Monday, August 19, 2013

Two years Prologue

Yea I know...prologue is a beginning...not the ending....but really it is just that...the beginning of the rest of my life...a complete life with no least not about back surgery.

First of all I want to say thanks to all the people who have read this blog (8,764 "page views" as of this writing) and contacted me. It was always my hope that I could help others facing the same predicament as me...and from the volume of emails I received I think I have done that.  I am so happy I could relieve some of your anxiety pre- and post-surgery.

My TLIF was on July 11, 2011. I know in this blog I said I would continue to post entries every month and that just has not happened...and I apologize...but there is a very good reason for life has pretty much returned to normal...and I have resumed most of my normal activities.

I bike, I hike, I lift weights, I go on vacation, I have sex...and it doesn't hurt (yea!!) life is full and it is because of this surgery. There are still some things I cannot do (like running....although I have thought about it) but for the most part I have resumed my life pretty much pain free.

I often speak of my back in percentages (as a percentage of 100% normal). My best days are 95%+ and my worst are about 85%. But most of my days are over 90% and about three quarters of those days hover around 95%. I still have a little back pain occasionally...from the segment that did not get fused...and a bit of leg numbness right above my right knee from that....but a little ibuprofen (maybe once a week) and I am happily on my way. I consider myself fortunate...but I also feel I made my own fortune. I worked at returning to normal and it has paid off for me and it can for you too.

I offer this as proof...

On July 24th, 2013 I was in Africa on vacation with a group of eight other people (including my two amazing sons, my ex-wife, her husband, and his two kids)...and in the wee hours of that day...about 6:30 a.m...I summited Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet (that is me third from the left on the top the orange and brown jacket). It was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life...and that is no small feat. In the past I have run a marathon, ridden well over 100 miles a day on my bike (sometimes over 450 miles in a week), hiked for over a week in a wilderness area in less than hospitable conditions....but this topped them all. It took nearly every ounce of strength I had to get up (and back down) that mountain....but I did it!

And you can too. Maybe you won't climb Kilimanjaro....but you can resume your life....and you can accomplish amazing feats...and reach personal goals. As I said at the start of this blog...there are many tales of failure about this type of surgery...but I wanted my legacy to be one of success. This will be my last post to this is time to move on with the rest of my life. You can still reach me at and I am happy to answer your questions...but I really have nothing left to tell you about my story.

I did go do it for yourself too.

All my best....Craig

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

5 weeks post surgery...hiking????

Not much has happened but a lot has happened.

Good progression on the healing front....the pain continues to subside and the weakness is getting less in my back. So much so I really began pushing it. On Saturday August 6th (just under 4 weeks post surgery) I went for a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. I started off thinking I would go a couple miles up and a couple of miles back....but I got out there and felt I kept on going....5 miles to Ouzel Lake (and back for a total of 10 miles). My doc said I could walk and hiking is walking right?

Amazing to I called my surgeon the following Monday and asked if it was ok (how does the expression go...better to beg for forgiveness than ask permission). Needless to say he was not too happy...and I got very strict instructions to do WALKING only until my 6 week checkup (next Tuesday).

I also asked about not wearing my brace while sitting (thinking that it was only for preventing a nasty event while walking around) and once again was freaking way.

Oh well....I expected much of the pushing the envelope...and the doctor pushing back....he knows I want to cut loose so I am sure he will let me go as soon as possible. I am dying to get back on the bike (no...not on the road but at least the indoor stationary one). I understand I cannot subject myself to a possible crash outdoors....but I have never crashed my stationary bike...yet.

Back at work in the office on a regular basis...I was in Chicago the week of August 1st and then back in my office in Denver for the first time in a month the week of August 8th. No pain sitting up and no pain driving.  No painkillers....the success story I was hoping for.

I have a little leg pain and numbness the last two weeks...but nothing significant. I am sure it is related to the ruptured disk that was repaired above L5. But I see that as something less significant than the fusion at L5-S1. It can be touched up again in the future arthroscopically. But the fusion is the full monty and it is important it is healed properly now. I won't know for certain until Tuesday...but I am pretty certain it is waaay ahead of schedule. I hope my doc starts to turn me loose.

