Still here

Posted in: Ironman, recovery, Triathlon

For seven months I was in pain, every day.  In retrospect, I got so used to it that I did not even realize how debilitating it was or how obsessive I had become about it.  Every morning I would wake up with nerve pain.  I hated the mornings, a time that I used to love.   I would stand up from bed, and do the best I could to walk but my leg rarely worked correctly first thing.  I had thought it was just the pain, and would do my best to override it and force weight on the leg.  Sometimes, I could stay standing for a few minutes, but then I  usually had to lay prone on the hard floor.  Ahh, the prone position on the hardwood floor, that’s where you would have most likely found me for the better part of 7 months.  Usually, if I laid there for 45 minutes or so, doing a few cobra poses, I could start to calm the nerve down. It would take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, but eventually, I could get myself functional enough to be able to get off the floor and do something.  I exercised every day – after I became functional.  The exercise helped to calm my nerve and made me feel much better for the rest of the day (as long as I didn’t sit down).

When I last checked in, over half a year ago, I had just been diagnosed with a herniated L5/S1 disc.  I had a large herniation compressing my S1 nerve root.  Many people can recover from this type of injury in about 8 weeks of physical therapy; in fact, I had many people contact me to tell me how they didn’t need surgery and had made a full recovery.  I was determined to be one of those people.  I did my physical therapy exercises every day, and I had all manner of physical therapy treatments – from muscle relaxer IV’s, to acupuncture, to sound wave therapy.  The truth is, I could usually get myself out of most of the pain by sometime in the evening (maybe 80%) – although this involved no sitting, standing for hours,  laying prone, and no bending.  But, I would wake up every morning in excruciating pain, and again spend hours trying to be able to leave the apartment.

Sometime in late summer/early fall, I started losing feeling in my foot, and my motor function was deteriorating.  I should clarify that this is really when I first “admitted” to such things.  I know these things were there before, but they had just gotten worse by this time.  I finally had to admit that I had to concentrate constantly to get my foot off the ground with each step I took and focus to keep my foot from turning out.  And then came the crying – I was just so tired of hurting.  It impacted everything.  I read about the nervous system; I studied pain and chronic pain and how our brain gets rewired.  I fought it, I forced myself to do things to avoid falling into the chronic pain hole.  I wanted it to be in my head, but it turned out it wasn’t.  And when I lost my reflexes and motor function, permanent nerve damage became a concern and I had to see a neurosurgeon.  I had a fantastic neurosurgeon; I was fortunate enough to be able to see the chief of neuro.  He had me in surgery the next day.

I’m 10 weeks post spine surgery now; I had a discectomy and laminectomy (that means they removed part of my disc and shaved some of my vertebrae to make more room for my nerve).  My surgeon saw no issue with me making a full recovery, although he did say when I first saw him post-op, “Stephanie, It was really big!”  Well, admittedly that makes me feel a bit less wimpy about this whole thing.  I think I had convinced myself partly that I was just being  a wimp and that I should be able to just suffer through the pain.

Anyway, two things …

1) I know that millions of people suffer with pain every day – chronic pain is the #1 healthcare cost in the Western world.  It is terrible that we are not committing more research to this area of care, instead we seem okay with people suffering and becoming addicted to narcotic pain medicine.  I am fortunate enough to have been able to see an end to my pain, but I admit that I am still terrified it will come back.  This is a continual reminder of those who have not seen relief and their suffering.

2) There is not much out there about athletes recovering from spine surgery.  There are a few mentions of some high profile athletes, like Tiger Woods or Peyton Manning; but, not much detailing the recovery and progress of athletes just wanting to return to the lifestyle they love.  So, it is my intention to do the best I can to keep a diary of how I recover from this.  I am hopeful my recovery will be successful, and will give hope to the many others out there with a similar injury and surgery.  Stay tuned.



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