Tag Archives: post-op

A Belated Three Month Update

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I really wanted to write a post when it was my three month post-op anniversary, which was over a couple of weeks ago now. That obviously didn’t happen, but I still feel I should do a short update of sorts, so that’s why this post is going up!

I really feel pretty much back to normal again. Not completely, as I still get the occasional twinge or ache, and I also still get tired a lot more quickly than before surgery, but in general I feel great. Pretty much everything I need or want to do I am able to do…. apart from putting on any lace-up shoes in a graceful manner. 😛

In terms of pain, I get a lot less now than I was getting before surgery. The only pain I experience now is occasionally a ‘tired’ kind of ache in my shoulders if I’ve had a really long day. In the last few days I’ve been feeling a slight ‘needle’ kind of pain (I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s sort of stabbing, but very mild – like someone’s pricked me slightly with a needle.) in my back. It only happens very occasionally, and I’m pretty sure that it’s the nerves beginning to regrow.

Speaking of nerves, my back is still very numb in a couple of places. It’s weird, and it bugs me a lot, to be quite honest. It’s definitely a lot less numb than it was straight after surgery, but there is still a patch on one side, from my shoulder-blade down to my hip, that is completely numb. By that, I mean that if Mum touches it while she’s changing the tape on my scar, the only reason I know she’s touching it is because I can feel that the skin is being pulled slightly on either side of the numb patch. Like I said, it’s weird. I should get most of the feeling back, but it’s quite likely that I’ll have a couple of numb patches for the rest of my life. It’s a bit hard to say whether that’s the case yet or not, as nerves take a very long time to grow back when they’ve been cut through.

Like I’ve said in the last couple of posts, I really want to put up a photo of my scar. It’s looking really good, and I’m very proud of it. We have taken a few photos of it when the tape is being changed, but I’m not going to post them, as they’re not that great. The tape that we were given is super sticky, and leaves a really tacky residue on my back that is pretty much impossible to get off. It doesn’t look particularly nice in photos, and so I’m going to wait until the tape is off for good (only three weeks to go) and we’ve managed to somehow get all the stickiness off my back. So far we’ve tried soapy water, nail-polish remover, rubbing it (not the actual scar, though) with a facewasher, and even methylated spirits, all to no avail. 😛 Ideas? Abby has suggested steel wool….

There are two questions that I’ve been asked a lot since surgery. First, “Will you ever be able to bend your back?”, and second, “Will you get the rods removed?”. They’re both kind of answered in the same way.

Will I ever be able to bend my back? Short answer: no. But I’ll try and explain why. During surgery I had two titanium rods attached to my spine with screws and hooks. The rods serve two purposes: they were used to crank, straighten and de-rotate my spine as much as possible, and they are holding my spine in place until it is solidly fused together. The rods are not flexible, and so at the moment they are stopping me from bending my back. I can still bend from my hips, but I can’t ‘curl’ my back up or down at all. Even if, when the fusion is solid, the rods are taken out, I still won’t be able to bend. Once all the vertebrae are fused together, that section of my spine will be as solid and stiff as any of the other long bones in my body. So no, I will never be able to bend my back. I know that sounds kind of terrible, but I actually haven’t found it to be that inconvenient at all. All it means is that I have to do some things a little differently than before.

And will the rods ever be removed? I sincerely hope not! Even though they’re not really necessary once the fusion is solid, they’re not going to do any harm just staying there. Like I said, I wouldn’t be any more flexible if they were taken out, so unless they were causing problems for some reason, there’s no point in removing them. Very occasionally a rod can break, but that means that a part of the spine hasn’t fused properly, which puts so much stress on the rod that it will break. Given my age and the type of scoliosis that I have, this is very unlikely to happen. Having the rods removed would require another whole operation, and I mean it when I say that I never want to do this again!

I’ve been meaning to post this video for a long time. It’s an animation of a spinal fusion. As it’s completely animated,  there is no blood or nasty stuff involved, and the most squeamish person should be fine watching it! It basically just shows how the screws and rods are attached to the spine, and then how the spine is straightened. Since it doesn’t show any bone chips being packed onto onto the spine, I suppose it’s not technically an animation of a fusion. But it still gives the general idea of how the operation is performed.