Really not much else to report...the progress is measured more slowly now....but suffice it to say I feel great and feel great improvement over the last two weeks.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

3 weeks post surgery...the novelty is over

Well the time for sympathy and the time for special treatment are gone. The pain of surgery is also gets better and better each day. I become more and more comfortable without the back brace (it used to be such a crutch) and the "heaviness" in my lower back that I feel when I first stand up in the morning (I spoke of it in earlier posts) seems less and less of an issue.

This damn thing is really starting to heal. I can tell. I can feel it. It feels stronger each day. It brings a new sense of confidence but also a new sense of sometimes feel like I don't need the brace ALL the time (and it is probably true that sometimes it is ok to have it off in a "safe" my living room couch) but I don't want any setbacks because I did something stupid. I am TOTALLY capable of doing something stupid...the zen of being Craig.

The week started off with "returning to work".  No I did not go to the office but I worked from home all the third week. For those of you contemplating this "elective" surgery it meant this. I could sit in a chair all day for about 7 hours a day. I took a break almost every hour for a few minutes to stretch my legs and back. I am a sloucher in a chair (past tense) and now I have to sit up straight...the brace mandates that. I have a drafting table at home as a desk and a bar stool height matching chair. 20/20 hindsight I would have been better off in a chair at the kitchen table. That would have put my feet flat on the floor and my thighs perpendicular to the floor....a much better sitting position. But bottom line I did it and it was GREAT to have something to do. I love my job so that made it easier but at the end of the week I will have been home for over 2.5 weeks....I needed to exercise the brain.

Speaking of exercise the walking continues. It was more of the two steps forward and one step back. I would push it some days and the leg pain would kick in and then the next day I might just go for a couple of short walks. But by the end of the week I went for a 4.5 mile walk....not too shabby eh? There are probably some healthy "non-fused" humans that could not pull that one off. I got invited to a concert in a park about five miles from my house so I thought....I am walking there. It gave me a destination and my son gave me a ride home afterwards. It was a great sense of accomplishment and best of the end of the walk....NO LEG PAIN. I had a little fatigue (normal) but no pain. I love when I work feels so was nice to be able to challenge myself again.

Also I went to a party on Saturday night and was on my feet for over 3 hours. The really cool part was that I perfected this "look" to go out. I was feeling a bit self conscious about the brace and how it made me look. Well I put on a t-shirt, with the brace over it...then one of my dress shirts over that (yes the brace fit under the dress shirt) with the tails of the shirt un-tucked and a pair of blue jeans. It was like "preppy casual for the recently fused" man. I was on my feet for 3 hours with no pain. 90% of people could not tell I had surgery until they would give me a hug to say hello or goodbye...and it was like "what the hell is under your shirt"? Oh that? It is a brace I am wearing because I had two vertebra fused less than 3 weeks is nothing!

It felt nice to be resuming my normal, exercise, and socializing...some of my favorite things. But it was not all happiness. There still was this lingering sense of being "broken" and "old". I told my Mom that for the first time in my life I felt old...I have always felt great because I was so active but this changed things. Part of healing is also acceptance of the healing process. You need to come to grips with the fact that this takes time. There is no patience for the impatient. I always have wanted to push things in my life when it came to physical healing. In this case my body was calling the shots and I have to listen. That can be a bitter pill to swallow and it can be a challenge to maintain a positive mental outlook. I have seen a therapist for years just to "talk stuff out". I see him again next Thursday and I am really looking forward to it. The physical part of healing may be going great...but you have to heal emotionally too....that may be harder....DO NOT neglect out your support network and verbalize how you are feeling. It will ultimately help your physical healing too.

My mom left to go home on Saturday and that was not without mixed emotions. She was absolutely amazing in the moral, physical and emotional support she provided. When I first got home from the hospital she changed my wound bandages (try and do that yourself) and many other things around the house. For two weeks I did not have to do laundry, feed the cats, clean the litter box, and clean the house. She was incredible. I love her so much and it was nice to have her around. Yes like all of us I sometimes railed against her being around (and making me feel like I was 12 years old even though I am 54) but it was greatly appreciated.

BUT...and this is a big BUT....YOU MUST START CARING FOR YOURSELF AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!!! I started to do tasks I could do myself as soon as I was able (cook dinner, do some grocery shopping, run errands, etc). Notice that many of those things...are things I can do without bending over. The things my mom did allowed my back a little respite until she went home (at 19 days post surgery) and now the onus is back on me. Yes I still get my kids to do some heavy lifting and such....but the operation of the household fell right back on me (and you should want that). You feel better....start carrying your own weight again. Get your ass up and off the couch and DO SOMETHING! Be normal. Get back to the way things were before. Honestly it is part of your emotional AND physical healing.

