Why I Feel Like I'm Winning Post Surgery

February 20, 2017
For the past month, I've been feeling really great compared to the months directly following my surgery.  I've noticed a big change in my health, even compared to a few weeks ago. I think back to the days right after my spinal fusion surgery and know that I've come a long way, so I want to highlight (and celebrate) some of my successes!

* I was able to travel for three weeks. Last fall, when it was time to book for our vacation during the Chinese New Year holiday, I almost didn't go anywhere because I didn't think I'd be able to keep up or sightsee. Why shell out tons of cash to have to rest in a hotel, right? That was my fear, anyway. I talked to Rachael about it, and she reassured me about the trip we had in mind, which was a private guided tour throughout Morocco. She promised that she wouldn't mind resting or going on some excursions alone if it came down to it. I decided to at least try it because I didn't like the idea of staying behind in Shanghai alone during the cold and polluted winter. Once I went on my trip to Sanya over Christmas, my confidence in my health was boosted a bit more. As for our time in Morocco, I'm thrilled to say that I was able to do almost everything on the entire tour. I even surprised myself with how much I was capable of. Rachael wears a Fitbit, and some days we were walking 8,9, and 10 miles! Rachael told me that it was almost like I wasn't injured. The times we had to slow down for me were really few and far between, such as when we walked up a hill on the top of Chefchaouen to see a view of the city. Distances don't seem to be an issue, but steep steps are still a bit hard. However, with a little extra time and a patient travel buddy, I was able to push through...I'm glad I did because just look at that view.

View of Chefchaouen
* I solo-traveled for a bit. Sort of. Rachael had to leave Spain early to go to San Francisco, but I stayed behind in Sevilla for a few days alone. I was kind of nervous about that, but again everything ended up being okay. Truthfully, I am not currently interested in any future solo travel trips, but if push came to shove and something happened where I had to be on my own, I know that I could probably handle it.

* My back brace wasn't a necessity for the first time ever. I've had to wear a back brace every day since my surgery. Yesterday I woke up and went to leave to  get my nails done, and I had forgotten to put my brace on! Believe me, that is a huge improvement because even last month there is no way I would have forgotten to wear that brace. I would have felt the difference right away.

* I rode a camel in the Sahara Desert. The big question on my trip to Morocco was what to do about our desert tour. We were supposed to ride camels for a few hours in the desert, get to our camp, and spend the night in the Sahara desert. Of course I really wanted to do this, but didn't know if it would be too painful for me to handle. Our guide suggested I get on the camel and try for 10 minutes or so just to see. A short time on the camel ended up being just fine. We went on the camels for about 20 minutes, stopped and watched the sunset, and then took the camels back to our riad, which was about another 15 minutes. Even though we couldn't spend a night in the desert, I don't feel too bad because I was still able to enjoy what was probably the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen in my entire life.


* There is suddenly more time in the day. Right after my surgery, I was sleeping so much. Of course that makes sense because I had some major healing to do. Now I'm finding that I'm back on a regular schedule. While sometimes I might require a bit more sleep, it's nothing like it was before. I was working and then sleeping from 4:30 pm until 6:45 am the next day and still felt like that wasn't enough! Without all that time spent sleeping, I'm able to have hobbies again, which is so important to me.

* My x-rays all looked good according to the specialist. Right before I left for Morocco, I had to go back to the hospital I had my surgery at for a check up. Since in most Chinese hospitals appointments aren't a thing, I had to wait for four hours to see my surgeon who wrote an order for me to get x-rays. At least 200 people were in front of me in line, which is what happens when you live in a city with a huge population like Shanghai. After a few more hours of waiting, I was able to get my x-rays. I was incredibly nervous for the result, as sometimes the hardware moves and has to be removed. I also wanted to know about the bone growth. The doctor that saw my x-rays told me that everything looked good! The hardware in my back was perfectly placed and while I'm not fully fused, I am headed in the right direction. 

* I am able to recognize signs of PTSD in myself. Why is this a win? Well, I know that sometimes I'm being irrational in my thinking and can call it like it is. Now I try to change the way I think before I panic. There has been research on PTSD on those who have had spinal fusions, and the articles I've read say it happens to about one in five patients. The statistics actually made me feel better to know that I'm not alone.  

* I'm adjusting to the new normal. My body is retrained now, and I know which movements to avoid. Right after the surgery there were many new and strange sensations in my back that I'd never dealt with before. It has been about 10 months since my surgery, so I'm better about knowing how to move myself so that I can do simple tasks like putting my shoes on. Picking something up from the floor is still hard, but at least it's possible because I know how to move in a way that causes me the least amount of pain. 

* Even my students have made remarks on my progress and how I carry myself. I really feel like my trip to Morocco was a pivotal turning point for me. I didn't see my students for over a month, but this past week many of them have commented on how they think I'm healed! If they're pointing it out, it must really be noticeable. 

* This week I went out three times! I mean out-out, as in three nights out on the town. It just so happened that there were some birthday celebrations I could not miss. It's just funny that I went out more times in one week than I did the whole entire last semester. I feel like I am getting my life back!  Not that I want to have lots of big nights out all time time, of course. I'd much rather have a busy day exploring Shanghai, and I think it's going to be possible. 

I hope that these gains continue to keep happening! I've accepted that my back is never going to be the same as it was before the surgery, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy life. I will respect my limitations but also won't hold back on what I can actually do. 

How are you winning at life these days? 
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