24 February 2011

Still Healing

When I grow up, I want to be just like you!
Prior to emergency back surgery in 2004, the neurosurgeon said I'd be back to normal in eight weeks. He thought he would be removing a disk; I was unable to hold still for the MRI, so they didn't get a clear image.

While I was out cold, the neurosurgeon discovered a dime-sized bone chip embedded in my sciatic nerve and determined that was the root of my pain instead of a herniated disk. He removed the bone chip. When I came to, I was thrilled to learn all my parts were still intact and nothing had been removed other than the bone chip, but I somehow missed the part about how long the healing would take for this different-than-planned surgery.

We may never know how I chipped whatever bone that caused this situation. The neurosurgeon said it could have happened years earlier, or it could have been fairly recent.

At nine weeks, I was (very slowly) touching my toes. This was pretty exciting for me because other people I'd met who'd had back surgery had told me they still couldn't touch their toes at six months. A couple of back surgery recipients even told me they couldn't touch their toes after two years. Nevertheless, I was not healing as fast as I thought I should, and depression kept taking bites out of my sanity.

RtR 2005At six months, I asked the doctor what the heck was going on. I thought this was supposed to be eight weeks.

"Where'd you get that?" he asked. "This is minimal two years."

Two years?!? I'd been drawn for the 2005 Ride the Rockies, and we'd be embarking on that journey in just a month, and now I found out I still had another year and a half to go?!? This could not be happening to me. I wanted my life back. And I did not like my back!!!

Two years to be able to do some of the things I had been doing prior to the bone chip making contact with my nerve, the doctor explained. Nerve damage, he said, could take up to seven years to heal. If it was going to heal. No guaranties.

In February of 2011, that means I have eight months now to go. Eight more months that the dime-sized hole in my sciatic nerve can heal. If it can heal.

Gone are the days when I could make landmark improvement, such as the first night I was able to sleep on my stomach, nine months after surgery, something the doctor said I wouldn't be able to do and shouldn't do anyway. I'd always been a tummy sleeper, and I absolutely refused to give up on that one!

slow, slow, slowThe day I could put my socks on without sitting down.

The day I could climb the stairs without holding onto the rails.

The day I could swing my leg over my bike when I was getting ready to ride instead of having to lay the bike over and sort of twist it up underneath my leg.

The day I was able to ride two hours in the car without having to take a stretch break.

The day I carried my backpack for the first time since surgery. That was another thing the doctor said I probably wouldn't be able to do.

The day I wore jeans the first time since the doctor had cut me open... Lee Denim Day (in support of breast cancer research and awareness) last October!

I've made a ton of progress, and I'm still seeing tiny little things every now and then. I can't complain. I can do so much. I did two of the hardest rides I've ever done in my life last summer. I have been incredibly blessed.

My dear sweet husband often teases that he enjoys being married to a living barometer. That's because I can feel storms coming six hours before they get here. I can't say I like feeling changes in the weather, but it is kind of neat to have more accurate and reliable forecasts than I can get from any meteorologist. (I can laugh about that because in school, meteorology was one of the careers I thought I might like to do for life. Just didn't know I was going to have a built-in knack...)

owieEver since I was able to get back on my bike, I've faced demoralizing stiffness after a ride. Even when on the trainer in my basement during winter. I've been told arthritis can set in where you've been opened up, particularly at my age. So what I'm dealing with might not be all nerve damage. There may be other factors at play.

Nevertheless, I did everything I could to try to stimulate and encourage nerve growth, regeneration and rejuvenation. Avocado, blueberries, spinach, broccoli, lots of water, no red meat, no sugar, plenty of rest, tons of stretching, daily exercise, daily walking, daily prayer...

Last year during Ride the Rockies, I was stiff after each day's ride. After Day Four, the hardest day of the week, I wanted to go home. I didn't want to finish. I did finish, but I really had to fight my attitude every day. I had to continually tell myself this was vacation, and I was having fun. My back knew I was lying and wasted no time in letting me know.

