Tag Archives: spinal surgery

When Good Friday Eclipses Easter

Regular readers to this page know that I have a condition known as degenerative disc disease.  This is sometimes called disc and joint disease or DJD.  It was precipitated by a genetically inherited “bad back” on my mom’s side of the family (her brothers have both suffered similar fates) and a traumatic injury to my back when I was four years-old.  The whole thing came to a head for the first time when I was 23 years-old and I had my first spinal fusion at the L5-S1 level.  Fun.  Thirteen years later I had another spinal fusion at L4-L5 (the adjacent level).

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This pic is tired, I know.  I’ve used it before but it shows the current state of my spine in case you didn’t know.

I had really hoped that I would be able to avoid another fusion (or at least the symptomatic back pain and debilitating sciatica for at least 5-10 years at the next level.  So far, I think I’m doing well in that regard.  I got more serious about my health than I ever have before.  Hell, I started eating vegetables and lots of them.  I took up running before realizing that it required one to run.  The thing I’m proudest of, however, is that I got serious about getting jacked.  I haven’t had the kind of success I had hope but I’ve done OK.  You see, it’s important for me that I build up ever single muscle in my body in order to safeguard my spine.  It’s not really a vanity thing – not really.  Still who wouldn’t love being almost 40 and looking like one of the Jersey Shore crew on summer vacation?  I won’t lie, that’s a cool prospect considering I looked far from that from the time I was about 15 until recently.  But I stepped it up and looked into things I had never done before, all the while remembering the lessons learned from surgeries and physical therapy.  In other words, I’ve been doing all of this safely.  Currently I’m doing a program called Body Beast designed to bulk up.  I figure the more muscle the better.

About a year ago I was at my standard weight, hovering around 200.  I have a medium sized frame so that’s not impressive.  But when I got serious-serious I dropped down to 173 with Insanity.  I felt great knowing that I could complete something most men (including many athletic men) attempt and give up because it’s hard.  I took heat for it, good natured I believed.  Then I decided it was time to build up.  I’m going back toward 200 but this time hard-core, solid muscle because I need it.  I’m up around 187 after two months and again, I feel great.  I’m enjoying seeing results (even if I’m the only one who sees them).

So why is God screwing with me?

Just when it seems I’m doing something good for myself, for my health, sacrificing time away from sleep or from my wife and kids to get in that workout I need to do I start to notice twinges of pain here and there.

About a year ago I began to experience what I knew was Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS.  It’s not painful just uncomfortable.  Fortunately it only hit me at night so my job and family life wasn’t affected.  I looked it up and it seemed to be a common side-effect of spinal fusions at L4-S1.  Then in the past few months (following around the time of my dad’s death) the symptoms morphed into painful leg cramps that strike in the middle of the night.

Time to see the surgeon.

I went for a visit to a man I trust with my life.  Hey, I’ve never let anyone cut me before nor even put his hands inside my body.  That’s how much I trust this guy.  He’s Mayo Clinic trained.

I love his response after looking at my X-rays.  “I can’t know what’s in the box until I open the box.  But before I cut you let’s run some tests.”

I had a nerve conduction study first.  This showed no nerve damage.  Praised be God.

Then it was time for the Myelogram CT.

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Me after my Myelogram.  See, it’s not that bad.  I’m smiling.

This past Thursday (Holy Thursday) I went to an imaging center and had a dye injected into my spinal column so images could be taken.  The procedure is painful in itself.  The after effects aren’t pleasant either.  I went home and went on bed rest for 48 hours.  My dear sister, an RN, came to town for an Easter visit and was put to work as my caretaker.  This consisted in lying on the couch watching 85 episodes or the 1980’s-90’s crime documentary Unsolved Mysteries while drifting in and out of sleep.

On Good Friday I had an opportunity to unite real physical pain with the crucifixion of Our Lord.  I was truly thankful.

Then came Holy Saturday.  And… unfortunately it still felt like Good Friday.  Throughout the day I tried to make myself believe that the pain was dissipating and I could do things like mow the lawn.  I had been told that by 48 hours I’d be golden.  On Saturday night my wife, kids, and I got dolled up and headed to the Easter vigil – a tradition for us.  Unfortunately I made it into the first of seven readings before the splitting headache got the best of me and we had to leave.  A consult with the surgeon’s office on a Saturday night uncovered that my puncture wound from the Myelogram hadn’t healed and I was leaking spinal fluid into my body, thus causing a spinal headache.  He called in an awesome script and after more rest I felt better.

Here’s the thing.  For the Christian the pain of loss and agony of death on Good Friday makes sense because of the promise of resurrection and joy of a new life and a glorious body on Easter Sunday.  Tomorrow I’m going in to have something called a blood patch performed.  They’ll take blood from my arm and inject it into the puncture wound to clot and stop the leaking of fluid.