There was one annoying physical regression that I was not expecting. The restless leg thing came back about two nights before my mom left. My god is that annoying. I have no proof that it is due to the surgery and recovery...but I have never had these symptoms to this extent until this happened. It makes sleeping difficult at a time when you need your rest. That is all I am going to say about lasted in earnest for about 4 nights and now is waning again....good riddance!!

Two other things of note before I wrap this up....

One I went to see a urologist for some of the symptoms I have been exhibiting over the last 3 years from an enlarged prostate. Repeat after me....Getting Old Sucks...well not really...I really love my age....would not go back for anything. But I went back and found out I need to get a biopsy of my prostate because my PSA levels were rising. On one hand I was bummed....but honestly...I am soooo thankful I was forward thinking enough to continue to get screenings and such for this. I would rather be nervous about a biopsy that I scheduled proactively...than dead because I never saw the doctor. I have had a physical every year for the last 10 years. I figured I had the "car up on the rack"....lets get the overhaul. Another hiccup in my year....but dammit this worm is gonna turn!!

Two...I am traveling to Chicago on business...great timing. Again I get to heal more without having to clean up a household, cook dinner, take care of my pets, etc. A week of staying at a hotel will do me a lot of good....more rest.

Well that is it for this usual if you are reading this and you have questions....please email me at If I am doing this can you....don't believe the horror stories you see so much of on the internet. If you are healthy...and proactive...and work at can have a similar outcome.

This is what I was hoping would happen...when I started writing this almost a month ago....a success story. I may have had "my hiccups" but this is 95% positive THAT is pretty damn cool.

See you next week....Craig

Saturday, July 23, 2011

13 days...leg pain??

Really not too much has changed in the last two days. I am at that interesting spot where I am beginning to feel more and more "normal" which is great but can also give you a sense of false security. I have only been healing for 13 days but because of the lack of pain I have almost done some things I should not.

When getting into bed I am supposed to do the "log roll". That involves laying on your side...pulling your knees and legs onto the bed and THEN rolling over (like a log). Instead I want to get into bed like I used to (lift the legs up and lay a sit up in reverse). BAD BAD BAD lower back is not nearly well enough healed to handle that kind of stress. Repeat to self...log roll...log roll....log roll.

I have been trying to get a lot of walking in. Seems great but I seemed to have a bit of leg pain when I did. I asked my surgeon about it and his advice was this. Within 5 minutes of starting to walk take a baseline assessment of how I feel...what hurts and where. If at any time during the walk the pain gets worse...stop.

The leg pain is due to the healing of the ruptured disk that my surgeon repaired between L4 & L5. It is still healing and will eventually scar over...but until then...any undue stress can cause it to re-rupture. NO I do not want a do-over. So I have been paying extra close attention to my pain level when I walk. I found that if I walk slower it seems to respond better. So that turtle walking on the bike path would be me. Used to be when I was young I would fight through injuries...ignore the pain...those days are long gone...I have turned listening to my body's signals into an art form. Call me Leonardo of the lumbar.

Not much else to report....except more of the same. Still cannot believe I am so pain free at about two weeks out. This is truly my way of seeing things. So here's to more pain free walking and continued healing....and oh yea....log roll...log roll....log roll.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

11 days post op

The progress continues to be astounding to me. My back pain as I knew it for the last year is gone. Now for those of you contemplating this surgery....this is good and bad news. Good news is that it just may have worked....but too early for the victory laps and ticker tape parades. But is is VERRRRY promising. The down side is that I still have some pain but that is from the surgery (totally expected). I have some pain at the incision site and internal....but really not that bad....Tylenol keeps it in check.

Sleeping is getting better and better. The first days at home it hurt to roll over and I was using a bed pan to avoid getting up (painful) in the middle of the night. Now I can roll over...arch my back slightly to move my butt around in bed and roll back and forth almost completely pain free. In the morning when I get up it feels "full" and swollen but again that would be expected from my perspective.

I continue my daily walking. I am averaging over an hour a day. The only downside to the walks is a little bit of leg pain. I am not sure if the pain is from walking so much (a type of exercise my body is unfamiliar with) or if it is post surgery leg pain from decompressing the nerves. My hunch is that it is a bit of both. But in general the pain is decreasing daily. I also have been experiencing a bit of restless leg syndrome....but nothing in that regard in the last two days so that may have been a brief isolated incident.

