My Scoliosis Surgery Recovery


before surgery

My scoliosis was found when I was 16 years old. I had problems with my hips hurting but I had gotten along since then by going to a physical therapist now and again. It progressed in degrees after I turned 65. It held at about 45 degrees for several years and then quickly got worse until I had to quit hiking Phoenix South Mountain. Then it stopped me from working. I had to find a surgeon to help me.

Now I know why every time a surgeon says he would have a patient get in touch with me, they never did. They are reluctant to let you know how difficult it is going to be. I wanted to know what to expect with a surgery. The internet had a blog of a young girl. Her mother helped her put it together along with pictures and the way the surgery went. I knew what I was in for except the pains of the body with the new spine takes a lot of getting used to. Things change almost every day. I will give you some idea of the journey. If you decide to go ahead I will send pictures of the things that will help you make every day easier. Try everything first. I had several epidurals. With the last one last July the Mayo Dr. said that he could no longer get his medicine in to help any. That was when I had "hit the wall" and started trying to see where and who to talk to. The surgeon at UCSF called me and had me come talk to him. I liked him very much but San Francisco would have been very hard for my husband and I to be together. Scottsdale Mayo Clinic did not have anyone here that could do it. Bob's knee was done at Hedley Orthopedic Institute but they did not want to do it. Our son David suggested that we contact Barrow because their neurosurgeon at UCSF trained at Barrow. It took a couple months to see the surgeon to see if he would take me. Then it took another couple months to get on the surgery schedule. Start about a year before you cannot walk any more. It takes that long to get the tests and work through all paper work and appointments. I could no longer walk more that about 300 feet.

after surgery

Jan. 4, 2017

The surgery was 12 hours long. The way Bob understood it was that my blood was replaced 3 times. I did not wake up for 3 days. I did not know then that they had even done the surgery. When I did, Bob had to feed me. My hands still seem to drop things. My left leg and abdomen hurt the worst. I am told that my body has to get used to the changes. There were 63 staples down my back. I was at Barrow ( St Joseph) for 10 days I believe. The surgeon did a wonderful job and spared all the nerves.

Bob stayed with me in St Joseph’s Hospital followed by acute rehab for about 23 days and nights. He slept on a couch, chair and finally 3 days on a cot. He spent several nights with his head on the side of the bed and hung onto me. He had to make all the decisions including picking my brace.

my new spine

After the ten day hospital stay, I was sent to acute rehab for thirteen days. That was initially very scary because the nurses there did not look at what had been done to me. Thankfully, I was wearing a brace. I had to pull myself up on the side of the bed the second day I was there. It hurts between the shoulder blades to this day. I was up and showered on the second day. If I wanted to eat I had to make it to the cafeteria with a walker or wheelchair. I was worked out 3 hours a day. The worst part was the frequent nausea which accompanied being so tired. At acute rehab they taught me to dress myself, take a shower, pick with the "picker" to reach things, get into our Yukon, go up at least 12 stairs, get in and out of bed, etc.

my brace

I was wearing a custom brace made of styrofoam and plastic. I wore it 24 hrs a day for a month then after just when I was up. I took it off after 2 months. This picture was taken at my first outing, 6 weeks after the surgery.

March

It has been 2 months now and the other day I went into Subway and ordered my own sandwich!


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  3 mile hike

I hiked the Desert Classic 3 miles a couple times at the 2 month time but most generally 2 miles. I am stronger every day. I can walk better than doing anything else. At first I used the walker, then my hiking poles and now nothing.

I have been going to Rehab since leaving acute rehab. The Physical Therapist works on the muscles in my neck and back. He looked at my x-rays so knows what can be done and what he is not to do. He stretches the hamstrings. My muscles and skin are tender. I do exercises with weights on my ankles. They are building up my leg muscles because I cannot bend from the waist. I have to bend at the hips.The screws hurt doing that. I cannot get on the floor yet because I could not get up. I hope they teach me soon how that can be done. I can do most everything with the “picker” and a pole with a towel on it. I cannot vacuum, get under the couches, or tie my shoes. If I am out without the picker and drop something I have to ask someone to pick it up for me.

April

This is the fourth month and I now drive. The Yukon seat does not fit. I have to put a pillow at my waist. But the good thing is, with being 2 inches taller I can set up and see over the steering wheel and look like I am tall enough to drive. There are places in my back that hurt when I am up, and across the top of my hips and at the coccyx. I get tired. The only medicine I can take is tramadol with a dramamine. All the good stuff makes me very sick. But I can have nothing more than an aspirin if I am driving.

The nerves in my back are coming alive more every day. It feels like little electric shocks at times. These also come in different parts of my body. I am stronger now and can do more house work. But I get tired as the day goes on. By 3 pm my body just gives out. My bones hurt all over. I feel like ants are crawling.

