I have a complicated back story and thought that I would write a few blog posts to explain exactly what has happened to me in detail, there was too much to write in one post so though I would split this up a bit. I hope this will help other people with similar back conditions understand what it is like to go through surgery and raise awareness of Spondylolisthesis. I am the kind of person that when people ask how I am I automatically say ‘fine’ even if I’m unable to walk I’m still saying ‘yes I’m OK don’t worry about me’.
The trouble with illnesses is that when people can’t actually see what is wrong with you they can be quite dismissive of the fact that you’re in pain. I think that most ailments probably fit into this category and with an issue like a bad back it effects so much of the population that I find people give me the nod and ‘oh yes, I know exactly how you feel’.
My story is slightly different and I was diagnosed with Grade 3 Spondylolisthesis back in 2012. The easiest way to explain this is that the top part of my spine was slipping off the bottom part. Although this wasn’t causing me back pain what is was doing was compressing my spinal cord and squashing the nerves in my legs.
There are 4 different grades of Spondylolisthesis see the pictures below;
I had the first operation in 2012 and I was lucky I get private health care through work so only had to wait 3 weeks for the operation. I think the NHS waiting list was about 18 months at the time and bearing in mind I was struggling to walk at this point I don’t know what would have happened if I’d had to wait that long.
I didn’t do any research before the operation as to be honest I was completely petrified. I knew I was seeing a good surgeon and had complete trust in him, I didn’t even understand what they were going to do apart from screw my spine back together. I certainly didn’t want to scare myself anymore before the operation and the fact of the matter was that I had to have this done there was no choice. It was only after the operation and seeing the X-Ray’s that I really understood what they had done.
These are some of my X-Ray’s after the first operation. That’s some pretty impressive metal work in my opinion. I had thought the screws would be tiny!
Waking up from the operation I spent two days in intensive care as I had an epidural and they wanted to keep a close eye on me. The surgeon said there had been a few problems during the operation, the screws into my pelvis wouldn’t hold and had to be put in a different way, also I had lost a lot of blood and needed a transfusion my BP was 75/38. So really I had no clue what was going on I just knew that my back really hurt.
This is a link to an animated video from the spine health website that shows Spinal Fusion Surgery.
For the first 5 days I wasn’t able to move unaided, I couldn’t even role over in bed by myself and the nurses had to help me. I started physio on day 2 and they were helping me get up, walking to the door in my room was a massive achievement for me. After 5 days the catheter I’d had in was removed so now I had to get out of bed, there was no choice to be lazy!
The requirements for going home was to be able to walk to the end of the corridor and go up and down the stairs, all of this I was reliant on crutches for. I went home after 7 days and to be honest I really didn’t feel ready. I thought that I had felt pain before, I’ve given birth to 2 kids and suffered from migraines for 12 years, but this was pain on a new level.
Back at home my husband took 2 weeks off work to look after me, and friends and family rallied around. I don’t think I was prepared for how difficult the recovery would be and was expecting a 4-6 week time frame. I started physio and used a hydrotherapy pool but this was a really long struggle and harder than I thought. It really effected the relationship with my husband as I was and felt completely useless while he was working and picking up everything to do with the kids and the house. It was not a nice period in my life.
I was on crutches until about January at which time I got a stern talking to by my mother who told me to pull myself together and get on with life. I shouldn’t have been in this much pain 4 months after the operation, in truth I was on 60mg of slow release morphine, anti-inflammatories, amitriptyline, paracetamol and a handful of laxatives! I asked the doctor to increase the dosage of morphine and slowly began to do more, simply starting with walking around the block and getting off the crutches.
After 6 months I had to go back to work, they’d be so understanding and supportive but it was a real struggle. In May, 8 months after the operation, I was still in a lot of pain and now on 100mg of morphine, plus all the other tablets, each day. Although I was certainly more positive about life, I figured that if this was how life was going to be from now on I would just need to find a way to live with chronic pain and modify a few things, I had stopped feeling sorry for myself.
I had a follow up appointment and X-ray with the consultant and he was happy with how everything was looking. In terms of my pain I got the feeling that all the medical professionals just thought I was a bit of a hypochondriac with a low pain threshold and slight morphine addiction! As I was leaving the appointment I made a throw away comment about a lump I’d felt along my scar and if he could just check to see if it was scar tissue. At this point things changed.
It turns out that the lump I could feel was a screw and no it shouldn’t be there, I was sent for a CT scan there and then and told that the screws were loose. The reason I was in so much pain was that every time I moved the screws were moving in and out of my spine, well this explained a few things. In my head I felt a bit vindicated, at least there was a reason I was in pain it wasn’t just me being a hypochondriac, and if there was a reason then surely it could be fixed.
As my spine hadn’t been stabilised for a while it had meant that the fusion had never had a chance to happen. The screws and rods they used were simply to hold the bones in the correct place until new bone could grow around them and stabilise my spine. This meant that the surgeon would need to start again, I would need the metalwork taken out and a new set put back in.
At this point I had very mixed emotions. I wanted my back fixed and the pain to stop but I also felt like the last 9 months had just been wasted and I was now back at square one. I was also very much aware of what the operation would entail and was worried that the recovery period would be even worse this time.
In June 2013 I went into hospital to have the metal work removed and a new set put in.
I’ll continue this story in the next blog post…
Check out part 2 here