"Oh my aching back!"

More than 80 percent of us will suffer from back pain at some time in our lives. I added to that statistic before I decided to take drastic action. The following is the personal saga of my back experience.

I awoke to bright lights and antiseptic odor. I was certain that my back had been cut in half; the pain was so severe.

"How are you feeling?" asked a cheerful woman in scrubs.

"Like hell," I squeaked.

"Oh your pain reliever will kick in soon -- I'll give it a boost."

I had just undergone a back fusion complete with titanium rods and screws. Now I was a bionic woman, but my cape and mask were missing and all I wanted was relief from the excruciating pain.

The attending nurse was trying to explain that I had an IV pump that was supposed to provide an adequate amount of pain reliever, but it obviously wasn't working.

"Don't worry, dear," she crooned. "You'll get relief soon." I hate being called dear or honey or ma'am or any of those sickeningly sweet terms saved for old ladies and sick people. At that moment I fit both categories.

"Well if the pump isn't helping we can give you something -- when you get to your room." Unfortunately that would be a while since my room in the hospital still had to be prepared.

Prior to this day I had spent the better part of two years exploring several types of therapy in my quest to relieve my worsening back pain. Combined with sciatica in my left leg, I was in some degree of pain most of the time. I had consulted several doctors who had all made the same diagnosis: spondylolisthesis, a tongue-twisting name for my condition. It meant that my fifth lumbar vertebra was slipping away from my first sacral vertebra. This can occur any place in the spinal column but is more common in the lumbar spine. The result was pain in my lower back as well as engagement of my sciatic nerve, which resulted in severe pain in my left leg.

I started exploring exercises to strengthen my core muscles. I also did a lot of walking, which had been part of my routine for years prior to my back episode. Yoga has always been one of my best friends and I continued with classes two or three times weekly. But as my condition worsened I was no longer able to perform the warrior poses because of a nasty complaint from the sciatic nerve running down my left leg. By now I decided to seek help from a physical therapist. One therapist taught me to perform Postural Restoration, a specially designed therapy based on anatomical asymmetrical and muscle imbalances. This therapy required me to get into some very odd positions while sitting, lying down or standing. I had special postures for sitting at a computer and I could even do some of the exercises while sitting at a movie. Certain postures were forbidden such as crossing my legs, which proved impossible for me to follow. I'm just a leg-crossing kind of gal and not able to unlearn this life-long habit. After three months of dutifully (trying) to do the positions, I was getting no relief and my back was still talking to me.

Next came the chiropractor. I know that many people get relief from these practitioners but, while the procedures felt good at the time, I did not receive any lasting benefits. One doc recommended hydro-therapy. I tried a couple of sessions at a therapy pool and a few sessions sitting in a spa with jets pulsing on my back. Again, the process felt wonderful but a positive end result was minimal.

After all that, I got serious about surgery. With summer coming on I had to time it to coincide with teaching my online classes and the availability of my adult children since I needed some help with aftercare. Thanks to my friend, Melanie Carvell, who had undergone the same surgery five ears earlier, I knew what to expect and how to handle my adventure. Melanie had told me to plan for a month's recovery with help in my home. With that issue solved thanks to my two wonderful daughters, I was ready to schedule a time to go under the knife.

This brings us back to the day I came out of the anesthetic engulfed in pain. I did get relief when I was delivered to my hospital room, but I wasn't up for much conversation until the next day. That first afternoon I sensed that someone was in my room but I ignored the male voice. I learned later that my pastor had visited but didn't get a very kindly response from me. Later that evening, I was very surprised when the nurse said it was time to go for a walk.

"You've got to be kidding," I moaned.

"Nope," she said, "Just a few steps out the door."

Surprisingly I managed the walk quite well and in the next few days before I went home, I walked many long halls and climbed many flights of stairs. My pre-conditioning had paid off. Back home I was able to walk out around our condo after about a week with very little pain.

Never being much for sitting around, I found it almost impossible to rest twice a day and let someone else take care of things. The daughters did everything and more including some household chores I'd been putting off. Company came and went with gifts of food, so by the time my girls left my freezer was full of casseroles and other good things, which would make my continuing convalescence easier for both me and my husband.

Soon it was time for my six-weeks check-in with my surgeon. X-rays showed that my back was healing right on schedule and I was given the go-ahead for physical therapy. Starting with gentle stretches, I soon advanced to strength building. Not long after, I went back to Yoga -- what a great day.

Now four months have passed. I had a slight setback when Husband and I traveled to Florida for Thanksgiving -- too much sitting and lifting. I'm now again in the process of going through stretching, walking, and easing back into yoga and weights.

Promising myself that I'll start the New Year with a very concentrated workout regime, I plan to be fully healed, functional and pain-free early in 2014.

When facing a back issue serious enough to warrant surgery, I received plenty of advice. Most recommended against having my problem surgically repaired. It is a difficult decision since we really don't know for sure what the outcome will be. I'm still on the mend but am confident that, with dedication to my recuperation plan, I will be better than before I face the knife. Would I go through this again? Certainly.



 
Jan Scultz is a seasoned Empty Nester claiming one husband, three adult children and five adorable grandchildren. In her spare time she teaches Online English for BSC, practices Yoga, walks many miles and reads lots of books.