Went to a Colorado Rockies games last night...sat through the whole thing pain free. The Rockies won in the bottom on the 9th. Walked to and from the stadium. Starting to feel like my old life again.

My first follow up visit with Dr Ghiselli (my surgeon) was today. All went VERY well and I got important clearances. One to go back to work and another to drive (Free at last...Free at last). I plan to work from home next week and maybe transition to the office as I feel better. But I am so ready to be back to being productive again and I love my job. Jello brain is starting to set in on the home front (perhaps taping those soap operas for my Mom is having some residual effect).

Finally....I had ordered one of those super duper Human Touch reclining chairs (about $2,100) from a local retailer, The Better Back Store. It was supposed to be delivered the day I returned home from the hospital but the base that I ordered was on back-order (no pun intended). Better Back agreed to give me a loaner (free of charge) until my chair came in. I got home and quickly determined that I was able to find places where I was comfortable sitting and reclining without the chair. I called Better Back and they agreed to give me a full refund. I wanted to mention them because they were sooooo cool about it. No questions asked. Bottom line is that you may of may not benefit from one of these chairs but if you buy from a store like Better Back you may have some options if you find out that it is not needed. Better Back carries a variety of products that you might find beneficial to make your convalescence more comfortable. According the their website...."Healthy Back strives to be the leading brand of high end comfort solutions and ergonomic products for back pain and other physical conditions.". Check them out...they were really nice and I have no connection whatsoever.

Monday, July 18, 2011

8 days post op

**This somehow was inadvertantly deleted so I am reposting it and adding two more days to it**

Home for two days...I have to admit it is a huge relief to be out of the hospital. The care was great and nurses and staff at Rose Medical Center were wonderful but there was just this something that I could not put my finger on. If I wanted to feel better I needed to get out of there...resume my "normal" life.

The first night at home my son went to Subway to get sandwiches for my Mom (my short term caretaker) and me. So I just hung around the house that night and was trying to find out where the hell could I sit comfortably, and for how long. What things did I need in the bedroom at night? Like medications, thermometer (of course I could not find it), something to drink, phone, bedpan (easier than getting up if I was in pain), computer, etc.

Then there are all these things that I just took for granted in my life...that I now needed help with in some way. There was the 10 pound lifting restriction (feeding the cats, cleaning the litter, taking out the trash) and the bending and twisting restriction (things that were down below my waist where I could reach them like pots and pans, shaving cream, shoes, etc). Trust me there is a lot to figure out and it is really nice to have someone to help you out...thanks Mom!. On the other hand I don't want to turn into "that guy" that does nothing for himself and asks to have it done for him even if he can do it himself. Yes I can walk to the refrigerator and get myself a cold drink if I want one....but the temptation is there. Bottom what you can do for yourself...but make sure you are following your doctors orders with weight restrictions and such. But you will be blown away by how many things in your house are at a place where you would have to bend at the waist to get at reach those items you now need to put them on higher shelves or do a "deep knee bend" to the floor to pick them up. You gain a brand new perspective for your "normal" life.

Speaking of "normal" my bowels also got in on the action today....where was all that food going? I had not had a bowel movement since Monday (day of surgery). I will not belabor this but I was doing everything in my power (bran flakes, bran muffins, prunes, carrots, roughage, etc). Game over...back to "normal".

Sleeping in my bed again was wonderful. It was soooooo comfy compared to the hospital....and no tubes in my arms, or my penis, or nurses walking in at 3:00 for meds....wonderful!! I had to wake myself up for meds...which I did for a couple of nights but by that time (Sunday) I was no longer taking narcotic pain killers. I am still using a bedpan at night (easier than getting up) but I think today that ends....time to make the short walk to the bathroom. I have had a little bit of restless leg type of thing going on...not sure why....maybe coming off of narcotics...and that has disrupted sleep a bit but for the most part I have slept great. When you get up in the morning your back can feel kind of "full" or swollen...but walking around for a few minutes alleviates that. But the best suggestion I can make is get all your "night" stuff to your night stand...that way it is there when you need it and you can just roll over to get it rather than wandering around the house for it in the middle of the night.

