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So you have a bad back, understanding Spondylolisthesis – part 2

Check out part 1 where I explained all about Spondylolisthesis and the first operation I had to correct the problem. Unfortunately the first operation didn’t prove to be too successful and in May 2013 I was told that I needed to have another operation to stabilise my spine.

On 24th June 2013 I went into hospital to have my instrumented lumber fusion redone. This time I knew what to expect and was understandably nervous about how much pain I was going to be in post-op and how successful it would be this time around. Before I signed the consent form the surgeon explained all the risks and we agreed that if there was any chance of damaging the nerves that controlled my bowel or bladder function that he should stop and we would look at alternative surgery. In addition I also talked to the anaesthetist about feeling so sick after the last operation and the bleed during surgery, this time he had a machine in surgery to re use the blood I could loose and therefore I hopefully wouldn’t need a transfusion.

The hospital was fantastic and let my husband come into the room and hold my hand when I was put to sleep, I managed to hold it together until I walked into that room! Waking up from the operation was a bit of a blur this time round. I had an epidural in and was in intensive care, the nurse looking after me throughout the first night was asked to do 15 minute obs so I didn’t get much sleep that night. The epidural line also kept alarming saying there was something wrong so I got as much sleep as I could in the first 24 hours.

Once I was more awake I asked them to take out the epidural line as it kept alarming and there wasn’t much numbness, it really didn’t seem to be working. Instead I had a patient controlled morphine pump that I used instead. Once the epidural had been removed and full sensation was back I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn’t in the same level of agony I was in after the first operation.

After a day the physio came round and I was helped to get out of bed and take a few steps. I was in a lot of pain but one thing I noticed instantly was that I felt straight, I was sitting and standing upright, before the operations I tended to lean forward a bit. I managed to walk to the door of my room and get back into bed with a little assistance.

On day 3 I was with the physio and started walking down the corridor at the hospital. The physio stood next to me supporting my arm but I didn’t need crutches and I felt 100 times better than I did after the first operation. In total I stayed in hospital for a week before I was discharged, however this time a felt ready to go home. I was like a different woman when essentially I had had the same operation.

Below is a picture of the metal work they put in the second time round. It’s a different configuration than the first operation and clearly this was better for me.

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Going home from hospital this time I was far more confident, things just felt right and I begin to wonder if the first operation had just been wrong from day 1. Unless you have a similar experience to compare this with I guess there’s no way you’d ever know and you just assume what you are feeling is normal.

This time around I also decided to change physio to a local company called BWT rather than one at the Nuffield, they had been recommended to me by friends and BUPA were happy to cover this as pat of my policy. BWT started off by lending me a game ready, this is a fantastic machine that uses ice water and compression to take down the swelling and inflammation. I had this at home for three weeks and would use it 4/5 times a day, it really is the best ice pack ever and bearing in mind we were going through a heat wave I was very pleased to use it.

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After 3 weeks I started physio with BWT, at first it was assessing my mobility, gentle core strengthening exercises and some soft tissue massage. I was also told to use my crutches to walk using the opposite hand to opposite leg so I could keep a semi-normal walking pattern. Within 6 weeks I had managed to stop using the crutches and walk albeit slowly but unsupported, this was very different to the 4 months that I was reliant on crutches after the first operation.

Things at home were also easier this time around, my husband was better this time at asking for help and we got a cleaner in for a couple of months so I didn’t feel that I was just dumping all the household chores on him! The boys were slightly older and because they had helped me after the first operation they were a bit more self sufficient, this meant I could be left alone with them for short periods of time. In fact the boys were fantastic and enjoyed visiting me in hospital and looking after me at home.

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After 8 weeks physio started to progress and I tried acupuncture and cupping, which at first I was very dubious about but decided to try, in fact they really helped and made a big difference. After 12 weeks the physio took me into the gym and started giving my some gentle cardio work and also core strengthening work to do. I just couldn’t get over how different this recovery was from the last operation.