Pretty amazing, I think. Whenever I watch it I’m reminded of why this recovery is kind of long, and how well I feel for only a few months post-op!

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More Inches, Less Degrees

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Well, it’s been a few weeks since I last posted. There have been many times that I have had very good intentions about posting, but circumstances have always interfered just as I’ve been about to sit down and start writing… However this time I’ve managed to actually get as far as starting to type, so hopefully I’ll have managed to write up a post of sorts before the day is over. 🙂

I’m just over seven weeks post-op now, and feeling great! I personally think that the six week mark was when I stopped improving gradually… and improved in a dramatic way all at once. At about six weeks I was suddenly able to sit up for much longer without getting uncomfy, go pretty much all day without having to lie down (although I still usually have to have a short lie down around dinner time) and generally do things like normal again. I get barely any pain now, apart from an achy shoulder blade, which will hopefully resolve soon. The most I’ve had to do in terms  of pain-relief has been heat up my wheatie-bag and put it under my shoulder. So I still haven’t had any painkillers, even panadol, since about 3.5-ish weeks post-op. Yay!

I had a six-week post-op appointment up at Starship last Friday. That went really well, and everything is looking great! It was all pretty routine…. I had more xrays (oh, the joys of being saturated with radiation on a regular basis!), and then an appointment with my surgeon. We asked a few questions, he looked at my xrays and scar, and that was pretty much it. These post-op appointments are so much less stressful than the pre-op ones!

Probably the most exciting thing, in my opinion, was hearing how large my curve is now. To start with, it turns out that the xrays taken a few days before surgery (which I don’t think I have) showed that my curve had increased from about 88 degrees in October, to 95 degrees in December. So I was well and truly Right-Angle Girl! That was kind of scary, to be honest, and I’m glad I didn’t know that measurement before surgery! Anyway, my post-op curve now measures at…. wait for it…. a mere 25 degrees!! Honestly, I’m so happy. That’s a difference of 70 degreees – pretty amazing! Even with the anterior release that was originally planned I didn’t think it would be such a good correction, and so it was really amazing to learn that it had been corrected so much with just the posterior fusion. Thank you, Mr. Crawford!!

Here are the xrays I had taken last week. You can see from the side view how large the screws are – it’s a little scary to think of them being inside me! You can also see that my spine is still a little rotated, but again it’s a huge correction. I thought that I’d still have some sort of rib hump, but honestly, I can barely see anything. It certainly isn’t noticeable, and that makes me very happy. 🙂

Look at those screws and hooks!

I really want to post a picture of my scar, but that’s going to have to wait for a little while. I mentioned in my last post that the scar seemed to be widening a little at the top – not a huge amount, but enough to not look as nice as the rest of the scar. We asked about that at my appointment, and the nurse showed Mum how to put special tape down the length of the scar, and kind of pull it together. I have to keep that on for three months, changing it once a week. I honestly didn’t think it would make a huge difference. I could see how it would stop the top from widening any more than it already had, but I thought that it wouldn’t make it any thinner. Well, Mum changed the top bit of tape the next day (we’d been told to do this), and she nearly squealed with excitement. She said that, after just one day, it already looked so much better and thinner than before! I can’t wait to see what it looks like after one week of being on. 🙂 We might take some photos when Mum changes the tape on Friday, and if we do I’ll post them here.

Here’s an interesting fact: this time last year, I didn’t know I had scoliosis. I was making many plans for the coming year, and I can definitely say that none of them involved having a spinal fusion! My year turned out a lot different to how I’d planned it. But I’m glad it happened. (Although I’m not saying that I’d want to do it again!) I think this whole experience has made me a lot more relaxed about letting things happen. I’m currently  planning things for this year ahead, but I’m now aware that circumstances can change quickly, and so ultimately I’m trusting that God will help me make the right choices, and also help me not to panic if things don’t happen quite how I meant them to.

I’m Four Weeks Post-Op!