The back brace....a rapidly developing love/hate relationship. I love the way it supports me....and that is about it. I hate the way it looks. I hate the way it can cut off my breathing when I sit a certain way. I hate the way it makes me all hot and gross (yes it is 95 outside lately so this may have more to do with temperature than the brace). I hate the way it looks (oh I already said that...well I really do). It makes me feel like an old man and I don't like that. I was no Adonis but I took care of myself and this feels like I didn't. Get over it Craig...because it is not going anywhere. I wear it over my clothing. Maybe I can figure out a way to wear it under clothes with a loose fitting shirt over top of it...who in!!

I am not able to exercise (with the exception of walking) for three months....something needs to change and that something is my diet. I used to work out everyday aerobically. I knew going out to eat was not an option...nor was eating a bunch of I needed to do some shopping. I also wanted to be a bit more cognizant about what I was eating. All my life I have had a propensity to put on weight and for 3 months I am not going to be working out regularly...that means eating better, lower calorie meals. Not that I ate bad before but I would do "take out" a lot so this was a good time to get things like salads, vegetables, etc back into the diet in a more consistent way. That meant a trip to the grocery store on Friday (one day after I returned home).

No I am not going to blog about going to the grocery was the same as usual....with the exception my son drove me. What was interesting is that I walked around for about 2 - 3 hours that day. Then got home and went for a walk after a couple of hours. I felt good enough be out and about for extended periods of time immediately. Yesterday (Sunday) I went for three different walks of 0:30, 1:30, and 0:30. I felt great! My legs feel a bit tired but I feel great....truly! Iheard from someone else that walking was key and I am taking that to heart. My mom keeps saying "Oh Craig...please don't overdo it"...but it feels natural to get out there and DO something. I have always needed the ability to blow off steam....this is not the same as riding bike but I have to go with it...because it is all I've got.

Finally narcotic pain killers (percocet, vicodin, name a few). This is one subject that had concerned me forever. I have an addiction type personality. If you can do it to excess...I can do it to excess. I felt like I needed the pain killers to manage my pain but also felt like I needed to be very wary of them. I started taking narcotic pain killers last fall and here is it almost 12 months later. I generally took them in the evenings because that was when ibuprofen or acetaminophen were totally ineffective. Well Sunday was the first day I did NOT take at least one in probably 10 months. If you want one single reason why this surgery was a success you can point to that. In one week I am sitting here telling you that I did not take pain killers yesterday and I likely will not take them today. It was the pain that was killing me and right now it feels manageable and I am a mere one week post op.

BIG HUGE GIGANTIC WIN....more in two days!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Check out day....yeah!!!!

Time to go home....REALLY time to go home....there is this overall feeling that hospitals are for the sick so if you want to be well you need to leave the hospital ASAP. Could I stay here another my back fine....yes is these damn flu like symptoms that is like the only thing that would keep me...but today I have a caretaker on the home front (my Mom).

One thing I would truly recommend on this whole thing is that you have someone to "help you out" when you get home. Could you do it yourself....sure. Is having someone to go to the grocery store, pick up around the house, help you put on your socks, make dinner, etc helpful? Incredibly!

Today was more of the same....feverish, achy, flu-like. The back was tolerable...the flu like stuff sucked. FINALLY got to take a shower today....damn near orgasmic.....3 days of grime and bed head.....made me feel human again. So all in all I feel pretty good....wish I had a better baseline for those that read this in the future but I think the flu-like stuff is an aberration.

The back hurts but is manageable. Have a little bit of leg pain when I lift my right leg but nothing too bad and Ghiselli seemed not too concerned. Said that was pretty typical.

This morning the IV came out...that always feels good after 3 days....looks pretty "tired" around then. Three days of rolling around in bed, bumping things, snagging on things....good riddance. I am tubeless. In exchange I have hardware. Can't wait to see the first X-rays....that should be cool.

Well it is time....the hospital staff has been great. Nurses there when you need them but not bopping in at 3:00 am for no reason. Food was decent. And then there was the morphine pump....fond memories of that bad boy.

From now through the end of two weeks I will do every other day updates....then every other week for the rest of the first three months....then monthly for the rest of the first year.

I still need to figure out how to get this to show up better on a Google search....probably need to go to some spinal forums and post my link. Also I would like to do some patient outreach with my surgeon and some of his future fusion patients. Again I am doing this because there just did not seem to be this type of information like this on the internet...if I can reduce one person's anxiety before their surgery it will have been worth it....actually I think I reduced my own anxiety by talking it I already accomplished my goal.