They want me at rehab at 6am or after 3 pm in the afternoon. It seems like they are ready to have rehab over. Maybe they can do no more for me. I think the therapist massaging my back helps me the most. I went to my regular massage place and had them work on my arms, legs, feet and neck.

May

This was a month of hard work in rehab to get ready for the trip to Atlanta for Granddaughter Grace and Grandson James and their graduations. We thought that we had everything under control to make it easy. Airport shuttle, baggage checked, rental car and motel. There was still a bag drag. The Atlanta airport I believe is the largest in the US. There were no airplane seats for us to sit together. The poor man I sat with had to look out for me. You have to put everything under the seat ahead of you for takeoff and landing. Feet come in handy but to get it back up when I still can only reach to about 6 inches of the floor, I have to have help. Then thinking that Southwest would have one of those little pillows for my back so I can sit up straight without my chin on my chest…no more do they have them. The little boy at the window seat gave up his bear pillow for me.

Upon arrival my sister Debbie met us. Then off on the tram to baggage. Hang on. It jerks when it starts and stops and we had about 4 of these. Then off to baggage. From there we had to take the Sky Train to the car rental. A jeep without a bar to step on and no grab bar to get in. Thank goodness rehab had me stepping high and higher. The motel was great. They gave me the walk-in shower with a seat and grab bars. I did take tramadol twice each day. Off to dinner at Shan and Nancy’s house.

The next morning was James’ graduation. He will be a high school freshman in the fall. Stadium seating, we got on the 3rd row. Looking at all those steps and nothing to hang on to….

before surgery

Next was Grace’s high school graduation that night at 7PM. Pictures first…. then a great dinner. Parking was a way away but they had golf carts to take us to the door. Again stadium seating. We lucked out a family on the top row had 3 seats available that we got and I fit. Long story short. Traveling is not easy. And this was my 5th month.

my brace
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
June

On our way home from Atlanta I told TSA that I may need to go through the scanner. Directed to lane 3, walked into the scanner, walked out and TSA says “ I have to pat you down” and with that she started on my back! Must have seen the hardware and thought I was a bomb.

I caught cold. Two weeks of coughing. This one put me in bed. Every time I coughed it grabbed my back. I am better now but the back seemed to start waking up in patches. The left side and the sacral areas are coming to life. It feels better to wear something under my clothes so they don’t rub. Now I can wash my own back. My right scapula is hurting along with my neck on that side. Feels like a knotted up spasm when I use it. Time to try the anti-spasm med. Rehab is working on it.

Day 22 of June. Time to go back and take a look at the xrays, Dr. Kakarla of Barrow Brain and Spine says the xrays look okay. Now I can get on one knee and get down to the floor.


 
 
 
 
July

Tried the hand held vacuum. It's hard on the knees. Need the knee guards from my roller skating box. I tried the jetted tub. Worked great until the bubbles started getting high and then could not rinse off. The hiking pole is wonderful to help keeping me stable. Still walking 2 miles every day I can.

Took 2 Real Estate Classes in Scottsdale, About 20 miles. Drove myself.

Dr. Kakarla at Barrow took a look at my x-rays and it looks like the screws and rods are holding. I can now start trying to pick things up from the floor by putting one knee down. Did okay on the carpet but hard tile does not work. I did spot vacuuming with my little hand held vacuum. I could do that with both knees on floor. I am still going to rehab and walking 2 miles a day. The spasms are really getting to me.

I had told you I would post things that would make your day to day better. The first was the pillow in the car to go home. Then a small pillow for any chair every day. I do not fit in most chairs. The truck seat just does not work out without a small pillow. I had a bidet put on the toilet tank. It came in handy while I was in the brace for 6 weeks. Got a spinner type cleaning long handled brush for cleaning the shower and tub. I use my hiking poles for many things. I did not want to use a cane and I find these to be useful to scrub a floor with a rag. I have a small light weight stool for getting in and out of bed and reaching for things that are too high. I have a small rail on the side of the bed that works great to hang onto getting into bed. The log roll was the first thing they taught me in the hospital to get in and out of bed. The "picker" as I call it, has to be hunted up many times a day. I seem to drop everything. I found it helpful in changing laundry from washer to the dryer. In acute rehab I was taught to use a sock assist thing to put them on. Works great but still cannot get my legs crossed high enough to tie my shoes. A shower chair is a necessity along with a small caddy on the shower wall. I find that I need two of everything in the shower because I always drop something.

I have many sleep tee shirts that I can slip on and some running shorts so I look dressed. I used the wheel chair only once. But a walker in pink that my husband bought me took me walking first in the house, then in the neighborhood. My hiking poles took over very quickly. I have head phones that are paired to my computers. They make everything alright for a couple hours in the afternoon. I am sure I have left something out so just ask. We hire the yard, windows, and major vacuuming done for us but otherwise we can take care of everything else.