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Time certainly seems to have gone fast! I am very glad to be able to say that it is much better to be four weeks post-op than it was to be four weeks pre-op.

It feels like I’ve made huge progress in the last week especially, and I’m feeling much closer to being well than I thought I would be at this relatively early stage of recovery. I stopped taking Panadol during the day sometime last week, and, as of this last Sunday, I’ve stopped having it before I go to bed. I wouldn’t say I am exactly pain-free, but I don’t feel that I need painkillers in order to manage, which is good! Walking helps me feel less stiff and achey, and so we’ve tried to go out for a short walk every day.

I still don’t find sitting very comfortable, especially in hard chairs, although that is slowly improving over time. I have discovered that the pews at church and my back firmly disagree with each other, and so it looks like I may be stuck in one of the armchairs in the foyer for a little while to come!

I made my first ‘real’ outing about a week ago. I was getting a bit crazy being stuck inside at home (it was particularly rainy weather at the time), and so Mum took me out to one of the shopping centres. I think I managed to look briefly in two shops before I had to sit down for a rest, but it was so nice to be out. All in all, I think the whole expedition (including driving to and from) lasted about 40 minutes. And I was pretty zonked by the time we reached home. However, yesterday, just over a week later, I went out again, and this time lasted for over two hours before beginning to feel a bit past it. So my strength is slowly but surely building up, and for that I am truly thankful.

My scar is looking good. Quite a lot of the steri-strips have come off now,which makes me happy, as they were beginning to look a bit grotty around the edges. (Imagine how nasty a band-aid would look if you kept it on for four weeks!) The scar seems to be healing well, in a very thin line, except for a tiny bit at the very top which is a bit wider than the rest. The bit at the top is healed, and it doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about, it will just be more noticeable than the rest of the scar. But that’s okay! I’m going to hold off posting a picture for a week or two, I think, because, although I think my scar looks awesome, I wouldn’t like to frighten anyone with it until it is a bit more healed and has all the steri-strips off.

Flexibility-wise: I’m not feeling too limited in terms of what I can do, funnily enough. By half-kneeling and bending from my hips I can reach and pick up pretty much anything. If I drop something while I’m sitting on a chair, I have to get off it in order to reach what I dropped, but that’s a very small inconvenience, and I’m fine with it. If I’m standing I can’t bend too far as yet, but that is mostly because one of my hips is quite sore. It’s been like it since just after surgery, and is slowly improving, but it is the thing that is limiting me most at the moment. If I bend past a certain point it feels like a nerve is being pulled somewhere in my hip, and so I basically don’t bend unless I have to. As I said, though, that is improving, and I should be able to bend soon without it being a problem.

I really feel like my recovery has been relatively quick and easy so far. I know that a lot of people have far harder and more complicated recoveries from this surgery, and I am very grateful that mine has been how it has. However, I definitely wouldn’t tell anyone to take this surgery and recovery lightly. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, to be perfectly truthful. The first couple of weeks are absolutely not fun, and for a while during that time I couldn’t imagine not feeling sore and stiff, or ever being able to do anything normally again. But, now those first days and weeks are over, I’m so glad that I’ve had this surgery done. I’m still far from back to normal, but I’m pretty sure that when I am back to normal, that ‘normal’ will be better than before.

…Two Weeks Later

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Two weeks ago  I was lying in my hospital bed, probably asleep, tightly clutching my morphine button. I still miss that button, to be perfectly truthful. It was a wonderful thing.

Anyway! To get back to the point, I’m now just over two weeks post-op. Instead of lying in a hospital bed… I’m lying on the sofa in the living room. Things have changed a lot in the last couple of weeks.

I realise I haven’t really posted since I came home, but that is mostly because there hasn’t been anything too exciting to post about. In terms of recovery, I’m doing very well. My back seems to be healing like it should, and I’m slowly cutting down on pain-meds. I’m still getting tired very quickly, though, which is basically the only thing stopping me from going out and doing everything as I normally would. Even after something really easy and simple, like brushing my teeth, I have to lie down for ten minutes. I’m finding it a bit frustrating, even though I know that it’s fairly normal in this stage of recovery. I’m pretty sure that this exhaustion is mostly a side-effect from the Tramadol which I’m taking, so hopefully once I’m completely off that I’ll start to feel like I’ve got a bit more energy.