I think I can take it that my Easter is coming a bit later?  That’s OK because I know myself and I know I deserve a bit of a longer Good Friday.

I’m writing all of this because I’ve received comments over the years from people who’s been faced with spinal problems and have apparently been helped by reading about someone else’s experience.  I’m also writing to ask prayers.  Pray the procedure goes well.  It’s not a big deal.  But also pray I can get back to my Body Beast.  LOL.  I’ve only got five more weeks until I look like Charles Atlas (in my mind) and I am pumped about that.  Of course, since it’s just me who’ll notice the difference I suppose I can convince myself I look that good now.  Yeah… that’s it!  It’s an Easter miracle!

Happy Easter to all of you reading this!  In the Catholic liturgical calendar, Easter lasts for seven weeks so enjoy every minute of it.  Remember the Lord is risen indeed.  This isn’t a spiritual resurrection.  He conquered death, destroyed that bastard.  He is all-powerful and lives and reigns forever and ever for you and me.

Amen.

Alleluia!

PT Ain’t What It Used to Be

This past Wednesday I finally started my physical therapy (almost three months to the day after spinal fusion number 2 and more than 6 weeks after it was prescribed to me by my surgeon).  Why the lag?  Let’s just say that my Jersey area-code on my cell phone is very similar to the are code of the place where I live now and the therapist’s office assumed that I was wrong when I wrote it down.  I’ve only had the number for over a decade now.  Sure, I got it wrong.  That’s it.

Let’s talk about therapy for a second.  If you have visions of people lying around a 1920’s era hospital ward doing leg lifts, you’re not far off the mark.  Sure there are medicine balls and isometric bands and all.  I’ve personally endured this crap on at least four separate occasions in my lifetime (all related to the spine).  The last time I was given this special treat was three years ago when my then-new-to-me doctor here in Texas pulled the old “You’re back is bothering you?  PT!” routine.  I went to a handful of visits before realizing that I had been given an introductory evaluation, handed a sheet of bizarre exercises, and that each subsequent “visit” to the office (for which I was paying out of pocket around $100) simply meant getting on a table and doing the exercises on my own.  Sorry, I don’t need to pay someone to let me stretch on their table.  I can do that at home.  I mean, I wasn’t doing that at home but I could have been.  To hell with them.

Needless to say I wasn’t hopeful and entered the office with a rather “whatever” attitude.  Within minutes a young lady approached me.  “I’m Tiffany.  I’ll be your therapist today,” she said.  I wanted to respond “That’s a stripper’s name and based on the length of your scrubs I’m not sure that’s not your alternative income source.”  But I held my tongue.  Give it time, Harv, I thought…  It might be helpful.  Also, I had this strange sense that because I had been feeling remarkably well (especially since that trip to Cabrini’s shrine) that this would go well.  In my mind “Oh Mr. Harvey, you’re fabulous!  You can stretch better than any stretcher we’ve ever seen!  Please stay and entertain us with your witty bon mots!”

I followed the hooker therapist back to the ward.  Seriously, that’s all it is.  It’s a giant room with tables, beds, some bizarre rail contraption, sets of wooden stairs that don’t lead anywhere except to a drop-off, and the occasional curtain divider hanging from chains.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was very clean and bright and everyone seemed cheerful.  “I’m gonna’ have you lay down on this table right here,” said Tiffany.  “First, it’s lie down, not lay down.  Second, you’re not gonna’ have be do anything.”  OK, I didn’t actually say that and I’m not 100% sure if my grammar is correct on lie/lay/lain but that’s what I was thinking.  What did I do?  I got on the table.  “No!” barked Tiffany.  “Did they show you how to log roll in the hospital?” she asked.  “Yes,” I said, “but that was months ago.”  “Doesn’t matter!  EVERYONE should log roll in and out of bed ALL THE TIME!!!” she shot back.  Holy cow, this chick meant business.  So I got up, sat back down on the edge of the table, and “log rolled” myself back into the same exact position.

Cat and Camel?  This is twisted...

Cat and Camel? This is twisted…

Over the course of the next hour and a half I came to learn two important lessons.  First, Tiffany’s a bitch.  OK, three important lessons.  First, Tiffany’s a bitch.  Second, apparently the muscles in my legs are tighter than Rich Uncle Pennybags.  The Monopoly dude?  No.  Oh for God’s sake, why am I the only one who pays attention to cultural references?!  Whatever.  See, apparently I’m supposed to be able to keep one leg flat and raise the other 90 degrees in the air while keeping it straight.  Yep, ain’t happening.  She printed off a whole list of exercises to help me with that.  What’s the third lesson?  Skip to the jump and let’s discover together!

