By Janet Prince
Finding joy in the little things is a big accomplishment for me right now. For example, today I drove myself to the grocery store…alone. What an amazing feeling of freedom! I am currently at the seven month point of an 18-month recovery from major back surgery I had on July 2 and July 3, so the feeling of freedom was exhilarating!
I have had chronic back pain for as long as I can remember. I had tried the steroid shots that lasted a long time at first, and as the years went on, they would only last a few weeks. Then I tried the nerve block in December 2017 that should have lasted several months, but only gave me about three weeks of relief. We decided to see if Southeastern Spine in Mt. Pleasant could help me.
Gary and I went down thinking the issue with my back were disc issues. Boy we were wrong. The issue I had was worse than either of us thought. My scoliosis that I was diagnosed with when I was 12-years-old and never had issues with because it was so minor turned into a major problem as I have aged. My spine had spiraled in the middle, and this was causing my right rib cage to collapse onto my pelvic bone. Thankfully it had not grown together! Gary and I spent the rest of the day talking about how to best fix the problem with a scoliosis specialist on staff.
I needed a two-day surgery to get my back corrected. On the first day, they went in laparoscopic and inserted spacers between my vertebra from top to bottom and corrected the disc issues. The second day they cut me in 21 different places to make my spine get back to where it should be, fused 10 vertebrae, put in five screws, and did a bone graft. Basically, I have been told it was seven surgeries in one.
I don’t remember much about the first few days following the surgery, but I do remember the agonizing pain. Back surgery is not for sissies. I was in the hospital for 7 days and then spent a week and a half at Health South in Charleston. I do remember those days as being some of the hardest days of my life. Once I was there, I had to physically pull myself up in the bed, learn to get in and out of the bed, and to walk again using a walker. Those were dark days for me; they were so dark that I quit answering my cell phone or any text. This made my best friend so worried that one day when I woke up from napping she was standing at the foot of my bed. I was so happy to see her! Gary drove down every day when he got off work and stayed with me until after I had my dinner. I know that was hard on him, but he didn’t want me to be alone.
Once I returned home, the work to heal really started. I spent the next eight weeks wearing a back brace, laying on my back, and watching summer turn to fall. Thank goodness for the Hallmark Channel!
I was able to start physical therapy in October, and it made all the difference in the world. I would go two to three times a week for an hour and half pushing myself to work harder and go farther than I did the day before. I had a goal of wanting to walk straight down the aisle at our daughters’ wedding on January 4th. All during this time I was not allowed to drive myself so Gary or Ashlan would drive me each day. Not being able to drive and go when and where I wanted was very hard. I felt I had lost my freedom and independence, but I was not going to let the pain and hard work beat me.
During this time of healing, I have gone from “I can do this” to total depression and back to “I’ve got this.” As fall moved to winter, the days were getting shorter and the gloomy weather set in causing more depression. Depression is hard to come back from, but I recognized the signs and contacted my doctor for help. I’m not ashamed of the depression, and I believe it was normal for what I was going through with my body. The pain that is there each day, not being able to go where I wanted when I wanted, and just the act of walking have all been challenging. When Gary and I went for my check up in January, they reminded me again that I was just six months in to my recovery, and that I was really doing well.
I must look for joy in my days, but I don’t have to look too far…. when I look at my girls that brings me joy and pride. They are two remarkable young ladies and show their love for me every day. Plus, I have the best husband. In our 23 years of marriage, he has spent the last 16 helping me with every health issue from my diagnosis with breast cancer in 2003 and all the surgeries that came with that and now my back. He has been a real trooper always encouraging me and reminding me how good he thinks I am doing. I feel safe and know that I’m going to make it through the next 11 months pushing and fighting to get back to my life with Gary by my side.
When you find joy in the simplest things in life like going to the grocery store by yourself, you must keep in perspective knowing there is an end to this chapter although it’s not today. For now, I must remember Romans 8:10, “The pain that you’ve been feeling, can’t compare to the Joy that’s coming.” I must believe my joy that is coming has to be amazing!