I’ve been kept company while I recover, too. Both the cat and the guinea pigs have been very obliging in that regard (although not at the same time, fortunately!).

I went to the GP last Friday to have my dressing changed, and everything looked good. As per instruction, Mum took that dressing off today, and so now I only have steri-strips covering the scar. Apparently we’re just meant to let those come off in their own time, which should take a few weeks. The scar is looking good, and Mum took a photo today which I’ll put up now.

One “side-effect” of scoliosis surgery is a gain in height. This makes sense when you consider that during surgery the spine is not only straightened, but also untwisted. I gained five centimeters (about two inches) in 7 hours, which is really pretty awesome. Mum measured me the day before I went into hospital, and then again when I got home. The funny thing is, when Mum measured me the first time, I’d actually lost some height from the last time she’d measured me (which was in February). That also makes sense,though. Because my spine had curved and twisted so dramatically in the months in between, I quite easily could have shrunk a little. Here’s a picture of those three different measurements.

I’m now the slightly awkward height of 180 cm (nearly 5′ 11″). It’s a bit weird being this tall all of a sudden, but I’m slowly getting used to it. 🙂

That’s pretty much it, I think! I’ll try not to leave such a big gap between this and my next update. (:

Home Sweet Home

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Sorry for the lateness of this post. I don’t have any particularly good excuses – just that I’ve been quite tired. (:

So I’m home! Just being back home has made me feel heaps better, I think, and it’s been really nice to sleep in my own bed again and have all my books and things handy.

The trip home went pretty well. It took almost two hours exactly from the time we left the hospital gates to when the van pulled up in front of our house. It was the longest I had (and still have) sat up, and I was very relieved when it was all over.

I got discharged at about lunchtime on Tuesday. We decided that the best place for me to sit in the van was the jockey seat in the middle row, which is big and reasonably comfy, and which can lean back. Mum and Abby wedged me in with lots of pillows and a lumbar roll, and we set off.

wearing real clothes again!

It wasn’t exactly comfortable in the van, but it wasn’t painful either, and so I was able to have a little rest. We stopped at Pokeno, and Dad and the girls went off to get an icecream (of course), while I had some Panadol.

yay for powerade and painkillers!

That was the only stop we made, and so the last bit of the trip was the longest. I was getting a little uncomfortable towards the end, and I was very glad when we finally reached home. I managed to make it to my bedroom, and collapsed into bed, where I stayed until dinner. 🙂

I’ve been feeling better every day. I still get tired very quickly, but I’m able to sit up fairly comfortably, and I’ve been trying to get up and walk as much as I can. I’m spending a lot of time lying on the sofa in the living room reading books, and as that’s pretty much my idea of a perfect existence, I’m quite happy! In terms of painkillers, Mum has made up a schedule, and I’ve basically been taking them when they’re due. I’m still on Tramadol (three times a day), Panadol and ibuprofen. The aim is to eventually just get down to Panadol, and so far I’ve skipped a few ibuprofen doses successfully. I don’t want to start cutting down too soon, but if I can get off the ibuprofen as soon as possible, that would be good.

Although I’m glad to be home, I really didn’t hate being in hospital. Everybody up at Starship was really nice, and Mum and I felt very well looked after. It was a very positive experience, and I’m so glad that there is such a wonderful children’s hospital available here in New Zealand.

I’m going to the GP on Friday to have my dressing changed. Hopefully Mum will be able to take a few photos, and I might be able to post some pictures of my scar. (Not gory ones, I promise. It should be looking lovely by now!)

