My spine surgery journey: from preparation to recovery

Ohmygod, you guys ---- I just ran!!!
I've been out walking for the last hour because I didn't get any sleep last night and figured that once I was actually able to get up, it couldn't make things any worse by going to watch the sunrise.

Once we'd been out walking for about 10 min, a little thought bubble popped up: what if we tried to run a little?

It took a lot of mind wrestling to convince myself that, yes, it is humanly possible to do this odd gait they call "running".

As soon as we'd started; one pace, then another, it became less of a mind wrestle, and more of *that thing I used to do so long ago*.

No pain, just a feeling of heaviness in my torso that I'm sure will ease with time. (I have been cleared by my surgeon to do running, I should note).

I probably managed 15 seconds. I was totally buzzing.
A little later on, we tried another 15 seconds.
And then another.
And then right at the end, feeling warmed up and super hyped, we thought: let's try once more.

A whole minute. I jogged -- a very slow jog, but, still a jog -- for a whole minute.
I think by now you can imagine that I was very teary at that.

I stood against a tree, and let the rising sun bathe me with its light. The glow matching the one I felt within me.

I realised that my music was still playing through my headphones; I'd been totally oblivious to it for that whole minute.
'This Too Shall Last' by Anderson East.
I remember listening to it a lot during inpatient last year, which was the time period when maybe it could be a good thing to actually have our spine surgery first started popping up.

Full circle.
And I can run. Ohmygod. This would have totally blown ICU-toe-wiggling-bellbird's mind.
Two milestones in one day --- I just climbed a tree!

There was a ripe avocado looking at me from the top of our tree, so you bet I went up there and got it.

Something about tree climbing makes me feel so free.
Growing up, it was one of my favourite things to do. My primary school had a super long hedgerow of big, old, established trees. You could climb from one to the next without needing to go down to the ground.

They've since banned the students from climbing them as it's a health and safety nightmare in this current day, but back then it was just an absolute dream.

I came down just now with ripe avo in pocket and big smile on my face.
I'm guessing dissociative-bellbird's spontaneity has generated this succession of personal accomplishments, but I've been safe and tuned into my body as much as possible, and the tree climbing felt completely painless and easeful.

I think I'm volunteering myself as my flat's monkey-child to get all the ripened avos from the top branches for the rest of the season.

That was fun.
I can't wait to tell Surgeon all the things I've been doing.
It's been a little while since I posted an update here.
That's mostly a consequence of a (PTSD) symptom flare-up and the associated isolation, but I do have an update!

I've now passed by the 6 months (??????) post-op mark (!!) and am continuing to improve with each day.
I can notice my improvements (which I suppose is good in itself), but perhaps even as good is my surgeon sees them too!

I saw him about a week ago.
I think we'd barely greeted each other as he walked into the consult room I was waiting in before he said to me "I'm very happy."

No buts. No hesitation. No conditionals.
Just the simple fact that my surgeon had seen my x-rays I'd had earlier that morning; the first x-rays of mine he'd seen since 6 weeks post-op when I last saw him, and he was very happy.
And it felt f*cking awesome.

Our consult was exceptionally brief. Which I suppose at this point on the journey is a good thing.

He then asked me how my pain is, and so I told him how I had come off the paracetamol and single anti-inflammatory pill the weekend after I'd last seen him at 6 weeks, and how I haven't needed either/any since.
To which he replied that that was "pretty amazing".

Spinal fusion isn't indicated solely for pain reduction; it's indicated to limit the worsening of the curve and its associated effects, compared with if you were to not have the surgery. But they can't guarantee that there won't be post-operative pain occurring that didn't previously exist. My surgeon was quite clear with me about this before I elected to have my name on the surgery waiting list.

And I was in quite significant pain and discomfort before my surgery, so the fact that I'm essentially pain-free now is certainly pretty amazing to the both of us.
I think my swimming, stretching and walking has helped so much with that, as well as just time itself.
He did also ask about my activity, and was really pleased with what I have been doing.
He also asked if there was any activity that I wanted to do but was unsure about.
"Jogging. I've started doing very small bits of jogging during some walks, and I want to be able to get into it more regularly again."
"Yes, jogging is ok."
The only things I can't do until next year are contact-sports. I also can't lift heavy things still as my fusion is still healing.

But everything is on track.
And everything is good.

Probably my favourite bit of the consult was when my surgeon asked me to stand up so he could have a look at my back in person.
He was audibly impressed with how even and aligned I'm looking now, and then said to me:
"Yeah, you used to be quite wonky but you're very straight now."
We both laughed.

And with that, the consult was over.
And he said he'd like to see me again in 8 months. Which means that once again he's so happy with where I'm at that he isn't needing to see me at the regular post-op consult stages (6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months; I have done 6 weeks, 6 months, and next it will be 14 months).

