For Jan, the time immediately after surgery is an “existential experience.” In the hospital while there are many people around you and helping you, Jan feels you are really on your own. Each successive surgery has an easier recovery due to the fact that her new surgeon emphasizes "getting you up and out as soon as it is reasonable and possible." Jan worried both about how dependent she was and how alienated she felt from others—especially after one night when she tried to socialize but felt poorly. Since she has had so many surgeries, Jan describes that she specifically wants to be left alone and “zone out” until the pain is somewhat alleviated. Jan has had both good and bad experiences with physical therapists. She also believes that no one can really imagine what it is like to go through surgery until they have surgery themselves.
The pain with these surgeries is really significant. They give you a lot of pain meds. I've always been given a button press thing where you could give yourself Deluded or Morphine every eight minutes. Usually they wean you off of that in the hospital, three or four days and you go home on some type of medication, pain medication.
And you're pretty helpless at the beginning. You have to learn to let other people help you which I found challenging to say the least. I'm very independent and didn't like having to ask people to drive me places, bring me food, take care of me, help me bathe. And I had to do all of that.
The back fusions I've had with my current doctor have been much easier to recover from. He believes in getting you up and out as soon as it's reasonable and possible to do it. And that's helped psychologically. On the other hand, you think you're ready to go out and do something, go to a party, somebody drives you there, you think I'll just stay for a few hours and you get there and you're beside yourself in pain. This last surgery I went to a party, I thought I'd drop in and drop out. I dropped out really fast. I couldn’t do it. And those things, when you know you're gonna go through that, you kind of manage better emotionally, but you still go through it. You still go through feeling alienated and disconnected from the normal pace of life.
The last surgery was in August and I'm just now able to really put in a full day, gone back to work which I didn't expect to do. I had had an L1/2 fusion that had been done in a modified way, which unfortunately didn't hold and I had to go back and have screws put in that L1/2 area this past June and it was just a typical fusion. It was supposedly a little easier than some of the others because they only went in through the back and not from the side.
It still takes a good six months to just get up and out into your normal life. You're bedridden a lot at the beginning, but what I found, and they've now learned about me cause I've had so many surgeries is that I wanted to be left completely alone, just kind of zone out. Until the pain becomes more manageable. People who haven't had these surgeries I don't think fully understand what it is that one goes through. And when you've had many of them, it becomes increasingly difficult to recover quickly. Your body needs a certain amount of time to heal and you have to honor that in order to get better, I think.
I had a wonderful physical therapist who I trusted enormously, I got on to her for many years. When you go into physical therapy you start hurting again more than you did because you have to use muscles that you haven't used. Especially your abdominal muscles. She moved away and I was very upset about it. I tried another person who hurt me so badly in three sessions that I had to leave and get an epidural.
Right now I'm with somebody who was recommended to me by my doctor, and she's been incredibly thoughtful about what I've been through and hasn't hurt me at all. She has worked very slowly at helping me regain my strength. When you have back surgeries, it's hard to get up from the toilet. Your whole body really just kind of falls apart and has to be put back together. And it is demoralizing. Or it can be while you're in the process of doing that. I have friends who've never had anything who are my age and you know they're like little energizer bunnies, they put in a full day running around, working, going out at night. I can be very discouraged by that.
When I found out that I needed another fusion, it's a little bit like a body blow. It's like somebody punched me in the stomach. I go home, I don't talk to anybody about it. It takes a while to absorb it and to get used to the idea of it and to start dealing with it in a way that you can. This year, I found out I needed two different fusions, and what I did to motivate myself to get well