My surgery on March 14 was for “lumbar spinal stenosis and laminectomy with fusion.” Big words that had never been in my vocabulary — words that scared the bejesus out of me and changed my life.
No one wants to have a back operation. Tales of “it didn’t work, the pain never went away” echo through waiting rooms at out-patient physical therapy facilities. Well-meaning friends describe an aunt or neighbor who underwent back surgery and say, “Nothing changed. You sure you want to do this?”
Ultimately it’s a decision only you can make for yourself, and I am so glad I decided to do it. From my last glimpse of scrub-suited doctors, anesthesiologists and nurses in the operating room at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, it’s been an amazing adventure.
Several days after the operation, swaddled in a blanket and wearing nothing but a polka dot “johnny,” I was loaded onto a gurney and into an ambulance for transfer to the Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (I begged the EMT, “Please take my picture so I can send it to my kids.”)
Ten days in my own sunny room at this nurturing rehab hospital not only accelerated my recovery, it introduced me to a cast of characters cantering to sainthood. During my stay I never once heard a cross word or felt that I was anything other than their primary patient. And I had tough competition.
I saw patients recovering from brain surgery, others breathing into oxygen masks, some with humongous casts on their legs. A few just sat in their wheelchairs, oblivious to the world around them. The PT and OT staff never flagged in their positive encouragement and suggestions.
We patients were something else, too. Nearly every one of us had “bed hair” and sported thick treaded hospital socks. Our morning “cocktails” consisted of Milk of Magnesia laced with Colace and washed down with warmed prune juice. We’d do “supine exercise” in a spacious sunlit room, hoping to raise a leg 10 inches off the mat. Fashions ranged from baggy sweat pants and loose knit tops to comfy pjs.
“No BLTs for at least six weeks,” I was told by every doctor, nurse and tech. That’s medical speak for no Bending, Lifting or Twisting. For someone who used to play 18 holes of golf four times a week and whose FitBit registered 10,000 steps daily, learning to extricate myself from a wheelchair to a walker and then into the front seat of a car wasn’t pretty— or easy.
In the rehab hospital’s mock kitchen (complete with washer/dryer, stove, dishwasher and refrigerator) I spent one entire therapy session learning how to open the refrigerator and transfer a half/pint of milk over to the sink area. Having accomplished that, I felt I deserved an Olympic medal.
I’m home in Maine now, mending more each day. I still use a walker but a cane is in my very near future. I can’t drive for another month. The pain that sent me to the Brigham is gone. Nurse Wonderful is quite wonderful. Any complaints? Not from this happy girl.
P.S. Thank you all so much for your cards and emails — they have truly enhanced and revved up my recovery.