Back Surgery – Through a Patients Eyes

You’ve done your research…and decided that back surgery is right for you.  But, what can you expect to encounter through your journey?  What plans do you need to make? Are there some ideas to make the process go smoother?

I’m currently 10 weeks post op from having “Lumbar Fusion”… a disc placed through the front, and a rod placed through the back.  As a patient, I am so willing to share my experience, and the things that I’ve learned which helped me through this challenge.  Let’s go there now…

Surgery Date 

You have learned the risks of the surgery; you have heard the good and the bad. Today is the day that you do not think of any of the negative or worries of the surgery. When you start to play those thoughts through your mind, distract yourself. You can get unnecessarily worked up, and today is not the day for that.  You also need to remember, your job is to just show up to the hospital… That’s it!  You will be asleep through the entire thing. Put your confidence in the surgical team that has spent many years learning and practicing for this day.

Prepare for and Manage the Pain

This is a BIG topic, and you will find meaningful results with a little pre-planning.  With the opioid epidemic that the nation is facing, it will affect your life for the next 12 hours. Hospitals now have policies in place to “under treat” your pain initially.  They will always start with medication very mild, and will work up to something stronger that matches your pain level.  However, in my case, I went 8 hours at a pain level of 10 before comfort came. 8 hours in that kind of pain is horrible.  So what can you do to prepare?  I learned the next day in talking with my doctor that his orders were that I could have anything up to a certain level or morphine without him even being called.  So, why then did I suffer? Not because of doctors’ orders, but because of hospital policy.  I HIGHLY recommend that you have a discussion with your surgeon prior to your surgery that goes something like this, “I’ve learned that hospital policies have changed to better control pain management right out of surgery.  Should they start with a low dose of medication that is not treating the pain, what do you suggest that I do?”  You then have a plan with the surgeon going into the surgery that you can lean on if the hospital falls short of dealing with your pain.

Hospital Stay

When my doctor said to plan on 5 days in the hospital, I blew it off as… “He doesn’t know me”.  PLAN ON 5 DAYS!  It doesn’t matter how tough you think you are, expect time there.  This is a big deal, and is a major surgery… from both sides of your body. Should you have a complication from surgery, it is likely to up and be recognized through the staff there, as well as your vital signs etc.  Don’t push things at this step.  The hospital will likely keep you until you satisfy these categories:

Your O2 Sats stay above 90 without oxygen. (Don’t cheat on this on.  You don’t want to be home with breathing issues.  The surgery will affect the way that your lungs process oxygen.

   Your Bladder needs to be working properly. The surgery affects your bowels big time. Even though they have not been operated on, they have been moved out of the way to allow the surgery.

You need to have a bowel movement in order to be discharged.

Physical Therapy has to give you the green light to go. You need to be able to walk down the hall and back in control with a walker.  Therapy will likely come to your room twice a day.  You are never happy to see them.  You’ve just basically been in a car accident and they want you to go on a walk with them.  This is the time to push yourself. Walking will be your best friend, as you will find it to be the best way to minimize your pain. When you stand, expect some discomfort as you are placing the load on your spine.  Give yourself a few minutes before you actually start to walk. The first time I stood, the pain was intense, as I had a “stinger” on one side.  I couldn’t put any weight on one leg.  The second time up, still having the pain, I began to put just a bit of pressure on that foot…. and in 10 minutes, I started to walk. The next day, the longer I walked I noticed the pain start to diminish.

Equipment

The hospital gave me a Walker and a Reach Gripper Tool.  I’m 6′ 2″ so I needed a toilet riser which you can get on Amazon for $35.  You will need all 3 of these items if you are tall. You will use the walker for 2 weeks.  Save yourself some dignity, and don’t put tennis balls on the back legs. This only needs to be done if you have hard floors and someone lives beneath you, as it does make a lot of noise.  The gripper tool is a MUST. This is how you pick things up, as well as assist you in getting dressed. Attach it to your walker so it’s always available.  If you have this, you will not be tempted to bend over which is forbidden.  After two weeks of the walker, I was stable enough to walk with a cane.    Don’t spend a lot of money on this, because you will likely only need a cane for a week. I got mine at the dollar store and mounted some Harley Davidson hardware on it… cuz… that’s how I roll.