The following weekend, I did the MS-150. After the first 75 miles on Day One, for the first time since surgery, I wasn't stiff. I couldn't believe it! It was a miracle to me. I don't remember if I was stiff after Day Two. I'd finished Day Two in my best time ever, even before surgery, and that's all I cared and celebrated.

self-explanatoryAfter Pikes Peak in August, I was depressed because I came up half a mile short. And I hurt. My body did not like me at all, and I wasn't sure it was ever going to forgive me. I didn't do too much athletically for the rest of the year, not only because of other things going on in my life, but because I felt my body needed time to recover, emotionally as well as physically. The longer I went without doing much, the more the depression kept trying to take over. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I was losing all the ability and strength I had built up.

After the busy holiday seasons, I was able to devote time to the trainer, not my favorite activity, but it was activity. I could try to lose the weight I'd gained, and I could try to rebuild some of my aerobic strength. Plus sweat a lot, and for some reason, that's a healthy thing to do. Stinky, but healthy.

Trainer miles don't count as real miles, so you'll never see them recorded in my road and trail miles; trainer miles count only for sweat and for keeping the saddle tolerable to the rear end throughout the off-season.

Two weeks ago, I wasn't stiff after I got off the trainer. I thought it was because I hadn't worked hard enough. So I worked a little harder the next night. Again, I wasn't stiff.

Ever since surgery, The Lizard has set up a footstool for me to use in getting on and off the trainer because I could not mount or dismount the bike without it. I just didn't have the flexibility, strength or balance.

a good rideLast week, I got on the trainer without the footstool. I had been increasing my mile-long sprints ever since the night I wasn't stiff when I got off. I really pushed this time. I did four one-mile sprints, and I did a mile more than I typically had been doing every night, in the same amount of time. I wasn't stiff when I got off the bike. Now I was beginning to feel this wasn't something I was doing wrong. This wasn't because I was slacking. This wasn't because I am a wimp. Something had changed, and I felt as if I was on top of a 14er, even though I'm a good 7,000 feet lower!

Now, I've been increasing my time on the trainer by a mile every night. And I can get off that trainer without the footstool. I'm not stiff when I get off. I can walk just fine.

I'm anxious to see how I do in this year's MS-150. I'm anxious to see how I'll feel afterward. I'm even excited instead of intimidated about Pikes Peak. I was worried two years ago that all the healing was done. I thought I was stuck in that condition forever. But I'm not!

I'm still healing. I'm still healing!


  1. Oh dear.

    I am a living barometer, too :).

    In 2007, the doctors changed my joint in my hip to an artificial joint (Osteoarthritis)...and I am still healing, too. Nowadays, I can even run............and it´s great.
    I am not sure, if my terms are right :), but a part of me is made of titanium :)

  2. Yay, it's nice to know that you can still see improvement even though it's been awhile! There's always a bright side, even though it can be hard to find.

  3. Deb, you are SUCH an inspiration! Thanks for helping me to look at challenges in a new way. (((Hugs)))

  4. Deb, this is beautiful. Profound. Teeth-chatteringly awesome.

    Had to read, re-read, wipe the snot off my face and read again. TMI, I know. But, damn.

    Thank you. For sharing this (massive) part of your life with us. You are still healing and I believe you will continue to do so for a long time to come.

  5. Healing and triumphing. What a read. You are an inspiration. Bless you and all that you do and will continue to do.

  6. I am a huge fan of healing in every sense of the word and believe the body, mind and spirit can do things that they are not supposed to do. peace and hope be with you.

  7. I loved reading this. I am so happy that you are still improving!!!!! To be able to ride your bike as you want is a true gift.

    BTW, I've done the same trick for getting on my bike without having to swing my leg over it! I smiled in commiseration.

    Thanks for such an uplifting post!

  8. I've had spasms and thrown my back out (as they call it) and it was simply awful. I can't even imagine what you've gone through after surgery. You are a champ!

  9. Sounds like you're doing great! You constantly impress me. :)


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