Update on the back April 11, 2010

A little over a year ago I hurt my back pretty badly and ended up having a surgery to try and fix it. I documented the process on my old blog over at Transworld BMX. A  number of people have been asking me lately how things are going so it seemed like an update was due.  I also posted a little re-cap of some of the old posts below for those who are interested.

Well, it’s been over a year since I’ve been able to ride. I guess I’ve been putting off this post-surgery update hoping I would have something very positive to post. Hopefully something about how I was all better and back to riding. The reality though is that getting back on my bike is going very slowly. I’m still keeping up with all my physical therapy and rehab and for the most part I’m functioning like normal. I can sit again, don’t have any weight restrictions on what I lift and can ride around on a bike no problem. I still can’t “really” ride though. If I so much as hop up a curb shooting pain hits me right in the surgery area. Its pretty frustrating and been this way for about the last 5 months. I get the same pain if I pump a ramp at all as well. The result is that I can roll around, but really can’t get off the ground without my eyes watering from the pain. I saw the doctor again a couple weeks ago and he now wants me to wait another 5 months before he possibly performs another surgery that would take me out for an additional 6 months! Not really sure how that will work out. In the meantime I have been making an effort to push myself harder in the gym and that seems to be helping a tiny bit. I went and rode the new Empire ramp the other day and I actually got about 15 minutes of below coping riding in before I got too sore. All I can really do is to keep working on getting stronger and more flexible to compensate for the fused together disc.

One of the possible causes of this is that the discs above the surgery were also damaged. Not nearly as severely as the one that was removed, but still significant enough to be causing some of this pain. Especially now that they are forced to move even more to compensate for the fused one that can not move at all.  I guess its not abnormal for recovery to take several years too, but hopefully it won’t take that long for me.

I have been riding around more and more. I can really feel the difference in my back… its even changed my riding position ever so slightly. I’m sure part of it is that I am protecting the painful area, but also because I simply can not bend my back the same was as before.

Here’s the recap of how I got here:

I haven’t been riding a whole lot lately because of my chronic back problems. Its been a real trouble for me for the last 4 or 5 years. For a while it went away and maybe I solved the original problem, or maybe it was just hidden.

I’ve been in Cleveland for the last month and I got a gym membership to work on rehabing my back. 5 or 6 days a week in the gym working really hard and doing every exercise I’ve learned for core strength and I felt stronger and in better shape then I have in years. I got back to Austin for a couple week visit and after 10 minutes of riding in a ditch down the street my back was screwed. Odyssey really needed a photo of me for an ad so a couple days later I took a handful of advil, got Sandy Carson to bring a camera and tried to get a photo done. Everytime I hit the lip of a nice hip I found I got a bright white shot of pain radiatiing from my lower back and curse word would shoot out of my mouth.

Just got back from the first visit with my new doctor. All went well. He is a spinal surgeon, but he didn’t seem to think that surgery was the guaranteed way to go.

Of course, the usual drill ensued… “Go get an MRI and come back”.

Just back from the doctors and just went over my MRI results. Heavy news for me. Looks like we are going to do the fusion surgery of L5-S1. Surgery won’t take place for almost a month, but when it does Its only like a 2 day stay in the hospital, but it means that after surgery no activity for 3 months and no riding for real for 6 months! Yikes. I didn’t really expect it to take that long to heal.

The crazy part is they go in through the front of your abdomen to do the surgery. Its a relatively small incision, but two surgeons are present. One to do the actual screw and plate and bone graft surgery, and one to monitor and control the extremely vital arteries that run right in front of the spine. Basically they screw and plate the vertebrae together so they can’t move, and then fill the area where the disc used to be with bone grafts that will fill it in so the damaged disc can no longer put pressure on the spine.

Next step is to meet with the Vascular Surgeon to go over his procedures in the surgery and check to see if my splenectomy scars are going to be an issue for this surgery. After meeting with him I’ll be able to schedule a surgery date. The earliest possible time being between 3 and 4 weeks from now.
I’m pretty freaked out by all this, and dreading being laid up for so long, but at the same time I’m really itching to get this taken care of. Guess I’m staying in Austin for a while to deal with all of this.
I met with the Cardio-Vascular surgeon and got a date for surgery. July 9th they slice me up. He described in detail how they will make an incision from my belly button straight down about 4 inches. Then he pushes all the intestines and stuff out of the way making a hole visible all the way to my spine. The really dangerous part is that he then must move my aorta blood vessel out of the way by gently flexing it to one side. While he was telling me it really started to make me a little bit queazy.