This is the time we go to Utah to fly fish in our float tubes. We are not going to make it this year. Just not ready to get the gear on without bending or twisting. Need to practice.

End of July
Ann at 7 months

Scheduled Rehab is over. I passed the hurdle test. Yesterday I tied my own shoes by putting my foot up on the edge of the tub enclosure. Yesterday I hiked 3 miles on South Mountain.

My back still has the stiffness and spasms but now they seem to be closer to the spine. The area across my hips also seems to be coming alive. This is my 7th month. I am a realtor so I have to be able to open the lock boxes to get the property keys that most agents put on the water pipe.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
August

August has been a bit disappointing. I had planned to have all of my back awake. It has not happened. About 2 inches on either side of my spine feel like cardboard and are stiff. Where the screws went in on my hips, it is stiff and cardboard feeling also. Not really pain but unnerving. I got a cushion for my tailbone so I can watch TV for a longer time without getting up and walking around. I am hiking 14 miles a week. I am sure I will be able to do more when Phoenix gets a little cooler. The dry heat helps but over 90 degrees is still hot. I can now tie my hiking boots by putting my foot up on the bathtub.

We went to the Odysea (aquarium) to check it out before Thanksgiving. I can enjoy walking for at least 2 hours at a time. It could not happen before my surgery. We will really enjoy having family here for Thanksgiving. A little scary because it has been a long while since I could prepare a meal for a large group. It seems like a long way out for that date but I have to plan early for everything.

After my scheduled rehab was over I made appointments at the Hand and Stone for every week. I had banked about 6 months of massages. I don't let them touch the spine area or across the hips. But I have gotten brave enough to lie on my stomach and have my neck and shoulders worked on.

exercise

My body just cannot believe that my head is straight on my shoulders. I still do all the rehab exercises at home. I have all the equipment. He also bought a new mattress. It really feels great. I have put away most all the invalid stuff. But the hiking poles and picker stay handy. I can get within 3 inches of the floor now. It is amazing what your toes can do for you. I am sure that I will always have to use the sock gadget and long handled shoe horn.

I have been using the jetted tub now and again. I put a nonslip mat in the bottom so I can get to my knees and stand up to get out. I tried it in the regular tub, big mistake. There was not room to get my legs under me to even pull myself up at the side. Bob had to come help me up. Now I know how those old ladies say "I have fallen and can't get up". Also, I can get down on my hands and knees to pick things up. But I must not forget to have a pole with me or be near something to hang on to. I will keep working with the 4 pound weights on my legs to get them stronger.







September

This month was a little better. I do much more every day. The spasms are still doing a number on my back and the screw in the left hip lets me know that it is there but I do not take anything except a muscle relaxer at night. Do you know that you use your back muscles to lift a glass of water? I am up to 21 miles on South Mountain every week.

Dr. Kakala says no float tube fly fishing until my year is up. I think Bob made a mistake explaining to him how it works, and showed him a picture of my gear. I think I could do it with help getting my waders and fins on. But if I mess up Dr. Kakala's work he would not be happy. He has his interns with him when he sees me. I still have not found anyone my age having this complicated surgery.

I just finished a 6 week Hand and Stone massage. I went once a week and had a deep tissue masseur work on my legs, arms and feet. I made him look at my xrays and never let him near my spine. I now can squat down to pick things up off the floor and get back up. Not good at it, but my hips are doing a much better job.

I am doing without the bed rail but I do miss it. I don't know how anyone could get in and out of bed without it for the first few months. I can now easily turn onto my sides in bed but lying on my back is best. No discomfort at all. Sitting is still uncomfortable. The incision came pretty far down on my tail bone. I have a cushion for watching TV. Otherwise I sit on my "sits bones" on the edge of chairs.

Off to Louisville, KY this next month for our Daughter in Law's Ironman. Will let you know how I do. The plane ride will be long and there will be a lot of walking.



October

I get stronger every month. That doesn't mean that my back is not stiff and feels like card board much of the time. I do still feel the screws in the iliac and the coccyx hurts a little much of the time.. But the golf ball feeling is getting better. I have found that massaging the top of the hips with a tennis ball seems to be working. I can pick thing up off the floor. It is not easy some days. But I seldom need the griper.

Scoliosis Warriors have mentioned that they have tried the Eqoscue and Schroth exercises. I looked them up and tried the ones that I thought would work for me. I had a pain at the scapula area of my back since the surgery. PT and Massager both had worked on it. Made it better but came right back. I did the exercises and the pain is gone! I will keep up on them. Hope it means that the pain is gone forever. Let me know if it works for you. I do still walk stiff.