During one of her attempts at straightening out my leg I winced.  “That kind of hurt my incision,” I said.  In a totally-not-log-roll fashion Tiffany immediately flipped me with one hand into a prone position (I was now facing down on the table).  With my head pressed into the table I managed to get out “No, the other incision.”  She flipped me back over.  “Stop doing that,” I said rather cautiously, still fearful of her brute strength and afraid she might go off at any moment like a loaded pistol in the wrong hands.  “You mean you have… another incision!?” she asked with her eyes wide open.  I was now officially scared.  I was already scarred.  Ha.  Get it?  I explained to her that I had been incised abdominally.  “Mind if I have a look?” she asked.  “Well, I suppose since you are a doctor…”  I untied the string holding up my shorts.  I don’t usually wear running shorts.  I won’t explain.  Before I knew what was happening, Tiffany had her hands on my abdominal incision.  She explained that it had probably adhered to my intestines.  Apparently the way to break the adhesion loose was to massage the heck out of the incision.  The only problem is that her definition of massage involved torture.  For 20 minutes she beat the hell out of me.

That’s really about it.  I went home feeling weird.  The next day I was sick as a dog with what I thought was a stomach bug.  Nope, I think it was just Tiffany’s massage.  And she assured me, this is the best part, that she was just a “temp” in that office and wouldn’t be seeing her again.  Thank the Lord.  Nonetheless, I’m supposed to subject myself to this torture at my own hands every day.  Her last words to me were “Make sure you massage that incision whenever you can.  Sitting in traffic, wherever, whenever…”  I looked back at her in distress.  “Tiffany.  Are you telling me that in traffic I’m supposed to unzip my pants, reach down, and play with my… incision?”  “Yes,” she said, “you have to be that guy.”  “No,” I said, “I don’t.  I’m a school teacher.  Think about that.”

The next six weeks should be a riot.

Is It Over?

Through the magic of scheduled posting I have no idea whether I made it out or not.  LOL.  Strange, huh?  I don’t mean that in any kind of morbid way.  I’m sure I’m still alive and breathing.  I just mean that it’s most likely that I’m still under general anesthesia while this is posting.  I can say that these past few hours have been quite boring.  I can’t wait to wake up.  Hopefully they’ll have a good kickass painkiller being pumped into my body and I’ll actually be able to go home soon.

Keep praying and I believe my wife, the lovely Mrs. Harvey, will post an update to this page when everything is over and I’m out.  She, too, will be asking you to pray for me.

Thank the Lord it's not like this anymore.

Thank the Lord it’s not like this anymore.

 

It’s Here – A Prayer Request

I’m going in for surgery this afternoon.

Please pray and ask others to do the same.

Right now, the thing that’s bugging me most is that I haven’t had my coffee.  Yep, they pushed me back to 2PM from my original 8AM time.  I hope I don’t get sick from this.

I said good bye to my kids this morning.  That made me a little sad; but you have to take everything in to account and I don’t want anything to happen to me without having said good bye to my babies.

Then I went to mass with my mother-in-law and afterward asked Father if he could hear my confession.  I think I’m good to go.

After they put me under I won’t know what’s going on.  It’s a little frightening, not going to lie.  Yes, I’ve had this done before but it’s still scary whenever you know that someone is going to cut your  body open.  It’s expected to take four hours so let’s get back to the beginning…

Pray for me, please.

Hey! Where Did We Go?

This has been such a long day for me.

I literally got about 45 minutes of sleep last night… and that came in five minute increments.  I just could not sleep.  I had been promised* a snow day by a person at work in a position to deliver on such a promise.  Wordy?  Sorry.  Twitter was involved.  I ramped up my efforts to get my students on my side.  It was a glorious effort.

I always got a kick out of these smiley heads of pain-things.

I always got a kick out of these smiley heads of pain-things.

Have I mentioned that I’m two and a half weeks smoke free?  It was a twenty year ride people.  It’s not the easiest thing in the world and the fact that I ripped the patch off two days ago and said: “Pfft…  I don’t need this thing.”  Besides, it was making my heart race.  Couple that with a disgusting virus my daughter gave me and I was just a quivering mass of jelly.  BUT, I was jelly with no cigarettes.

Anyway, after getting to work, making some plans, catching up (for I had been out sick yesterday), and stopping to catch my breath as the pain started to catch up to me…  As I walked into my classroom I passed a dozen students (and teachers) in the halls who all said “Hey, at least you tried for us, Mr. H.”  That I had.

I got a text from my wife.  Without going into it, I needed to turn around and go home pretty quickly.  Thank God I have such wonderful colleagues.  I mean that.  I don’t know that any of them read my blog and that’s OK; but knowing that I could count on them to drop into my classroom like ninjas and that everything was going to be OK took a huge burden off of me.