Recovery

It took me 10 weeks to become pain free.  Set your mind to this time period. Each day up to this time period, you wonder if you will ever have a quality of life.  The mornings are the worst.  While you have been sleeping, your back gets stiff, and you always wake up to a paralyzing pain. The best thing that you can do is to get moving.  Work through the pain to get to your feet and walk, (using a walker at first). The very worst thing that you can do is to lie in bed all day trying to recover.  Get up frequently, and walk around the house. Avoid Bending, Twisting and Lifting.  You will find pain relief from walking.

Back To Work

Getting back to work and having a routine is very helpful.  You and your doctor can determine when it’s time to return.  My doctor told me 4 to 6 weeks, which would have driven me nuts. My indicators in returning to work were:

  1. Distance walking. Can I walk (with a walker) the required distance that my job demands?
  2. Comfort in riding in the car. Don’t overlook this requirement. Getting in and out of the car is a challenge, sitting for the entire ride, and dealing with the bumpy rode are all factors.
  3. What does your job entail? I work in an office behind a desk which allowed me to return sooner.

At a week and a half, I came to work for 3-4 hours a day.  I did that for a week, and then went to full time.  This was the perfect balance for me.

Physical Therapy

At 6 weeks, I attended a physical therapy session.  I recommend this to all of you. The therapist did a quite extensive skeletal evaluation to see if the fusion was happening correctly.  In addition, you will be shown the several exercises that you can do at home each day.  These are helpful, and include muscle stretching. The focus here is not weight training, rather, to get your body as flexible as possible.  When this is optimized, your entire body will distribute your task weight distribution…. and not just your lower back.  Being overly independent, I did not continue my physical therapy at the clinic, but am involved each day with a self-guided program.

Would I Do It Again?

Simple answer… YES!! Prepare yourself mentally, if not you will sink into despair. 70 days of pain is what you are signing up for.  The pain is controlled by medication for the first week or two. And it certainly gets less and less with time, but expect each morning to be greeted with pain.

I am 100% now… I’m far better than before my surgery. I still have my weight lifting limitations, which are very doable.

Bipolar and Violence

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It seems as though when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, one of the first things that others wonder is…”Are they going to be violent towards other people?” This thought can be very appropriate when it comes to other mental illnesses like Schizophrenia, (a topic for another day).  But as it relates to those with bipolar disease, what are the risks and facts relating to violence?

I’m happy to report that when patients are in treatment, taking their medication there is no difference in them becoming violent compared to someone without the diagnosis.

That being said, when a Bp patient has chosen to self medicate with illegal drugs, there can be a tendency for them to become violent.  But, yet again, the same goes for someone without the diagnosis, taking the same illegal drugs, (spice comes to mind).

Things that you might find helpful though.  While in a Manic phase, it is quite common for the patient to become irritable, and at times somewhat aggressive.  Family members should understand these changes or symptoms.  This is not the best time to push for them to clean their room, or work to get their grades up. If aggression is witnessed, remember, it’s part of the disease… and it’s not to be taken personal.

On the flip side, when the patient has entered the phase of depression, this is the period when “self-harm” might occur.  Self harm can involve, cutting, burning, punching ones self, and any other form of them hurting themselves.  Unlikely… Yes, but as it relates to this topic of violence, this would be the time in which self harm would occur.

These are both extreme examples.  Bp patients can live a very happy, productive life… free of violence or harm.  Treatment is important to pursue, but once a therapy plan has been implemented, they can live a life undetected of  being Bipolar.