I now hike 3 to 4 miles every day. Never want to stop at 2. That means I have increased the hike to about 25 miles a week. This month I used the ladder to clean shelves and shutters. I do plan on having the window washers help with fans and windows. It takes them about 30 min. to do the whole job where it would take me several hours. Next I will try the vacuum.

bike leg

We went to Louisville, Kentucky for the Ironman, our daughter in law Nancy swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles than ran 26.2 miles. That was a long day. A lot of in and out of the car as we followed her from town to town.

the finish

She finished at a few minutes of midnight. Now Rita, Dave, Shan, and Nancy are all Ironmen. They have the ending of the run lined with plastic barriers the last block. On lookers stood behind and beat on them. Sounded like drums. Then the loud speaker, music playing and the lighted board as they came through….. My back started to spasm all over. It felt like the ground was moving. I had to quickly leave. I would guess this would happen at a very loud concert too. I believe that I walked more than the 4 miles that day. I could never have enjoyed a day like that before the surgery.

the reward

The airport….Yes, I was patted down again. Did take a small pillow for my back so I could sit in all the seats okay.

Next will be Thanksgiving at our house. I will let you know how all the cooking goes.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
November

There has not been much change in the way my back feels. It is still stiff about 2 inches on both sides of the spine. By night it seems to extend up higher. The coccyx area where the screws are in the hip area is very touchy. Bob uses a tennis ball to massage across that area. I still am taking a muscle relaxer at night. The bed feels great by night time.

Thanksgiving went very well. It was the first time in several years that I could bake and not hurt. I made pies, rolls etc. How wonderful to be able to set a nice table and cook a Thanksgiving dinner. We had a good time together and I could walk.

Rough Trail

I can hike up to 5 miles without getting tired. I did 4.5 miles at the foot of South Mountain to a spot we call bikers rest. This is the first on a really rough trail. I am much stronger this month even though the back has not improved that much. I am to see the surgeon the first part of Jan. That will be my year.

Bed Rail

I want to share with you warriors the bed rail I used to get in and out of bed. Never let someone help you by pulling on your arms. You can barrel roll to the side of the bed, swing your legs over the side, then pull yourself up by using the rail.

I put away the shower chair this month. I still keep the gripper handy so if I am tired I can use it. But I can now go down to the floor to pick up things. I always drop the soap in the shower. I can now pick it up! It is still a good idea to have something to help me stand up again.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
December

I am like the ant and the rubber tree. I have high hopes. This month is my 12th month. I had planned on being almost perfect. It has not happened. I can almost do everything but my back is very stiff. A little like a vice grip. I think every morning that as my feet hit the floor it will all be gone. It is not so bad in the morning but as the day progresses it becomes stiffer.

I am taking only one Flexeril in the evening. It does not seem to help much but I feel great as long as I am lying down. It may be also helping me feel great on my bed. Also leaning my back against my cushion to watch TV I feels okay. But when I get up I feel it. No one can notice as I hike the 4 to 5 miles on the Desert Classic at South Mountain. My body likes to keep moving.

I go January 16 to have my year X-ray and be checked. If everything is healing correctly and the hardware is holding, I will accept this as my new normal.

My husband is massaging my hips where the “bolts” are. He says that he keeps increasing the pressure. They now feel like large marbles instead of golf balls when I first lay down on them. My back can be massaged everywhere but about 2 inches on either side of my incision. My scar is fading more and more.

My primary doctor thinks Lyrica is the medicine I should be taking. He thinks it is nerve pain that is bothering me. I think it is muscle. Lyrica side effects scare me.

The only things I cannot do easily are putting my socks on and off and tying my shoes. I can only bend from my hips and my arms just won’t reach that far. I put my foot upon something that is at least 2 feet high. My upper leg is getting better and better bending. I can now pickup things from the floor much easier. The more I do it the easier it gets.

Every morning and night I look in the mirror to make sure that I am still straight!

January 2018

My year is up and I have had my 1 year x-rays and Surgeon appointment. Everything looks to be holding. I guess you would say that I no longer have scoliosis. I do still have that cardboard feeling in the muscles of my back. I mentioned to Dr. Kakarla that when I try to lift a gallon of milk the back goes into spasms and gets tighter. He decided that I needed another 30 sessions at physical therapy to make my upper body and legs stronger.

I went to look at a property in Tucson near Mt. Lemmon. It had many buildings to it and very uneven stone walkways with railroad ties and the main house had step downs and narrow stairs. There were no rails. I was very afraid of falling. I need more practice using stairs. Also found I need to always have a hiking pole handy.

I still am doing the 4 mile hike. So with 3 times a week at PT and the hike my days are busy. Hope we can get started with our summer by Easter. Here are two views of my spine at my one year checkup.