Patricia, 62, simply went to throw a tissue away and felt a pain so sharp she fell to her knees. She could not walk for two weeks. She had a herniated disc and numerous surgeries since. She also has severe osteoarthritis in her spine and rheumatoid arthritis.
Hi, I’m Patricia and I am age 62. I was an operating room coordinator for six years at a very busy hospital in downtown and I left that position to become an organ procurement coordinator for the local organ procurement agency. I did that for 10 years and then I retired from that.
When I was 33, I had a breast tumor that needed to be removed and I forgot to tell them to put something under my knees because my back had always been somewhat sensitive. And, when I woke up, I was terribly, terribly sore. I went to throw a tissue away and just made a slight turn to the side and at that point I felt something just go. I went to my knees and I had never had anything like that. I was terrified at the time. I couldn’t stand for two weeks.
I'm a single parent, three daughters, and I was the breadwinner. So, it impacts absolutely everything. That was the beginning of the journey. That turned out to be a herniated disc. I’ve had numerous surgeries since then.
I had always been very active, so being in constant pain and not being as active was very difficult. I finally got wiser about planning. Like, okay, I only have X amount to give today. So, I’m not gonna vacuum and I’m not gonna wash the windows, I wanna save my energy because I wanna cook because I love to cook and I love to bake. I thought if I worked harder, tried harder, that it would be different, but you’re grasping for some sort of control. You’re out of control. You know, I found that in a lot of pain, I get very forgetful. I get fearful.
I have severe osteoarthritis in my spine and I also have Rheumatoid arthritis and that puts an extra spin on things a lot of times because sometimes the way you move to protect your back messes up your knees. I see a Rheumatologist and I try and take care of the whole picture. All my children are grown and been out of the house for, years and years. My grandkids only know me as sometimes the grandma that has to lay on the floor. And, a friend told me when I was in the hospital with my first back surgery recovering, and I was in tremendous pain, she looked at me and she said, you can do anything for one minute. I know you. You’re very strong. And, she said so that clock up there has a second hand. So, is all you have to do is get through that one minute.
When I really start spinning, I’ll call it, I try and put it in a different light. I’ve learned that if I can change how I view it, I know honestly that this too shall pass. At some point, whether it’s another surgery or it’s medication or it’s an epidural. I’ve had to laminectomies and also a micro discectomy and also a cyst that was removed from the inside of my spine. Um, those are a few of the surgeries I’ve experienced.
I found that when I went into surgery, I was in so much pain at that point that post surgery, the first day, I had what they call post-pain euphoria and I got up, I showered, I took my bandage off, which was completely not okay and I felt great. To go from pain that you don’t think you can stand another minute, to being pain free is like flipping on a light switch when you’ve been in a dark room. Then, just a few years later, I had another discectomy. The same thing—instant relief. When my back goes, I- I can’t wait for surgery. It’s very frightening, it’s very scary, but I had felt like I had already given up so much control.
When you’re in the pain and not being able to do things, I just wanted some sort of life back. It’s not easy, but I think if you have a good doctor and if post-operatively you have some occupational therapy, they show you how to get in and out of bed, how to squat down, how to, you know, go to the bathroom, how to brush your teeth because, you know, you can’t bend. You’re not supposed to be moving that area. I try to be appreciative of the gift that I’ve just been given that I’m pain free. We all get carried away and it, you know, doesn’t tap me on the shoulder, it taps me in the back and I know to slow down, to take care of myself and I’ve learned I either pay now or I pay later.
I had a very large problem arise and I had to have spinal fusion with a lot of instrumentation. And, this was my most difficult surgery. They went in through my abdomen, which required two teams, banking blood before, kind of a scary proposition. It was a big commitment, but the surgeon said to me, this is what I can do for you, but he followed it up with, but this is what you have to do, these are your responsibilities, you know. Get ready for the surgery, to recover from the surgery and he was very up front, laid it all out, for this particular surgery, I had to be in a brace for six months.
With the large spinal fusion I had, which was several levels, the recovery was difficult. For that particular surgery, I was hospitalized for four days and with the fusion that was the one that made me feel like all my power had been taken away. It crossed my mind if the hospital catches on fire, I’m not gonna be able to save myself. I’m not running anywhere. Knowing that the pain you experience is not gonna last, it’s going to get better and that had been my experience and always has been. And, you know, it’s a bitch, it’s hard and you have to sometimes draw really deep and think about what’s important and what’s not.
