Category Archives: Medical

My Experience With Lumbar Spinal Surgery – Microdiscectomy

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Note: The following article is based on my personal experience with lumber spinal surgery. I am not a doctor or medical professional and cannot dispense medical advice. Please consult your physician if you are experiencing lower back pain to discuss treatment and/or pain management.

I had a microdiscectomy. Actually, I had a laminotomy (the removal of a portion the lamina – the bone at the back of the spinal canal), a laminectomy (the removal of the entire lamina) and a microdiskectomy (the removal of a portion of a damaged disk. A microdiscectomy is less invasive than a classic discectomy. The surgeon uses a microscope to perform the procedure).

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Prior to the surgery date, I searched the Internet for articles and visited medical discussion boards for “real-life” experiences with this type of procedure. To me, any type surgery is serious – especially if anesthesia is involved – and I was nervous. Most of the articles provided clinical statistics filled with optimistic recovery and success rates. Most of the posts on the discussion boards, however, gave a very negative review of the procedure. I was feeling less and less sure of my decision to have lumbar surgery when I came across a post that put things in perspective. The poster noted that people who had successful surgery were less likely to post comments than those who had a negative experience. Why? They were out doing other things because they were now pain-free.

Very good point. I decided then that if my surgery were successful, I would post an article to this blog that offered an alternative view of the procedure.

After eight weeks, I feel confident enough to declare my surgery a success.

Here’s the Readers Digest version of why I elected to have the microdiscectomy: I had a herniated disc that pushed against nerve roots in my spine and caused foot drop. I could not move the toes on my left foot. The top of my foot, ankle and areas on my calf were completely numb. I had to walk with the assistance of a cane. Not good. The surgery was to reverse the nerve damage.

The surgery itself wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. I am grateful for the visits I received from the OR nurse, EMG specialist, two anesthesiologists and my orthopedic surgeon. I was calmed as each person described his or her function in OR. The procedure began at 7 am. I was given a sedative in my IV as I was being wheeled to the OR. There, the OR nurse placed a mask over my nose and mouth and instructed me to breathe deeply. I was out after the second deep breath. A breathing tube was inserted and I was placed on my stomach after the anesthesia had taken affect. The procedure lasted about an hour (or so I was told), but I didn’t awaken from the anesthesia until around 10 am.

I was up and walking – with assistance from a staff physical therapist- about five hours after the surgery. The PT showed me the proper way to walk and climb stairs. I received morphine for pain later that evening which made me extremely nauseated so I refused future injections and relied on prescription medication to manage the pain. My hospital stay was overnight; I was home by noon the next day. I needed someone with me for a few days following the surgery. Thankfully, my mom made the sacrifice.

My recovery so far has been excellent. The incision is healing nicely. My surgeon recommended walking as the primary form of exercise. I walked around my neighborhood, beginning with walking halfway down my street and venturing further each day. I was off the prescription medication after a week. I’ve had two visits with my surgeon since the surgery with another one scheduled for early next week. The surgery did not completely reverse the nerve damage; I was informed it could take up to a year for complete reversal. However, the mobility and sensation in my foot have improved dramatically. I do not need the cane anymore. I can move my toes and the numbness is almost gone. I would say my foot is 90% back to normal. Bending and lifting are restricted. Sitting for long periods was difficult at first, but became more tolerable as time progressed. My surgeon advised me to not sit for hours on end, so I make sure to stand up and walk around frequently at home and at work. Speaking of work, I was out of the office on medical leave for about two and half weeks.

Again, this is my personal experience. Overall, I was in good health before the surgery and still am. I have not experienced any of the excruciating pain I had prior to surgery. No back spasms or pain down my leg. I am back to a normal routine (with the exception of bending or lifting). Having a microdiscectomy is a decision I have not yet regretted.

May the Lord continue to bless and keep you.

Following Your Intuition

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The theme of O, The Oprah Magazine’s August issue is following your intuition. I read the articles with much interest because I recently ignored a nagging feeling only to regret it later. Painfully regret it.

