MRI showed a clear herniation in my L5, S1 joints pressing on my left spinal nerve, and while my surgeon did explain there were small possibilities the surgery could a) make things worse before better or b) not work at all, he stated the typical outcome at a 75% – 90% success rate.

And really, what the heck else was I supposed to do?? (This was my mantra to get myself on that operating table.) I’m a positive person and tried to think positive thoughts. I’d suffered for six months…this was my only option and just had to work.

We walked into Barnes Jewish Hospital at 5:30am, through the South Garage tunnel, a place I haven’t been since the morning my water broke, 12 hours after which Ethan was born. Of course pre-op was a zoo, IVs, a million docs explaining the same risks over and over (two of my favs were blindness—from having my face placed on a special cushion while in the prone position—and a chance of “awareness” during surgery where I could wake up and see things while being operated on.) My silliest concern was the prone position…where exactly would my bare butt be? I’m telling myself it was covered with something. Nurse friends, let me believe this to be true.

The last thing I remember was my anesthesiologist walking in with a breast pocket full of syringes, “Tequila shots” he called them. And then I was out.

I woke without opening my eyes. People around me telling me to wake up, wiggle toes, squeeze hands, and though I may have been doing these things, I was unable to tell them I was indeed awake. I finally caught glimpses of faces hovering over me had a feeling of movement as my bed was wheeled to a recovery room. No matter how foggy my brain may have seemed, I was sure of one thing.

My pain was still there.

Too soon, when I was still very hazy, my surgeon and his team were hovering over my bed  asking me questions about my pain, telling me the surgery was a success—they not only removed the significant herniation but also large bone spur, which, together were squeezing my nerve to smithereens. Stu listened patiently as I sobbed and asked, “Why is the pain still there?”

“The nerve needs to calm down. Surgery caused stress on it today. This pain is normal, it will go away with time,” was my surgeon’s response. Things like “six weeks” and “three months” were being thrown around while I lay there, hot tears flowing, wishing so so hard I could have been one of the lucky few to get instant relief.

I’m now five days out and it’s taken as much time to accept a slow recovery as reality. Not that I was so naive to think there would be no pain or discomfort after my long awaited back surgery, of course there would be incision pain (which is actually no big deal), but after hearing things like “back to work within a week” and “very minor procedure” I just didn’t think I’d be so debilitated. Heck, just the week before, my surgeon’s nurse said it may be possible to go home just hours after surgery! I could barely get up to use the restroom after surgery, much less get in a car and go home.

The next day I felt much better, no more fogginess from anesthesia, and was able to make several laps around the Ortho floor. Dragging my IV along the whole way.


Best part of staying in the hospital that one night? The pain pump. While I was resistant at first, scared I’d become addicted to it or that it would make me sick (which it did a little at first while the “tequila shots” were still wearing off), after about four hours of no pain meds my nurses all begged me to take a couple hits. And oh boy. That s&*% is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-ZZZZZZZZ.

And hey, you can’t beat hospital jello.


Now I’m home and am alerted every four hours via Maroon 5 (Move Like Jagger – even with a busted back I can’t help but do a dance) to take my handful of pills which help to keep my pain at bay until things “calm down” like my surgeon and his team have promised me they will. As someone who hates taking pills, I thought I’d be very resistant, but it gets me through the day. Stu and my parents also get me through the days, keeping Ethan happy and taking him places…I do not feel comfortable behind a wheel until these dosages are cut by 2/3. Each day seems a little better and I’m trying to stay positive, hoping in a week I’ll be getting back to normal…and getting back to living my life without back pain.

Until then, I have the best snuggle buddy.


And I’ve rigged up shop in my “nest” to finish up a few projects and stay in touch.


And each day I’ll be trying to conquer a little more of our block…baby steps.


Thank you to everyone who sent cards and flowers and texts and emails and phone calls…I woke up Thursday morning to Stu vigorously typing responses about my well being go so many of you. With my mom staying here an extra week to help me recoup (and finish Ethan’s curtains)I hope to be making plans with everyone very soon, with nothing holding me back but nap time! :)


9 Responses
  1. September 11, 2013

    Wow! wasn’t suppose to happen like this. Keep taking those baby steps to bigger ones. Soon I hope.

  2. Grandpa & Grandma Voboril permalink
    September 13, 2013

    Oh Becky, we do hope that nerve settles down for you soon!

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