Having had numerous microdiscectomies and laminectomies, Thaddeus sought out the help of new back surgeon. It was determined that only through lumbar fusion could he find a way out of his chronic back pain. Thaddeus admits that taking on lumbar fusion was a whole new experience in post-surgical pain.
Made the decision to do that, and that was in November of 2007.
It was a pretty big operation. It was, like, over four hours. The 360 is what they call it in the doctor terminology, where they do an abdominal approach to get at your spine from the interior side to take out all the bad disc material, and then they put two bone grafts in there from the front interior side. Then, they turn you over on your back and open you up and put in all the hardware - the screws and the rods. That's what kinda makes it all rigid. It's like a cage. And then they'd flip you back over on your back, and that's how you wake up.
That's why they call it a 360, 'cause you make a complete circle. It's called a two-level lumbar fusion with instrumentation. L4/5 and L5/S1. That's the technical name of the operation. They informed me very completely about what the procedure was gonna take, how they were gonna do it, about how long it was gonna take. The only thing they really didn't tell me was what the pain level would be in recovery. It was just unbelievably off the chart, the pain. When I came out of anesthesia and I was in the recovery room, the pain was like, oh, my God.
It was just, you know, screaming kind of pain, and as soon as you wake up, they give you more meds, you know, Dilaudid, heavy-duty painkillers, and then you're-immediately out again. I had some complications with this first surgery. I lost some use of my right leg. I don't know why that was. I had been bone-on-bone and I suffered some nerve damage in my sciatic nerve on my right side, and my leg postop, about a year and a half. I noticed that my leg had withered away because it had atrophy, and I still had a lot of pain in my low back that never really went away.
So, that's when they started giving me the oral pain medication, Norco. About two weeks after my, surgery I developed a seroma in my wound in my back. A seroma is like a collection of fluid - blood and pus. It's like a boil almost. They readmitted me to the hospital to have what's called an incision and drainage, where they go in and they actually open up your wound track and do what's called a surgical lavage, which is a pressure washer with antibiotic to clean out the wound track, 'cause if I got an infection in my hardware, they woulda had to remove all the hardware.
And this was something that I had to go through that doesn't happen to a lot of people. I was in the hospital for another three days after that. The pain from that was almost as worse as the pain from the first surgery. It was kinda depressing, too, because it's one thing after another. Then they just starting giving me the pain meds once I went home, and you take two every four to six hours, and you feel comfortable. And pretty soon you heal and you get back on your feet, but they just kept giving them to me, and before you know it, I was addicted. Anybody could be, 'cause over a period of about four years I took them every day.
It’s what we call, "You're on the ropes." You know, you run out, you gotta wait for your next prescription to get filled, and sometimes your insurance won't fill it right away and you're starting to come down or detox, which is really a horrible experience. Then, about two years later, I had a revision done on my first surgery. I was complaining of pain. It was called pedicle pain. A pedicle is a part of your vertebrae where they put the screws into. They're called pedicle screws. And it was just chronic pain, and they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me, so they decided to pull the hardware out.
At this time, the fusion had fused solid so that the bone wasn't gonna move around, and when they did that, they also went in and did a laminectomy on all my nerve roots going out to make sure that there was no impingement or scar tissue or anything like that, and then after that, more medication for another couple of years. Fast-forward to, let's see, 2013. The vertebrae above my fusion were now breaking down, and that's one problem with lumbar fusions is when you fuse the lower levels, the upper levels tend to break down because they're now taking the wear and tear that the ones below it used to take, and now it's, like, really intense pain shooting down the backs of my legs, trouble walking, trouble sitting still for any lengths of time.
Sleeping is hard, but of course I had my pain meds which kinda just masked everything, you know? It didn't correct anything, it just kept me comfortable, but I was getting addicted more and more every day. If you take long-term narcotics, you know, you dull your brain, you're kinda not as sharp as you normally were, and if you drink any alcohol with it, of course, that intensifies the effects. Like, wine at dinner and stuff like that, and it starts to become a crutch. I would take 'em just to get high on 'em, basically, [LAUGH] you know, and when you have an unlimited supply and it's cheap - it was like 10 dollars for 90 tablets, you know, every 10 days.
I must have taken about 20,000 tablets over a four year period, I calculate, and I had to go through detox professionally for an opioid addiction. And I realized that I needed professional help to get off of that, and I found an addiction doctor at a walk-in clinic right near my house, and I went in and I basically turned myself in. I said, "I need help," and he put me on this medication called Suboxone, which is a drug that prevents withdrawal symptoms, and it's very effective for narcotic withdrawal people.
I started having more of the same sciatica and shooting pain from a different nerve center above my fusion. I went back to my first surgeon. He wanted to do a two-level fusion on me, and so we went and got a second opinion from two other doctors-high profile doctors, and he said, "No. I think we could do this without a fusion. We can do a laminectomy or a laminotomy." So we loved that diagnosis, and so we went with this gentleman up in Los Angeles that done a lot of high-profile athletes and was very well-known in the industry, and he did my first laminectomy in 2013, October.
I had very good results. Almost instant relief. I think they just did a better job and understood what was going on with me. I was in the hospital overnight, went home the next day, and within about two weeks I was feeling great. I was off the pain meds. He wanted me to go to physical therapy at that point about four months postop. I started going to physical therapy to develop my core, and also they do a lot of manipulating with you. They stretch you, and about four months past the surgery, I started getting the shooting pains down my leg again, really bad. Horrible. Debilitating.
I couldn't even hardly get out of bed. Due to the physical therapy, at least my surgeon surmises that a disk fragment broke loose and free-floated and got wedged between the nerve and the bone, and they had to go back in there and do a revision on that, and they fixed me up and I woke up pain-free except for the surgical pain. I recovered from that, but we knew that eventually I was gonna have to have another fusion.
Once I healed from that, four or five months later I started getting these shooting pains down my back again, and I dreaded having this fusion 'cause I'd had one before in '07 and I knew what it was gonna be like, and when he said, "It looks like two-level but we're gonna have to do three-level," and I was going, "Oh, my God. What? Three-level fusion with instrumentation?" But I had to get it done. We did this three-level lumbar fusion, again with the instrumentation, and that was a horrible experience [LAUGH] that I had to go through because I was spent four days in the hospital.
I think the operation was about five to six hours, and this particular operation, they did what's called a lateral approach on me to get to the vertebra, as opposed to the abdominal one. They came in here through my rib cage, and got to my vertebra and they took all the old material out and they put in these spacers. Instead of a bone graft, they use a hard plastic insert.