Spinal Fusion Surgery: A New Distance To Navigate

Editors note: Here you can find Part 2 and Part 3 of Rick's journey here.

The first thing I noticed when I awakened was something I had not experienced for years.  It was not pain, that would come later. This sensation was something familiar yet not something I had experienced since I was a  young man. It had been at least 20 years but likely longer. My feet were hanging off the end of the bed.

I got taller

Before I was married, I slept in a twin bed. It was great when I was 12, but at 19, I had outgrown the bed by several years. When I slept in that bed, my feet always stuck out, and in the hospital room that early Thursday evening, that was my first sensation as I woke up. My feet are hanging off the end of the bed, and I must have gotten taller.

Well, I did get taller, by two to four inches perhaps. I will not know for several weeks how much, as my spine will settle back into a new normal position. But that morning in the hospital, I had been straightened as much as the surgeon felt was practical. So that morning and every day since, it has been very noticeable. Still, while I may have stretched out a bit, I was also scooted down in the bed, and even if I had not gotten taller at all, my feet would have been hanging off the end.  I had a good self-chuckle when I  figured that out. In my drug-induced fog, a simple observation that I was laying two feet from the head of the bed was a struggle.

In the hospital, I started with a cocktail of hydromorphone and hydrocodone, which meant the pain was not my concern when I woke up. It would be my concern soon enough when the medication started to wear off; it took a good hour to express to the nurse (see the pain medications) that I needed help to move up.

Expected outcome

With the feet thing worked out, I asked about the outcome. According to the surgeon, things had worked out well. I had lost a good deal of blood, and that would take time to regenerate. The surgery lasted five hours, and the surgeon felt he had accomplished all the things he wished to do. He is hopeful that I can avoid any additional repairs to get my back in a sustainable location.

Rods had been installed and screws placed, and the surgeon hopes that when things settle out, my forward lean caused by kyphosis will be "mostly" corrected.  The surgeon was clear both before and after surgery, that only time will tell.

Braced for success

In the meantime, I was awarded a brace that fits like a knight’s armor around my torso.  I was also given strict instructions to wear it when I was up unless I am on my way to relieve myself. He said I would mostly be in bed for some time. That was about 40 days ago as I write this, and so far, he was 100% correct. I spend most of my day in bed, mainly because being up, even in the brace, hurts. I still do not understand exactly why the pain is located across my shoulder blades. Almost in a straight line and one month out, acetaminophen and lying flat on my back are the things that help it feel better.

Every day is new

Each day I discover new things that have changed. It started with brushing my teeth. The first time I did it with my mouth no longer hunched over the sink, I was foaming toothpaste in every conceivable direction. It was a mess, and while I am getting better at it, I still look like a foam machine when I brush my teeth, it is messy, to say the least.

I find that my feet are not in the place where I think they should be as we walk.  Now that may seem like a small thing but learning to control my feet is a major skill I am trying to relearn. I often think hey how did my foot get over there, when I know I put it over here.

Of course, the worst thing is the counters in the house. I cannot tell you how many times I have set a glass down on the counter and have been 2-4 inches above the surface. When I got home, I was ready to call a contractor and get our cabinets raised six inches so they would feel more normal. Those things are suddenly very uncomfortable to stand at and forget doing simple kitchen work.

I will get used to all of this in time, and I will not even notice as time goes on. But over the last forty days, I have learned how much I had adapted to my forward-leaning body. Now I am working on getting used to the new position. Thankfully I have yet to break anything. But give it time. Hopefully, it will not be my nose.

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