I try and have some sort of gratitude that I’m able to have the surgery, that I have a great doctor, I have a supportive family and I think that’s a big part of my success.
Being a patient at home, I always find more difficult because there’s things I can do, or I think I can do. I wasn’t supposed to pick up anything heavier than a coffee cup for six months. Six months, I didn’t drive, I was in a big brace that not only went around my back and my abdomen, but also locked up one leg so I walked like Frankenstein. I left my ego behind a long time ago with those sort of things. You drop a bar of soap in the shower, you gotta scream for somebody to come get if for you because even with your grabbers, you can’t pick up the soap. So, it’s humbling. It’s very humbling.
And, when I was in that brace for six months, I had my husband move the mixer onto a certain part of the counter. As soon as I could, probably only about three weeks into recover, I would bake. And, I was baking an angel food cake so the batter’s light, the pan’s light, there was nothing that I couldn’t do. It gave me a sense of accomplishment. If all I could do is bake that cake that day, great, you know, it’s a good day. And, it helped me emotionally. If everything’s gonna be taken away, you know, gotta have something. And, I need to feel like I’m participating, that I’m learning, that I’m moving on. I’m not the sum of my back surgeries.
I have a good support system. My husband is very encouraging, very supportive. He has seen me go through a lot of pain. He knows sometimes when to walk out of the room. And, sometimes you’re gonna have one of those days and you’re gonna cry and you’re gonna be unhappy and you’re gonna go “this is not fair.” And, I found that when I was going in for a surgery, a couple times I said to my husband I really don’t want anyone to know. Well, I was taking something away from him. He couldn’t talk to people about his feelings and his fears for what I was going through. As a consequence, I realized, no, I- I can’t do that. I felt selfish. I thought he needs his support and if he benefits from their caring and them checking on him while I’m in surgery then that’s a good thing and it is what it is.
You know, I’m a simple person with a very complicated body and I just keep trying to face it with, you know, grace and acceptance. I just try and be my own cheerleader and know that I can do this because I can do anything for one minute. You always hope that the last surgery you had is your last one. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them and that’s not a stretch.
I’m going to have to have another fusion and it’s in an area that I thought was gonna be okay forever. It’s in the lumbar. And, having walked that road, you know how difficult and out of control you can feel and even feeling sorry for yourself at times. And, I know what the post recovery is, I know that it gives a new meaning to pain and I know what’s required of me to get through that and recover from that, but I’m confident in my physicians. The surgeries have given me a life. I wouldn’t have had one. I wouldn’t have lasted. I could not have survived.
So, I’ve tried to incorporate things that make me feel better and I’ve had to lower my expectations and I think sometimes when you’re a patient, you have such high expectations. I’ve learned that I only have to do the next indicated thing. It has made me slow down in the sense of knowing what’s really important to me and to my family. I’m glad I have those-those tricks in my bag. I go out of my way to do things that make me feel good. I dress the way I want, I play my music loud, you know, when something hits me big, you know, I have songs that instantly come in my head, “Hit me with your best shot,” you know. I need to be my own cheerleader and I’m aging just like everybody else so things don’t work as well.
But, I try and have a good mindset. I feel extremely fortunate that I have insurance and that I can have it fixed. I find that if I take it one day at a time, and sometimes it has to be watching that second hand on the clock to keep it at one minute, and know that in the past I’ve been able to recover well. I don’t have any complications after surgery. I try to keep myself lean and mean to be up for the battle.
I think with having experienced great pain and discomfort, I don’t know if it’s shock or your last nerve is just worn down, and I know that the pain I’m experiencing will be taken away by having the surgery. Just keep moving forward. That’s all. I just have to keep it all in perspective because when I look at it on a global, you know, stage when I’m feeling sorry for myself I can’t because it’s all about me. I honestly think this probably won’t be my last procedure because of the problems I have and I haven’t been given anything yet that I haven’t been able to handle, maybe not real gracefully sometimes and maybe not the way I would like to square my shoulders and stand up, but it doesn’t take me long and so I just one foot in front of the other.