Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Back Surgery: the caretaker's point of view

Andrew has been in varying amounts of pain for the last SIX YEARS. That is a long time. A really long time. Part of his brain was constantly thinking about how he could reposition himself to minimize the pain. We went through a couple of years where it was just minimal discomfort. And then there was the Christmas that he had to crawl around the house on his hands and knees because he physically could not stand up. It has been rough.

Earlier this year, as the pain began to return with a vengeance, Andrew's surgeon (Dr. Brooks) suggested that maybe it was time for surgery. It was a scary decision that required lots of thought and prayer and a visit to the temple, but Andrew felt like it was the right thing to do. And I didn't feel opposed to it. So we started to prepare.

Dr. Brooks recommended an ALIF (anterior lumbar interbody fusion). There's a little video explanation here if you're curious. His damaged disc (L5-S1) had collapsed and was only 5 mm high. (In comparison, his healthy discs were 16 mm.) Dr. Brooks was very optimistic that Andrew would have positive results from the surgery. Our hopes were HIGH.

The big day was scheduled for Dec 12. Dr. Brooks and our physical therapist did a good job of helping us know what to expect. Andrew would be out of work for about six weeks. He would not be allowed to bend, arch, or twist his back for that long. He can't drive for that long. He has to take it easy while the bone graft takes place. I also did some research online and a bunch of shopping to get our home ready for his recovery.

On the night of the 11th, we took a family picture.
That creeped Andrew out.
But, hey, you never know with surgery.
And I would hate to miss out on one last photo op.
Even if the girls are already in their pj's.

We had to be to the hospital by 5:30 am. That's early. Thank goodness we have amazing friends who are willing to come to our house at FIVE IN THE MORNING when it is STILL DARK OUTSIDE to watch our kids and help get them to school. What a blessing.

 Waiting to be called up to the Short Stay center.

Rockin' the hospital chic look

Last chat with Dr. Brooks before surgery.
We had a prayer together, which was comforting.

And then they wheeled Andrew away.
For a 3 1/2 hour surgery.
I helped pass the time by addressing my Christmas cards.
It was so fun and therapeutic.
I put on my Pandora Christmas station, 
popped in an ear bud,
and addressed away.
But I ended up wishing we had more friends and family.
Because by the time I was done addressing, 
I still had lots of time left to wait.
 and wonder. 
and worry.

In general, I am not much of a worrier. But because Andrew had a bad reaction when he came out of anesthesia last time, I was a big ol' anxiety-ridden mess. You know how restaurants will tell you that they have a 30 minute wait for a table and then they ALWAYS have a table for you before that 30 minutes is up? Hospitals need to take a lesson from those restaurants. They told me that Dr. Brooks should come out to give me an update around 11 am. (Actually 11:04. Weird.) But 11:04 passed. And then 11:15. And then 11:30. By this time, I am starting to think the worst. What went wrong? Is he paralyzed? Is he alive? Aaaagggghhhh! Finally, at 11:50 Dr. Brooks came into the consultation room, smiling from ear to ear. He was thrilled with how the surgery went. He was able to get the ruptured disc cleaned out, removed a bone spur, and placed a 16 mm cage. Exactly what we were hoping for. No complications. I was so happy. And relieved. Andrew believes he is 11 mm taller now. Watch for him on the basketball court next fall.

It wasn't time for me to see him yet, though. After surgery they take him to recovery. This was the part where he struggled coming out of the anesthesia last time, so my worries were not over. Again, the hospital over-promised and under-delivered. They said he would be in recovery for about an hour a half. But it was 2:30 by the time I could go in to see him. Sheesh, people. You're killing me.

Anyway, my worries were unfounded because Andrew was fine.  

Surgery did not affect his sense of humor.
Here he's giving me one of his supermodel poses.

Thumbs up!
Even when he's attached to all these machines.
Love that guy.

Thursday afternoon and evening he was still pretty out of it. but not in much pain. So happy for that. His throat was hurting pretty bad from the breathing tube. And there were other, unmentionable discomforts. But, overall he looked good and felt well.

I went home to stay with the kids on Thursday night and came back to the hospital when I got them off to school Fri morning. I was so glad I could spend the day with him. He was feeling better than Thurs, got some of the unmentionable discomforts resolved, and...

was able to get out of bed and stroll around the hospital.
The best part???
 None of the nerve pain that he'd been enduring for the 
last several years.  Hallelujah! 
He is waiting a few weeks before he calls the surgery
a success, but we're very optimistic about the results.

His physical therapist wanted to see him go up and 
down the stairs to make sure he was going to be 
OK doing it at home. He passed with flying colors.

I left him on Friday evening, ate dinner with the kids, and then came back to the hospital with them to visit.

He was so happy to see them.
But kids and hospitals are not an easy mix.
We kept our visit short and sweet.

I hated leaving him at the hospital. I got to come back for a couple of hours on Saturday. He continued to look better as the days went by, but the doctors weren't ready to let him go.

By Sunday, he was cleared to come home. Yippee!
Getting in the van was the hardest part of the ordeal.
When you are 6 foot, 6 inches, and 11 mm,
it is impossible to get into a vehicle without bending,
twisting, or arching. Ugh.
But we made it!
I felt like I was driving a newborn home from the hospital,
driving as carefully as possible.
Eyeing all the other drivers as accidents waiting to happen.
We made it home safely and now the slow process of growing bones begins.


  1. Hope things continue to go well! Wishing Andrew a quick recovery!

  2. So grateful for everything that has transpired over the past one week. YAY You are at the one-week mark! You are the best care-taker and he is being a patient patient. Loved seeing all of these photos.I won't even mention the poses Dad made to me as we were awaiting his surgery 10 years ago - I think it's a man thing! XOXO
    Mom S

  3. So glad that things have gone so well! And I'm so happy to hear that Andrew is feeling good. And I'm SUPER glad he has a wonderful wife like you to look after him and help him recover.

  4. I'm so glad things are looking good! Keep us updated as the journey continues. I can't imagine 6 years of back pain. Let's hope he never has to endure that again.

  5. Wow! Glad to see that all is well post surgery. Sounds like quite a long ordeal, and I've caught snippets from your blog over the years. John has had constant back pain and neuropathy for 3 years from GBS and we're hoping it won't last 6 but I wouldn't be surprised. It's been a struggle. We're not alone...