And at this point I have to say, I don’t like missing work; but I have been trying to look on the bright side of things.  Truthfully, who couldn’t use an afternoon off here and there?  I say this especially since those days off give me a chance to get off my feet and with the pain I’ve been in lately that’s welcome relief.

By the way, this post is really fun to write.  I’m just sharing my perspective.  Also, I remembered that at least one of my colleagues does read this blog, albeit a few weeks after the fact.

So, once the debacle I came home to settle was settled, I had the joy of letting my wife and son rest.  You see, he caught the virus when I was done with it.  The wife?  Well, she’s just tired from taking care of us.  They napped (along with her mom, recovering from her mastectomy at our house) while Baby Girl and I got down on the floor and cleaned the kids’ bedroom.  That only took about an hour.

When that was done, I stopped to eat and then hunkered down to write my coursework for the week.  If you’re keeping score that’s 1 6-page response paper for school law (Court decisions relating to student freedoms) and 1 Literature review for an action research project.  I’m not keeping score so I don’t know where any of this is coming from.  Took me about an hour and then I slammed the books shut, grabbed a quick, hot shower, got into some comfortable loungewear, and sat down to watch Shark Tank with my wife.

So here’s my big question…

Where did everyone go?  I mean, I miss my Zero to Hero crew.  It was actually a fun gathering.  Yes?  I have to remind myself at least once a week to go through and touch base.  *In the meantime, I’ve got to learn not to trust deans of students who tweet snow closings.  Or maybe it’s just because we’re in Dallas and the whole idea of a “snow day” is risible beyond belief.  You be the judge.

What to Write

I got into the habit over the past few days of writing posts before I go to bed and then scheduling them to post the following morning.  I don’t know how much of a “habit” I can actually call this, truthfully, since I’ve only done it the past three nights.  But I have to say that it takes some of the stress off of writing.  If I get to the end of a day and don’t feel like writing, then I already know that I’ve posted something for that day.

No, lately I’ve been wondering not when to write but what to write.

Any of you my writing friends ever go through this?  It’s not hard to imagine this happening as a lot of us tend to post at least five times a week.  That’s a lot of topics covered.  Oh well, let me try to share some thoughts tonight.  Why not?

This week I’ve been particularly impressed with how mature my children (especially Sonny Boy) have become.  From his violin practice to his schoolwork to his general attitude about life and his emerging sense of humor, he is showing himself quite the extraordinary young man.  My Baby Girl, too, is honing her cuteness skills.  She reminds me every day how much fun it is to have a little girl in your life.

Then I wonder sometimes lately why I decided to go for this degree I’m working on.  The work hasn’t gotten any more difficult.  But with the end in sight, all of a sudden I’m feeling like it’s not going to lead anywhere.  I’m thinking it would have been better to take the four classes I initially needed.  But who knows?  I really just want it to be over.  Perhaps then my evenings will return to being the time of day when I actually get to visit my kids in a meaningful way and not under the cloud of stress wondering what this professor is looking for and how I’m going to deliver it.  So other than the $40K I’ll owe (online review of this particular MS/Ed. Admin. program forthcoming) I think June is looking mighty nice right now.

Yep, I'm an old man (at 36).

Yep, I’m an old man (at 36).

Oh…  There is the looming spine surgery thing.  At the moment it looks like I’ll be popping the pain pills for a while longer since my doctor isn’t taking me back in until next Friday.  Another week like this.  Do you know I’ve started using a cane?  A cane?!  I’m 36 years-old and I’m walking with a cane.  Ever the style maven, I simply borrowed an awesome walking stick we gave my father-in-law a few years ago.  It’s got an 8 ball on top and actually unscrews to reveal a dagger.  Bizarre.  My students have flipped over this thing.  Apparently, I could get cooler.  Again I wonder why I wasn’t this popular when I was younger.  One of them asked why my father-in-law was willing to part with it.  My response took him by surprise.  “He hasn’t been upright in a while.  That’s because he’s dead.”  I think Marigold (my wife’s late father) would get a kick out of the adulation his cane is bringing.  You were quite the fashion plate, Jim.  But then I always thought that.

So perhaps I’ll get the surgery done in June.  But do you know what?  There’s a certain strain that this all puts on a person.  I’m only going to say this once and then I’ll shut my mouth about it.  And I’m not complaining.  I have an awesome life.  But when it comes down to it, this is hard!  Wondering and worrying what kind of stress and tribulation this is going to put on the people you love sucks.  Another few months of my wife having to deal with a crippled husband?  Sucks.  Wondering what it’s going to be like to still be a teacher next year after finishing another degree?  Sucks.  Yeah, I kind of want things done the way I want them done, right now.  Instead I’m being asked to learn how to be patient and, most importantly, how to let go.  God is asking me to let go of my pride, my strength, my plans for the future and just be meek, be weak, and see where He leads me.

This better be good.