One Sleep To Go

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Today is Day Six post-op – and I’m feeling 100% better than I was even yesterday. Yesterday (Sunday) was actually a bit of a down day for me. I slept through nearly the whole night before, which was great in terms of getting a good night’s sleep, but that meant that I woke up very sore, and it took pretty much all day for the pain-killers to catch up with that. I had some visitors, which was lovely, but I was very tired by the end of the day. I really wanted to do lots of sitting and walking yesterday to gear up for the trip home, but I was too tired and sore to do that. I was also moved from my single room into a four-bed room yesterday, which was a bit of a shame for Mum, as now she gets to sleep on a mattress on the floor as opposed to the pull-down bed in the other room. However, the one other person in this room was discharged this morning, so it’s ended up that I’m by myself again!

So yesterday wasn’t that great. But today has been a completely different story! Here’s a list of all the things I’ve done today:

  • Sat in my chair for an hour without a break. This was a very big achievement for me, and I’m super proud that I finally managed it. I also sat up  quite a few other times, but they were in shorter bursts.

Sitting up for breakfast!

  • Walked right down to the end of the ward and then up and down the flight of stairs. I did this twice – once in the morning with the physio, and once after dinner with Mum. Walking has become so much easier today, and I’m actually finding it almost more comfortable than sitting or even lying down.

Conquering the stairs

  • Had a proper shower and washed my hair. It felt so, so, so good to finally have a real shower,  instead of just using a wet flannel and dry shampoo and I actually felt even better than before after I’d done that.
  • Not come close to fainting, or even feeling dizzy. This is also a big achievement for me, and it has come none too soon in my opinion.
  • And the last thing – I’ve been told that I can go home tomorrow! I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed and eat real food again. This time yesterday I wouldn’t have believed that I’d be okay to go home on Tuesday, but today has convinced me that that can happen. Sitting up for the almost 2 hour trip home will still be a challenge, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll be alright.

So I’m pretty excited. Home – here I come!

Small Steps Forward

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Day 2 – this is the one which has a reputation for being the worst: the really heavy-duty drugs from the surgery and immediate post-operative period are starting to wear off, and the physiotherapists are keen to see good progress in the sitting, standing and walking departments; the patient is encouraged to drink and gradually build up to eating soft foods, and the patient’s insides do not wish to cooperate 🙂

Ruth has been aware of this for months, having done lots of very thorough research.  She is now in a position to report that the rumours are true, but that in her case, she has not found them to be quite as bad as she expected.

Ruth trying very hard to achieve her goal of sitting in a chair for 30 minutes

Today she has sat out of bed twice and walked around the bed once.  When she stands up, she seems very straight and tall.  She says she feels as if her back is heavy and off-balance, but in reality her posture is perfect; it will no doubt take some time to adjust to the new situation 🙂

The upside of having lots of blood tests Dorothy the Dinosaur and Wiggles bandaids.-

The decision was made today to give Ruth a blood transfusion, which is still in progress.  She is already looking much better and feeling much less tired and nauseated.

Gradually various tubes and pieces of equipment are being removed, which is making it easier for Ruth to move around in bed.

Her surgeon has just been in to visit and is very pleased with her progress.  He has told Ruth that it was a difficult curve to correct, but he is glad he was able to do it without the anterior release he was originally planning.  So are we; seeing the huge effects the surgery has had on her whole body, we are thankful that she hasn’t had to also contend with chest and lung issues.

Today was a real family day here:  Ruth’s sister Sarah and her husband and two children came up for the day from Hamilton, and her sister Elisabeth and her husband visited, too.  The two brothers-in-law took themselves into the city to the movies, the sisters all spent time together, and the little ones enjoyed the atmosphere at the hospital.  Starship is a great place for children – playgrounds, toys, lots to look at and things to do.  Perhaps the most exciting thing for the 3-year-old was a trip to the Auckland Zoo with Grandpa and Aunty Becky.  Ronald McDonald House organises a free weekly bus trip to the Zoo for families.  Despite the fact that it was raining, they all had a great time.

It’s a pity they weren’t here yesterday when Ruth had a visit from the Clown Doctors, who managed to make us laugh in spite of ourselves.

The Clown Doctors visiting Ruth

Thanks again for all your messages.  I have been reading them out to Ruth, as she hasn’t been able to focus well on reading anything, but she is hoping to be able to get back onto the laptop tomorrow, so the next post will probably be one from the girl herself.