Jamie Bestwick was kind enough to set me up to talk to his doctor about spine surgeries. Dr Gregory Bailey did the fusion surgery that Jamie had done a little while ago and had him riding again in 5 weeks. Dr Bailey confirmed that based on my symptoms and MRI surgery did seem to be the right path. He also made me feel pretty confident about my surgeons. Definitely nice to get a good second opinion. He also restated that a six month recovery time is to be expected with the type of surgery I’ll get (which is substantially different then Jamie’s fusion which was more in his neck).
So this is what they are going to stick into my back. As far as I can tell its a piece of PVC pipe with a big gnarly stainless screw in it. There will actually be 2 more screws too. One going up and two going down. Just like toe-nailing a rib on a ramp or something. This little do-hickey will take the place of the disc they are taking out and lock the to adjacent vertabrae in place. The docs tell me I’m not supposed to lift anything over 10 pounds for three whole months!
Well, I had surgery on July 9th. I spent 3 days in the hospital and the Westlake Hospital in Austin was by far the nicest hospital I’ve ever stayed in. Had my own room and a 50″ plasma TV. The surgery went smoothly and easily and only took an hour and a half. About 3 hours after surgery I was awake and feeling pretty decent. I had the doctors take me off the pain medicine and I found the pain to be fairly mild. All I wanted to do was drink some water and I mistakenly had it in my head that if I wasn’t on pain med they would let me drink sooner. I made it about 16 hours with no pain med at all which I found to be really amazing… they had just sliced me open and drilled holes in my bones! For the first 24 hours they were taking my blood pressure every 30 minutes and I noticed that it went up every time. Right before I gave in and took some pain med it was starting to get dangerously high. I guess that was how my body was dealing with the pain.
And, I was wrong, pain meds had nothing to do with me being allowed water. What it was is that the doctors wanted me to fart before they gave me anything to eat or drink. The reason being is that they moved my intestines around to get to my spine (since the surgery was performed through my stomach) and there was a chance they may have punctured an intestine. I guess if you drink and eat and have a hole in your intestine its very painful and dangerous and requires a emergency surgery to correct the problem. SO, I had to wait for 2 days for my body to naturally um, er…. pass some wind and prove that I was still air tight. It was harder then it sounds because my ab muscles had just been sliced in two.

Anyway, while waiting for some wind and water other uncomfortable things did start to be removed. Got my catherder out the first day which was awesome (ha! good example of the pills… spellchecked this and look how I spelled catheter… Cat Herder!!) . I also got to get up and walk around when I wanted. Moving around for sure made me feel like my blood was starting to move and things were starting to get better.
On the beginning of the 2nd day I went back on pain pills, partially because my blood pressure was racing and partially because things were simply starting to hurt like hell! Now that I’m home (starting my 3rd day home now) I’ve been sticking to a schedule of pain meds. I find they make me kind of silly and stressed out at the same time. Weird things like I dreamed the refrigerator was leaking and couldn’t quite separate dream from reality. Had to get up and actually see if it was leaking before I could sleep again. Been sleeping a lot and feeling zombie-fied when I’m awake, but every so often I feel pretty clear and with it. Already cutting back on the pain meds now and I can tell that each day I am making steps towards healing. The only thing that really hurts badly is the incision in my stomach. I’m sure that will heal quickly since its no different then a normal cut. The doctor warned that my back would hurt badly for 6-8 weeks as a result of the “construction” in the area, but as of yet I haven’t felt it.
My mom is in town for a couple weeks taking care of me. Yesterday her and Sandy Carson went bought a Lazy Boy recliner chair that I found for cheap on craigslist. It is seriously the best and most comfortable thing ever for my situation. I can lounge in it all day and its amazing. I’m so lucky and so happy.

Pain pills are starting to kick in and its getting harder and harder for me to type. For the next 3 months I’ll be taking it easy not lifting anything heavier then 10 pounds. Once I can concentrate again hopefully I will start drawing or something. Take care everyone!