I have had off and on back pain for the past decade, ever since taking a fall down a relative’s staircase. Beginning this year, the pain increased in frequency and intensity. Several weeks ago, I had an episode where the pain now radiated to my hip and down the back of my left leg. I finally visited my primary care physician (PCP) and he did a preliminary examination. He initially diagnosed a possible pinched nerve. He ordered an x-ray and prescribed medication for pain, an anti-inflammatory and a muscle relaxant. He asked me to schedule another visit in a few days go over the x-ray and measure improvement, if any. Taking the medication did take the edge off the pain although there was still stiffness in my lower back. During the second visit, the doctor asked how I was feeling and I advised, truthfully, that I was much better than I was during our last visit. He nodded then advised the x-ray was normal so there was no way I had a pinched nerve. He said I simply had a pulled muscle and advised me to continue with the medication and handed me a printout of exercises to perform to strengthen my back muscles. He advised if I didn’t continue improving, he would then refer me to an orthopedic specialist.

Although it was a diagnosis I wanted to hear, it just didn’t seem right. So I asked him, “The pain in my hip and down my leg, that also comes from a pulled back muscle?” He nodded, noticeably irritated that I was questioning the diagnosis. I left the appointment relieved that I didn’t need additional tests or specialist visits, but also with a feeling that something was wrong. I eventually shook away the feeling. I mean, I’m not the MD, he is. This is a man I not only respect but also like as a person. I had never had a reason to question him, so why was I doing it now?

Twelve days later, I suffered a relapse that was twice as intense as the one that prompted my first visit to my PCP. The pain lasted throughout the night and didn’t let up that morning. I called my doctor’s office as soon as it opened (8:30 am), explained I was having a relapse, and requested the number to an orthopedic specialist so I could possibly see him or her that day. The receptionist advised she would have to pull my file for the doctor and call back when he recommended the specialist. I waited.

And waited.

While waiting, I noticed something strange happening with my left leg. Little by little, it was becoming numb. The numbness eventually settled around my ankle and top of my foot. I was unable lift my toes. I’d be lying if I said this was anything less than frightening. Tired of waiting for my doctor, I located an orthopedic specialist and made an appointment for 8:45 the next morning. Note 1: My doctor’s nurse called me four hours later with the name and numbers of two specialists.

The next day, the orthopedic specialist examined me and determined that I had drop foot which is difficulty lifting the front part of the foot due to weakness or paralysis. He ordered a magnetic resonance imaging or MRI to determine its underlying cause. The results were available the next day and he requested I come in for a consultation. During the consultation, he advised the cause of the drop foot was a herniated disc that was pressing against the L5 spinal segment nerve root. This spinal nerve runs down the back of the legs and provides sensory and motor signals to the legs. Note 2: I have now learned that an x-ray alone should not be the only testing done when there is consistent back pain. The x-ray will almost always come back as normal. For an accurate diagnosis to be made, an MRI should be done.

Later that afternoon, I kept thinking if I had only followed my intuition and got a second opinion, I might not have experienced this relapse and drop foot. Thinking my condition was a just a pulled muscle, I didn’t exercise much care in my normal routine. I continued to do all the lifting and bending I’d always done. When I felt the stress in my lower back, I attributed it to the pulled muscle. How much further damage had I done by not having an accurate diagnosis?

I’m not laying much blame on my PCP. His specialty is not orthopedic medicine. His response could have been a lot better, though. Mostly, I blame myself because I knew there had to be something else causing my intense pain, but I didn’t want to believe it. Instead of following the voice inside me, I shut her up.

In the August issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah Winfrey writes on her “What I Know For Sure” page: “I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t.” Boy, did that speak volumes for me.

And, hopefully, it speaks volumes for you. Whether your intuition is nudging you about your health, career, or personal situation, take the time to listen, even if you feel silly for doing it. It’s better to feel silly than be sorry.