The 7.5 years following my first back surgery I would have times of pain and flares but I was careful with what I choose to do (most of the time) and there was never anything that didn’t settle down after a course of voltaren and and some rest. Even two pregnancies, two years in a row, by being careful and limited with what I did I was able to continue to manage my back pain. After I had our two girls, I went back to work, but not in childcare, instead at our local office supplies shop. I even started studying at uni online – to complete my bachelor in early education.

Married for only 3 months before it all went downhill

But one day in October 2012, just months after our wedding, I felt a pain that I hadn’t felt in years, since before my first back operation that didn’t budge. I gave it a week then went straight to my GP, who ordered and MRI and a referral to my neurosurgeon. Once I had had the MRI and saw my GP whilst waiting to see the surgeon I decided to leave my job. The first time round, I was single with no children and the thought to stop working didn’t even enter my mind. In fact my GP tried to give me time off work but being a Director at the time and getting close to Christmas and staff having authorized holidays, I refused. I didn’t have one day off the whole time up until surgery. But this time was different. Very different. This time I had two little girls who where still only 1 & 2 years old and I didn’t want to give all my energy to work and then leave our family time together with me in bed recovering and being sore and cranky. They were still so young and needed to come first. Having my mum around really helped – as did day care. And of course, my husband – outside work hours.

This time I stopped working

So I finished working at the end of October and saw the neurosurgeon around the same time. He explained that the same disc, L5/S1 had in fact re herniated, something that can happen in about 10% of cases, if I remember correctly. He talked about a fusion and also the same surgery as before, a microdisectomy. Although it was my choice, his recommendation was the less invasive, keyhole surgery, the microdisectomy, to remove the remaining ‘jelly like’, inner part, of the disc that was protruding into my spinal nerve. He asked which pain was worse, the lower back pain or the left leg pain. I replied with the leg pain, which is how we chose to go with the microdisectomy as he explained that that was from the herniated disc pressing on the spinal nerve. If the back pain was worse or the same, then the fusion would have most likely been the option but he explained how once you start fusing discs, that can generally cause a domino like effect with the discs above, meaning more and more surgery to follow down the track. And it woukd have been more invasive, so more recovery time and with the girls being so young and me thinking the surgery and recovery would be simply like the first time around we decided to definitely go ahead. He wanted to get me in as soon as possible, before Christmas if he could. We didn’t book a date at that appointment as I needed to go home and discuss it with not only my husband but also my parents, whom I would need their help with the girls while I was in hospital and after. By the time I rang to book, his next available appointment was not until after Christmas, early January of 2013.

Back operation number 2

So we had Christmas, both girls birthday, the new year and off I went in for my second surgery. Everything went fairly well, the surgeon did explain after the operation though that the scar tissue from the first surgery had intertwined with the disc and nerve so to remove the disc pressing into the nerve he had to cut the nerve but he had packed it up and obviously was hoping for the best. At the time, that meant nothing to me – not a single thing. I was still under the illusion that all would be the same as the first time around. Two night in hospital then I went to my parents unit (three flights of stairs but only once to get up then once again to leave) for a week of rest and recovery as my concerned, and rightly so, husband didn’t trust me to ‘behave’ at home and not do anything I wasn’t supposed to. He was right of course! Our girls had just turned 2 & 3 years old and it is hard as a mum to not tend to them at such young ages. The first time I had surgery I was released with panadeine forte for five days and as much as there where hard times .. that was all I needed. This time round I was released with continued tramadol and also endone for break through pain. Still, naive me didn’t click on to there being something wrong. Once at mum and dads I found that I was taking my meds as prescribed and also the breakthrough every four hours having to keep on top of it. Usually I would have seen my surgeon two weeks post op but because he would be on holidays I got to see him one week post op. And thank goodness, because I was defiantly not recovering the same as the first time around. I was a lot more sore and had a different, constant pain from my lower back, on my left side, down through my left leg. I had gotten the shooting pains previously before both surgeries and sore and weakness but this had gone next level. This was such a mixture of pain and weakness and numbness which is hard to get your head around. It would also feel heavy, and like burning but tingling and stabbing/throbbing. It is a pain like no other that is for sure! So upon seeing the surgeon he gave me a box of lyrica (just the lowest dose of 75mg) to trial along with continued tramadol and endone for breakthrough.  He always started with the question of which pain is worse??… back or leg? Answer was usually leg … and I discovered later, because the tramadol was masking the back pain I guess I just thought it was better from the surgery – I don’t really know. Honestly, I was a new wife, a mum of two girls who had just turned 2 & 3 years old and had recently stopped working part time and was getting by day by day.  He explained about the nerve damage that happened during the operation again and this time I was able to take more in and start asking questions. How long is recovery? Is that was this pain is that I have? And so on. He went on to tell me at each follow up that recovery would be a little longer. He had to increase the lyrica to 150mg twice a day.  I held onto hope for just a little longer recovery.

Then the bad news came

Then six months after the surgery, at another follow up visit,  the surgeon explained that nerve pain can actually take up to 2-3 years to heal – if at all. The pain was still affecting my quality of life so much that he increased the lyrica again, then eventually to full max dose twice a day. New MRI’s were ordered and then I was referred to a pain specialist as there was nothing else he could do for me at this stage. I was assured that I would learn to ‘manage the pain’, after being told I have severe disc degeneration at L5/S1, white barely any disc left (basically just bone on bone) and permanent nerve damage (or peripheral neuropathy).

Time for Pain Management

The pain specialist I was referred to in June, didn’t have any free appointments until February/March the following year, so I was asked if I wanted to see the new Dr who had recently joined the practice. I could get an appointment with her September/October … sure I said, I had no real idea what I was really going for anyways. Turned out to be the best decision. My pain specialist is amazing, so caring and genuine …. and a mum. I ended up getting an earlier cancellation appointment and she referred me to St Vincent’s Private Hospital to take part in a two week full time pain management course. Best thing I ever did.

Chronic pain is life consuming, debilitating, life changing and needs to be cared for in so many ways. No ‘one thing’ helps and nothing ‘fixes’ it. It is managed … the best we can with what tools and knowledge we have.

Michelle xx

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