At the 10 week post-op mark I also decided that it was time to start reducing the level of medications that I was taking. I was still on the 100mg of slow release morphine, amitriptyline, anti-inflammatories and paracetamol. I don’t like taking medication for the sake of taking it, and as my recovery was progressing I didn’t feel that I was in enough pain to warrant taking the level of morphine I was on. I spoke to the doctor and she explained that I would have to stop taking the morphine very gradually as I had taken it for approximately a year and it would be difficult. I reduced the dosage by 10mg at night for the first week then 10mg in the morning the following week, so slowly I could reduce the amount. Until I got down to about 50mg a day the reduction was OK, I didn’t experience any big side effects and the pain was manageable.

Stopping the last 50mg of morphine a day was really difficult. All of a sudden the drop of 10mg was a 20%/25%/33% reduction etc each week. I had to go about 10 – 14 days between each reduction, for the first 4-5 days I felt awful. It was like having really bad flu, my whole body ached, but crucially I wasn’t in anymore pain with my back. This is when I knew my body really didn’t need the medication and I just had to get it out of my system.

By November/December time I was finally off all the morphine and my back was going from strength to strength, I was so pleased I’d had the second operation, it appeared that I was finally fixed. Once the swelling had gone down I noticed that I could feel some of the screws under the skin in my lumber area, it was tender if I sat or lay against anything hard or banged them but if this was the only downside of the operation then I think I got away very lightly. I mentioned this to the physio and the surgeon but they explained that there wasn’t a lot of fat in that area of the back to cover over them and that was how it would stay.

In January 2014 I went back to work and life really got back to normal, even better than it had been before all the operation and back complaints started. I started to do weekly pilates with my physio, I thought she’d go gently due to the back surgery but no chance she really pushed me! Doing this weekly really improved my stamina and core strength dramatically it also made me very aware of the correct posture I should be using.

In December 2014 I started to get a few twinges, just little things like I bent over to pick a glass of water up off the floor and it really hurt. I know I can bend over and touch my toes so I didn’t understand why this was starting to hurt. The area around my lumber spine started to hurt more and the screws were feeling more prominent than normal. I asked my physio for her opinion as she knows my back as well as I do and she also thought the screws were more prominent.

I visited my GP who said I would need to go to the spinal surgeon and ask for an X-Ray, that was the only way they would be able to know what was going on. I arranged both of these and had the X-Ray’s done at my local hospital and sent to my consultant who works about 40 minutes away from where we live. I got a telephone call from his secretary stating he’d looked at the X-Ray’s and everything looked fine and didn’t need to see me. I wasn’t very happy with this outcome and a friend suggested that I get a second opinion from a spinal surgeon at a local hospital. Within a few weeks I had an appointment through and he had ordered an CT scan to show exactly what was happening. The symptoms were getting slightly worse and I felt deep down that something wasn’t right with my back and the metal work.

When the CT scan results came through I had another appointment with the new surgeon, he couldn’t see clearly what was going on, there was a lot of flaring on the CT scan, there maybe an indication that a screw was loose but it just wasn’t clear. I now had an option of wait and see if things improved or have the metal work removed. I decided that I wanted the metal work removed, it was becoming more and more uncomfortable and I believed something was wrong, it was only in there to support the spine until the fusion was solid and this all looked good now.

On 10th February 2015, I went into my local hospital to have the metal work taken out. I was more relaxed about having this operation, I knew that the recovery wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad. They took out the metal work and confirmed that 2 of the screws were loose and 1 had snapped, the snapped screw they decided to remove the top but leave the broken bit as it was so far in the bone. When I came round after the operation I was shocked to see how much metal work there was and I was also relived that I hadn’t been imagining things.

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The recovery after this final operation was a lot quicker, I only spent 1 night in hospital before I decided I was fine to come home. My husband spent the first 10 days at home looking after me and I was taking paracetamol and Oramorph for the first 2 weeks only. I was able to drive within 3 weeks, started pilates in 7 weeks and back to work in 10 weeks.