Understanding one another helps us in our relationships.  It is common nature to judge others based upon how we feel about things.  But, we are all different… Some of us have been wired differently than the norm.  When others understand why we do some of the things that we do, relationships aren’t set back due to feelings of being hurt by a characteristic of the disease, and not the personal intent of the patient.

 

Can diet make a difference with Anxiety?

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I have not found a medical term to describe the feeling that some of us with anxiety get, when we experience an anxiety fueled “emotional state of doom”. This is not a panic attack, something different. It is the WORST feeling ever, and is the hardest emotion to deal with.  So, I’ll describe it with these words:

Anguish, Wretchedness, Fatalism, Despair, Urgently hopeless, Overwhelming sorrow, Acute distress.

If you’ve experienced this feeling, you know what I’m talking about.  You are emotionally troubled to the point of urgently begging for it to stop. 5 seconds become 5 weeks.  It is excruciating!!! Almost like a bad conscience X 100.

Years ago, before my mom’s death, I recall going to her house.  She wasn’t doing well, and I found her on the bathroom floor.  Her face was horrified, her skin clammy and white… She told me that she was feeling what I’ve just described to you above, yet she had no idea what it was.  “I just feel so scared that something awful is going to happen… Help me,” she begged.

Last Saturday, I found myself in that same state.  Prior to this feeling I had just cooked some elk steaks, and not knowing what else to do, I ate them…  Within 15 minutes… The feeling was gone… Completely! How could I have just gone to both extremes so quickly?

I was curious to know what just happened.  I jumped on the internet and looked up protein and anxiety, and would like to share what I learned with you.

There are foods and drinks that can affect our anxiety.  I’d like for you to consider them as you think about your day-to-day eating and drinking.

GOOD   Protein, Beef, Turkey, Salmon, Spinach, Avocado, Nuts, Water, Seeds, Magnesium (in moderation), Vitamin B Complex Carbohydrates, and Omega 3 Fatty Acids.

BAD   Caffeine, Energy Drinks, Alcohol, Refined Sugar, Processed Meat

First off… When you experience a heightened moment of anxiety….eat a steak!  I’m serious.  You try it, and prove me wrong.  Notice how you feel in 15 minutes, as I know it will help you.  Experiment with the GOOD food items listed to see how it affects your anxiety level.  Just try them first when your anxiety is high. When you have identified the specific foods that helps, don’t just wait for the anxiety to come, include these in your daily diet.. preventing the anxiety from coming on strong to begin with.

As it relates to the BAD list…  I’m not your mother, and my intention is not to tell you what you can and can’t eat, (I’m a big Diet Mt Dew fan myself).  But I want you to be aware of the things that can bring on anxiety.  These things are opening up the floodgate of anxiety and pouring it into your body.  You then can decide if they are something that you want to cut back on, or not… simply be aware.

I have to strongly state this.  Alcohol is by far the worst anxiety inducer when it comes to heightening anxiety, (research it for yourself).  The day after consuming lots of alcohol, (party), you will notice that you are experiencing some of your greatest anxiety levels. You take note, and then decide what you would like to do with your findings.

Start your day off with some protein.. You choose what kind.  A scoop of peanut butter if you’re on the go.  Most of us wake up in the morning with a bit of anxiety.  Protein will immediately combat that as well as.

Eat complex carbohydrates as well throughout the day. Carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains — for example, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain breads and whole-grain cereals. Steer clear of foods that contain simple carbohydrates, such as sugary foods and drinks.

Some of you who have tried the Atkins diet, which resulted in you becoming an emotional mess… now you know why.  You need the Complex Carbs to function.

Specific Foods and drinks make a difference with anxiety.  Incorporate them  into your lifestyle both as a daily treatment, as well as a urgent fix to that pesky anxiety that sometimes gets the best of us.

 

 

 

Right Medication.. Right Dose..The Correct Tool Is Available!

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I have to speak from personal experience, that the most difficult part in dealing with mental illness is going through the process of finding the right medication… followed but the right dose.

