Thursday, April 25, 2019

Broken Back Recovery: After The First Year

I'm currently 16 months out from the accident/surgery.

My feet still burn. My calves still ache. This is because of the damage to my S1 nerve. Is it getting better? Maybe, but so slowly its almost imperceptible. Will it ever heal fully? Unlikely, although I'm not giving up on it. The doctors told me that the bulk of my recovery will happen within the first two years although I may slowly improve for years beyond that time. I saw my surgeon yesterday and he reiterated that I will continue to recover for years and years but may never see 100% recovery. For me, this means I'm looking at a new career because I can't do what I used to without fine motor control of my feet.

My back and related injuries, excluding the S1 nerve, seem to be improving. I still have minor aches and pains that I didn't have before the accident. I feel stiff and need to start moving slowly and intentionally before my body can move fluidly and without effort. It's almost like I need to warm up before I can move "normally".

Another issue which I didn't have before the accident is bowel and bladder control. I find that I need to go to the bathroom more often and I can't hold it for as long as I used to before. I'm not sure if that is just an aging issue that would have occurred regardless of my broken back or if it is a direct result of my broken back. I know my control is better than the first three months after my surgery. I'm not sure how much its improved since then.

I still keep a journal of my recovery to remind myself of the process I've been through and see where I've come from. As things improve I will keep updating.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Broken Back Recovery: Months 7 to 12

By this time things were improving much slower. Comparing myself to the day before was a little depressing because I couldn't see any improvement. However, I kept a journal of my recovery and I could look back a month or so and see how far I had come. That definitely kept me in a positive mood. Occasionally I would do something I hadn't done for many weeks and I would be pleasantly surprised how much easier it was. During this time my physio moved to 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. And was usually followed by a lot of rest afterwards.

The aches, pains, numbness were still going away. My feet still had a burning sensation but everything else felt more like muscle soreness which I was grateful for. It meant my muscles were moving and getting stronger. My strength had almost returned to pre-accident levels in some areas. I was finally able to do curl ups again. I still had almost no strength in my calves. I couldn't stand on my toes, which still affects my movement, speed, balance, etc... My cardio component was improving. I attempted running. It wasn't great, but it was better than nothing.

Despite the issues I have with my S1 nerve and corresponding muscles, by the end of the year I almost felt normal again. Almost.

Broken Back Recovery: Months 4 to 6

As I write this, I need to let the readers know this is one year after the fact, so I'm mining my memories and my journal for this one. But I'm still in the ball park.

Months 4 to 6 after my back surgery saw the greatest and fastest recovery. I started going to physio for 2 hours a day, 3 days a week, although by that time I was forcing myself to do homemade exercises in my free time. My strength was returning. I was initially limited to lifting 5 pounds or less. I increased that on my own as I felt my strength returning. My flexibility was improving greatly with constant stretching. My balance was also improving. I would practice standing on one foot at a time. My left leg/foot was lagging behind its right side counterpart in all areas but I could balance on each for a minute before tiring/falling.

My walking gait was improving slowly. My core strength was still weak and so I didn't have a good foundation from which to move my extremities. My calves still had almost no strength (as result of my S1 nerve impingement which may never fully recover). The result was that I couldn't stand on my toes or use my feet to push back as I leaned forward. This meant that I always leaned backwards when walking or standing because my center of gravity was over my heels. In physio they had me lean forward as far as I could without falling over. I could barely make it to vertical. And that felt like I was going to fall on my face. This is very specific to my back injury and probably won't be similar for most. I worked on this a lot and my walking gait improved but it still had a very long way to go.

After my accident I had a large numb area that included my entire mid section, from lower back to below my glutes. Over this time it started shrinking and localizing itself at my point of injury. By 6 months it was almost completely gone.

I still had pain in my legs but it was less than before. My feet still had burning sensations. My back had odd pains on occasion, but it mostly felt like sore muscles which I took as a good sign.

My cardio and endurance were almost nonexistent. I could barely move my extremities, let alone move them quickly and so this was an area that lagged behind.

I definitely felt more normal by this time. I could see the light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Broken Back Recovery: The First 3 Months

(Posted 1 year after it was written)

I'm three months out from my spinal fusion surgery. When I think about where I am now its difficult to remember where I cam from. It almost feels like a dream.

First month -Very sick from the anesthesia for the first week. Very hungry, but nauseous. I couldn't eat more than soup. I lost 15 pounds. I would wake up every hour on the hour all night long. I dreaded going to bed because I knew I wouldn't sleep. Very tired. I would spend almost 18 hours a day in bed. My back was quite sore. I was terrified of coughing or sneezing because of the pain in my back. However the most pain was in my legs. My calves were constantly in pain. In the hospital I had pneumatic cuffs on my legs to help with my circulation. At home I didn't have the cuffs and so my legs hurt a lot. My feet hurt a lot too. Most of my pain meds were for my feet and legs. I would also get random shots of pain in my left leg. My feet hurt were swollen and always cold. My muscles were all incredibly stiff. I could barely move. I could barely go up or down stairs because of my stiffness. I had a wheel chair and walker for the first few weeks. Eventually I moved on to the cane. By the end of the month I found it easier to walk without the cane but I still used it outside on uneven surfaces. I barely had bladder or bowel control. I wore diapers for the first month out of the hospital. I was not allowed to bend or twist.

Second month -I eventually stopped taking all my pain meds, muscle relaxants and laxatives. Bowel movements were painful. I dreaded trying to go to the bathroom. It hurt and sometimes took up half an hour. I almost passed out once or twice. My sleep pattern slowly improved. I would only wake up 3 or 4 times during the night. I could finally get out of bed before 11am. My legs and feet still hurt a lot. The random shooting pain in my left leg finally stopped but I developed a new pain in my leg whenever I would touch my left thigh. The swelling in my feet went down and the coldness and numbness turned into tingling. I had approval from the doctor to start driving and bending and twisting.

Third month -My feet and legs still hurt a lot, but differently. My flexibility was almost non existent. I had to manually bend my legs to stretch my muscles. It hurt to bend forward, not that my back could bend much at all. I had to keep my back from moving for 2 months so once I started moving I was shocked to find I had almost 0 flexibility through my back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. I felt like a pole. I very consciously stretched and bent to my limits and held it for as long as I could. Mobility and range of motion improved but I was no where near my pre-accident limits. I started swimming. My balance was horrible, but improving. I used to fall over if I closed my eyes because I couldn't use the horizon to determine what vertical was. Now, with great effort, I could stay upright, but it was not easy.