Well, the day finally came. On Monday, October 3, I had microdiscectomy surgery to attempt to repair a 3+ year old herniated disc and associated pain.
The injury happened when I was laying floor tile at the Christian Campus House in July 2008. I was working by myself, lifting improperly, and working quickly to get the whole job done in a matter of just a couple days. I learned a lot about laying ceramic tile (and for the most part the job turned out really well), but I also learned a lot about how to lift properly.
After this initial injury, I let a couple months go by without doing anything about it. I finally told my mom (who works at a Sports Medicine office in Indy that also has a Muncie office), and I got in to see the doc in the Muncie office. He prescribed a muscle relaxant, and I headed off to some physical therapy (also in Muncie) to try to straighten out my badly torqued torso.
Several weeks went by, and my pain had been improving. I also saw my chiropractor a few times, and he helped get things in better alignment. But then our wedding was upon us, and I stopped all treatments at this point… and for the ensuing year and a half.
Finally, at the beginning of 2011, I decided it was time to truly find out what had happened and get it taken care of, no matter what that meant. I started with my family doc, who then sent me on to get an MRI (one slice of which you can see at the top of the post). That MRI determined that I in fact had a herniated (and degenerated) disc. We started with an epidural steroid injection and chased that with more PT. This combo was great: the pain was significantly reduced and I began to get a bit stronger in my trunk/core.
However, the shot began wearing off (and I admittedly began tapering off on doing my home exercises), and the pain began to return. And it was arguably the worst it had been yet. I started going to the chiropractor again, but when he saw the MRI, even he basically agreed that surgery looked quite likely.
After several more weeks of chiropractic treatments, I felt like I had done my due diligence (an MRI, an epidural, two lengthy rounds of PT, two rounds of chiropractic work) and could now truly pursue surgery. I set up a consult with the Indiana Spine Group (with whom I had consulted previously and through whom I had received the epidural), and we got surgery on the calendar.
The morning of the surgery came, and I had of course been fasting since midnight the night before (really it had been more like 9pm). We got up early and arrived at the hospital around 7:30am (for a 9:30 surgery time). I got registered and processed, and they took me back to get changed into my lovely hospital gown/slippers/cap and start my IV. That was the only point where I surprised myself and had trouble… as they began the IV, they struggled. A lot. Turns out the skin on the back of my hand is pretty thick, and they were using a new needle that apparently they all hate (“You have no idea when you’re in the vein!” they commiserated to one another). I don’t have a problem with needles per se, in fact, I like to look down and see what it’s like normally, but after they had stabbed away a few times they asked me “You feeling okay?” I said, “Yeah, I’m good, well, I’m a little light-headed, no wait I’m a lot light-headed.” They backed the needle out, laid me back, and got a cool rag on my forehead, and then I started feeling better. Never actually passed out. It was so weird. After giving it a break, they then found an old-style needle and hit up the vein in the inside of my elbow, and had no trouble at all.
From then on, everything was great. Hurry up and wait for the anesthesiologist… he seemed like a cool guy, and he helped explain the exact progression that would follow (wheel me to OR, he’d add something to the IV, I’d be out, then they’d move and flip me, perform surgery, bring me back to recovery, then I’d start waking up). Sounded good to me!
Recovery has been interesting. Mostly it’s been just fine. Tuesday (the day after surgery) was pretty rough. A lot of pain, a lot more than I expected. After talking to the nurses, we found out we could add ibuprofen in the off-hours between oxycodone doses. That definitely helped to bring the swelling and stiffness/tightness down a lot and continues to do so.
The nerve that was being pinched off by the herniation was described post-op by Dr. Kraemer as “very angry.” So we’ll see just how quickly it gets restored to normal function. As it stands right now, I do still have some nerve-related pain down the leg, just as before the surgery. Long-term it likely will be much improved, possibly even 100%. But for now, I’ll just be happy with some improvement. Getting the surgery-related pain tackled is the first hurdle, and we’re well on our way.
I think it’s overall been a good experience. I’ll know better in a week or two. 🙂 There definitely are temporary limitations on what I can do, lift, etc., but even those will go away eventually. If you have any comments or questions feel free to drop ’em here! I certainly didn’t cover every aspect for brevity’s sake, but I would love to talk about it!