All of this just goes to show that your body is an amazing thing and can recover and repair itself from numerous problems and operations. I am a much stronger person for going through this and due to the fact that I was in pain for so long I have a better idea about what’s important to me in my life and what my priorities are. You have to work to get better and these things aren’t just going to fix themselves, yes going to the gym and pilates hurt but I was using muscles I hadn’t used for years and they needed to be built up.

I don’t know whether I’ll have other back issues and need more surgeries in future but if I do I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Yes I’ve had to make a few lifestyle changes and be careful about what I do but I certainly don’t wrap myself up in cotton wool and worry. In fact we decided that we would try for the third baby, things with my back are stable and if we didn’t do this now we never would. I’m pleased to say that baby no 3 is due in January 2016. Yes I’m crazy and expecting this pregnancy to hurt but hey I’ve been through all of this I know I can get through the pregnancy and I get the most wonderful gift at the end.

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10 Comments

  • Reply So you have a bad back, understanding what is wrong. Part 1 | Backsnbumps.com

    […] Check out part 2 here […]

    September 15, 2015 at 2:52 pm
  • Reply Louisa Herridge

    Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing your story. I think you are very brave as I know how difficult back pain in. I suffered for 8 years with severe nerve pain and sciatica had a microdyscectomy which helped at first but then 3 years later it came back but this time worse. An epidural didn’t help and was one of the worst experiences! Finally after countless visits to the specialist and MRIs I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. I had two discs fully replaced in 2010. L4/L5 and L5/S1 The time in hospital was a week, I had a spinal bleed which caused sever sickness and verigo. As you say, when they removed the catheter there was no more hiding. Intensive physio, practically learning to walk again, followed with weeks of literally step by step recovery. It was a very long and slow process but changed my life. Once the recovery was over I weaned off the orimorph, amitriptyline, naproxen, tramadol….. The night sweats and withdrawals were like Trainspotting!!! But here I am five years later. I’ve just had a baby 12 weeks ago. I was very worried but it all went well. I suffered severe SPD and the osteopath said it was inevitable with my history so keep up your Pilates…I was naughty and stopped going a few years ago which I now regret. I had a natural labour (although I was induced) and I had an epidural which was amazing. I was a bit apprehensive of having one but it was great. I had a little back pain after birth for 2-3 weeks but now all seems normal (fingers crossed) I know my history is different but thought I’d share. Good luck and I will keep any eye on your blog for updates. Xxx

    September 14, 2015 at 9:20 am
    • Reply Lisa

      Hi Louisa
      Thanks so much for your response and sharing your story. Congratulation on your new little bundle, I’m really glad to hear the labour went well and your feeling OK now. I’m hoping to have a similar experience to you fingers crossed xx

      September 14, 2015 at 5:59 pm
  • Reply Mamavsteacher

    Such a long struggle for you but such a wonderful thing to be looking forward to now! Thanks for sharing #TwinklyTuesday

    September 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm
    • Reply Lisa

      It is very exciting and to be fair can’t believe how quickly the last 4 months have gone 🙂

      September 11, 2015 at 8:19 pm
  • Reply Lisa (mummascribbles)

    Gosh you have really been through it. That metal work is pretty spectacular, it’s huge! Massive congratulations on baby number three, I hope your body lets you have a happy and healthy (and pain free) pregnancy 🙂 Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

    September 8, 2015 at 10:35 pm
  • Reply farmerswifeandmummy

    I feel like I didn’t blink throughout that. What a time you have been through. Very excited to continue this journey with you and pray all is well. #MaternityMondays

    September 7, 2015 at 8:41 pm
    • Reply Lisa

      Thank you thats such a kind comment, it’s nice to get it all down on paper, so to speak 🙂

      September 7, 2015 at 9:45 pm
  • Reply Caroline (Becoming a SAHM)

    You are so strong ad wow to gt pregnant again after all of that and when you know it is going to hurt! Best of luck with it all! X Thanks for linking with #MaternityMondays xx

    September 7, 2015 at 5:52 pm
    • Reply Lisa

      Thanks Caroline. I know this pregnancy will be worth it when bubba arrives 🙂

      September 7, 2015 at 9:46 pm

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