I honestly just feel like pinching myself on a daily basis, because this is so beyond what I ever could have hoped for.
Where initially I was quite achy in the mornings, and needed to make adjustments while swimming (e.g. not kicking as I turned for a breath in freestyle), now I am not bothered by either.

I feel about as normal as I possibly could in the water.
I've started doing tumble turns at the end of some of my pool laps (they're not the prettiest yet, but they function!)
I don't yet have the upper body strength to push me up out of the water when I leave the pool, nor can I round my back to help with getting out, so it usually involves some extravagant lunge to get out of the water and onto the pool-side, but other than that.

Most of the time walking around during the day I don't even think about my spinal fusion.
I'm not achy in the mornings anymore.
I get up, and my torso feels so straight and strong and free from pain.
And by the end of the day it still feels that way.

Bending to pick something up is always going to require bending my knees, but that's the better way to do it anyway and it's habitual now to do so. Bending probably feels 80% natural now. Sometimes I do need to brace a hand on my thigh, but that's getting better each time.

Running, while not totally natural feeling yet, is definitely feeling a lot less weird with each instance.

Some days I find myself sitting at my desk, just wiggling my toes.
Thinking back over the last 6 months.
The literal and figurative steps that I've taken. From the 'step' of putting my name on the surgery waiting list, to the very first step I took 48 hours after my surgery.

We have a long way to go.
And the full healing of our spinal fusion is still goal #1 always in the forefront of our mind.
But damn. We have come a long, long way.
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Soooo, I just got the best news.
I just saw my GP and she gave me a copy of the letter she'd just had from my surgeon.
I knew that I was pleased with my back, and I knew that he was pleased with my back, but f*ck I didn't know this:

My lumbar curve has decreased by half.
From over 50 degrees to under 30 degrees.

I keep reading the letter over and over.
He also commented twice on my alignment:
"overall bellbird is doing very well and alignment is excellent"
"she looks great with very good clinical alignment"

My curve is in the twenties now.
The twenties!!!!!
This is better than I ever could have imagined it would be.

I pretty much ran up the 5 storeys of stairs back to my office, after my GP appt :laugh:

So. Freaking. Happy.
I'm giving myself the day off from dealing with trauma and all the other difficult things in my life right now. Today is a day for remembering what happiness feels like.
This morning I completed Day 1 of my Couch to 5K!

It's just over a year ago that I started it as prep for my surgery; first completing the 5km challenge and then transitioning into the 10km one.

I'm not aiming to go 10km this time round, but think I will aim for the 5 :happy: .

It was pretty surreal, being out this morning and thinking about how the last time I used the apps it was 72 hours before my surgery and I was running 10km for the first time.

I took the jogging intervals very steady, as I am mindful of not pushing myself too far, but damn I am much fitter at this stage than I had though I was. Barely got puffed at all!

But maybe it's the mental side playing a big part too -- I've gone from couch to 5K before. Sure, I hadn't had a spinal fusion then, but I was recovering from anorexia which also wasn't easy.
I did it back then, and so I know that I can do it again.
Progress update:

Bending now feels almost 100% normal.
No discomfort from it, and very little fatigue.

My residual numbness that I had on my upper left thigh and area to the left of my belly button (by the lowest point of my scar), had become noticeably less to the point where I'm not sure it even is there anymore.

I actually noticed it when shaving my legs earlier this week. Normally my left thigh would feel weird and tingly when the razor went off it, but for some reason this week it just felt like my normal skin again.

I then tested touching the area of skin on both sides of my belly button, with my eyes closed, to see if I could notice any difference in sensation and I couldn't.
I've kept applying rosehip oil to my scar and the area around it, so I wonder if that's it. My surgeon did say that the contact on my skin would help with numbness.

Then last week I was doing some yoga and thought: I wonder if I'm able to do a full push up again? (I had been building up my plank endurance over time before this)
So I tried.
And I can!
I did one, and the rush of endorphins and just the way my body felt being able to be worked in that way again felt so amazing, that I did another
And another
And then another three in a row.

I can also hold 2x 45 second forearm planks.

My hamstring flexibility has improved again to the point where I'm almost down on my seated splits.

And I'm onto week 3 of my couch to 5k app, so my running intervals are now longer than my walking ones.

I still haven't pain meds (we must be at 6 months + without any, now), and I'm finding that I think about my back less and less during the day.
In fact most of the time when I'm thinking about it, it's in the context of:

Oh my god.
I'm not in pain anymore.
And I can do so many things that I used to be able to.
I made it through spinal fusion surgery.
I still have recovery ahead of me.
But I'm so happy with how far I've come, and where I am.
I don't have to worry about my condition progressing as I age.
I don't feel deformed when I look in the mirror.
I feel beautiful.
And strong.
And just so happy that I went through with this.