I must remind myself to be thankful for what I’ve got

I really really really need to remind myself that I’m living—for the most part—with little back pain these days. And, it wasn’t so long ago that I used to wake-up in such severe pain that I really didn’t want to even wake-up anymore.

Yea. That’s the brutal truth that I need to remind myself about right now.

I’m shooting baskets and going to dance classes and…I don’t feel like I’ve got a knife permanently buried in the left-side of my abdomen (what they call referred pain). Not to mention all the other pain throughout the lumbar region…the way I was going through life hunched over…the way my urination was all screwed-up…the list of bad stuff goes on. I need to remind myself about this. I’ll explain why shortly.

Normally, I do feel so damn thankful that I can walk basically pain free. One day I felt so thankful for that…as I was walking laps around the court…I felt so thankful that I almost started crying.

But, to be honest…I was hoping to hear that I could run again…that I’d be able to play basketball on an informal team at the gym…that I could go for a jog…well, those things aren’t going to happen. I’ll get to that in a bit…

Was at the spine surgeon check-up yesterday


What happened was I was at the spine surgeon appointment for my check-up. It’s been about 14 months since I had the 2 level fusion (L4-L5-S1).

Like the typical nerd that I am…I had a little notebook with the questions and things I wanted to talk about. Part of this preparation is being, as mentioned, a nerd…part of it is also about respecting everybody’s time…and, part of it is about wanting to get the most out of the appointment. After all, the last one was six months ago…and, as I found out the next one won’t be for a year…yes, A YEAR!

I took a couple pictures of my X-Ray and for some weird reason felt weird about that…I’m weird…

So, I waited in the room. They had a few minutes before taken a few X-Rays of my back. And, the X-Ray was on a computer monitor. So, I took a couple pictures of my X-Ray on the monitor. I do that every time. And, each time I somehow have a feeling that I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Why do I have that feeling? It’s my X-Ray. I don’t know. My brain is weird. But, I can have a copy of my own damn X-Ray. Why the guilty feeling? As I said, my brain is weird!

So, I’m waiting. And, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say. I always make a point to thank the surgeon. And, I really mean that. He did save my life. That’s not my being overly dramatic. I really was in such bad shape before the surgery that I would probably technically meet the criteria for being suicidal. I know that sounds so morbid. And, I obviously never took any drastic step during those years of misery. But, what I’m saying…being honest about…is that you cannot control those type of thoughts from entering your mind and swirling around and leaving their putrid stain.

The topics on my list that I want to discuss with my spine surgeon

So, I’m waiting with my list. And, I’m reading over the list. Keep in mind: the fusion is done…it was a bit over a year ago. I’m feeling pretty good. Here are some of the things that I want to talk about:

CT optimal for evaluating bone graft?
What does the X-Ray imaging indicate about the fusion and how well the bone formed?
What’s the chance of instrumentation failure?
How did I gain nearly two inches of height after the surgery?
Is there any damage in the adjacent vertebrae?
Disc disease above or below fusion?
Is there visible osseous formation in or around the cage? (This indicates a good fusion)
Can I damage the hardware from repeated movements such as small jumps in a dance class?
Should I still be sleeping on my side?
What’s the guideline now for how much weight I can safely lift?
Is twisting permanently bad? Will I ever be able to twist at the waist at all?
Is it bad to hang from a bar with my hands on the bar?
BMD is bone mineral density?
If the fusion worked, can the instrumentation be removed?
Is the retrograde ejaculation a result of the fusion surgery?

So, that was my pretty lengthy list—slightly disorganized, as you can see—of topics to cover with the surgeon if time permitted.

And, we’re sitting down. And, one of his assistants is in the room. A woman who I think assists with the surgeries. She’s learning or something. She’s friendly.

So, together we look at the X-ray.

X-ray of my fusion after 6 months

spinal fusion hardware cage

This is an X-ray of my spinal fusion hardware taken 6 MONTHS after spinal fusion surgery

X-ray of my fusion after 14 months

spinal fusion x-ray 14 months after surgery

This is an X-ray of my spinal fusion hardware taken 14 MONTHS after spinal fusion surgery

The difference in those X-rays???

So, I’m no surgeon. As far as seeing and understanding any type of difference from comparing those pictures…I mean, I just don’t really know what I’m looking at. It seems like some of the dark space has maybe shrunk a bit in the bottom picture? Maybe…

What did the X-Ray indicate about the bone formation?

“It hasn’t fused, has it?” I ask.

“Sure, it has, look.”

So, the surgeon explains the X-ray and what the different shadings mean in different sections.

“The bone’s formed probably 80%.”

I was glad and surprised to hear that. I didn’t think from an X-ray you could give that sort of estimate. I thought it had to be a CT scan. But, hey…he’s the surgeon. He saved my life. I’ll go by what he says! So, I got 80% in 14 months. Okay.

And, I mostly went through the list. I had the sensation that he didn’t much want to talk to me. This impression may have been right or wrong. I don’t know. I don’t believe I have an inferiority problem or anything. It sounds that way, perhaps. But, I couldn’t help but feel that he didn’t hold me in very high regard. Strange, because…

…in the past, he seemed to be very friendly and want to talk to me at great length. Maybe he was busy and had a bunch of people waiting. I can get overly sensitive sometimes! Maybe he had things on his mind: such as his own problems! I can get so damn self-centered that my own judgment is questionable.

The summary of our conversation

So, the truth is that I want to play basketball and take Judo classes and be able to fully do the twists and things in my dance class. That’s the truth. In some ways, I’ve stopped being grateful for just simply being able to walk without being in agony.

I’m going to sort of repeat that. Not to be obnoxious. But because it’s what this really comes down to. The truth is that my gratitude has waned. I’ve stopped having an overwhelming gratitude for simply being able to walk! It wasn’t that long ago that the pain dropped me to my knees at the grocery store. I had to pause before taking another step.

It wasn’t so long ago that I would wake up in such a state of misery that I just didn’t want to even wake up. I need to remember those things! I really need to remember those things!

My memory of the pain and misery has faded a bit

It’s true. Because, the surgeon told me that running and jogging would probably never be a good idea for me. And, that hit me hard. And, the pretty severe limitations on how much weight I can lift should always be in effect. And, twisting at the waist will never be something I should much do.

And, I felt disappointed. And, I still feel kind of disappointed. You know: the fantasies about playing pick-up basketball, dancing and Judo throws. I’m human. I think it’s human and natural to want more movement possibilities.

Now, something I do want to write about…something that I’ve observed in the past concerns the different opinions I’ve heard from the surgeon vs. the physical therapist. And, once again it followed the pattern: the surgeon is much more conservative when discussing what I can physically do.

I get that. The surgeon has got nothing to gain by me taking Judo or playing full-court basketball. All he stands is to lose. I get injured. And, there I am saying, “But, the doctor said I could.” These guys are worried about lawsuits and such. I don’t blame them. With the physical therapist…it’s just such a different situation. So…

I am thankful to be able to walk. I am thankful that I’m no longer miserable.

But, I don’t want to lie. I was hoping that I’d be able to play basketball and dance and run.

But, I am thankful that I can walk.