If you are brand-new to exploring treatment, let me be the first to tell you that all Antidepressants are not the same. You see your medical provider, and they start with a medication of their choice. The plan is for you try it for 3-4 weeks, and see if it produces results that are helpful. The challenge is….. many of us went through MULTIPLE medications to find the right one. For me…it was 9 different meds, over the period of 1 year.

Many patients give up, saying “I’ve tried meds… they don’t work!” Some experience (as I did) psychotic events results from the wrong medication, which just about took me out of the game. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and an emotional roller coaster of hoping that this next one will be it.

I’m very excited to tell you about the latest “Buzz” in the treatment of mental health. It involves genetic testing, producing results that guide your medical provider to the most likely medication that will successfully treat you. “Drug Gene” testing is the name of this breakthrough.

So, if you have been hesitant to go down that long path before, I invite you to consider Drug Gene testing…. this will get you to the front of the line quickly, and might be the answer that you have been looking for. Ask your medical provider about it, or you can visit many of the numerous clinics that are doing this now. Here is just an example of one:

https://pathwaysreallife.com/genetic-testing/

Depression, Anxiety…AND being a Parent?

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All of us who have been challenged with the genetic link of depression and anxiety have spent an entire lifetime just learning how to cope.

From our early days as a child we were fearful of things that were trivial for others. We were sleepless, and in fear most days of something… an upcoming event… or anything and everything else that we came across.

Later in life came depression…the feeling of being overwhelmed. Stuck in a deep dark hole, hopeless that we would ever find our way out. Nothing seemed to bring a smile to our face, and if so…. It was just a show to others so they would think that we were trying.

Fast forward several years… We have now become parents. Patents of children who are displaying similar traits to what we had just lived through. There is evidence that this genetic link is once again being passed on to a new generation.

You and me…. We have spent our life flying with broken wings due to these illnesses…. And now are expected not only to continue caring for ourselves, but for our beautiful children as well.

Herein lies the challenge… We feel that life is difficult just to get through ourselves,  but how can we find the energy, strength, and wisdom to accept the continual role of getting our children through it as well? There are times when I have nothing left to give, yet… it seems that more is expected from me. Is this ringing true to you?

The white horse is on the way…there are things that can help!

We have to first deal with the emotion that we are passing these genes on to our kids, giving them the same struggles that we have. Do you see this as unfair to your kids? I have to say that for a lot of years, I felt that way about this. I would see my daughter at age 3 struggling with such separation anxiety just from my wife walking out of the room that she was in.  Oh no…. not my children too!

But, I’d like you to consider this thought. Each one of us has, or will be given, circumstances in this life which will enable us to become a better… stronger version of ourselves. A great deal of the time, this strength and development seems to center on a medical issue like cancer, diabetes, autism, and yes… depression and anxiety. It is in God’s wisdom that he allows these things to come into our life. They are the reason that we are here, not an unfortunate coincidence.

This being the case, do you think that passing difficult genetic characteristics could actually be seen as a blessing, rather than a hardship? Here me out for just a minute.

We’ve just passed on something that is familiar to us. We understand it, we have lived it, and we have found a pathway to deal with it. If our children have to have a challenge to grow, there is somewhat of a “blessing” that they be given something that you understand, and can point them to the right direction to deal with it?

Don’t see this as unfortunate, unlucky, or a curse. You actually have more guidance to offer your children that your parents were able to offer you. Feel blessed with the knowledge that you have come to learn about of depression and anxiety. Be grateful that you can guide them through.

But what about the “Burn out” or the feeling of never-ending challenges that teenagers bring to your life, when again… you feel that you are sometimes broken and have little left to give?

First and foremost you need to care for yourself. That sounds a bit selfish, but think about it…. You can’t drive a car that does not have gas in the tank. You can’t expect to be nurturing, if you yourself are spent.

Big secret coming… are you ready?

First step in caring for YOURSELF…You need to feel understood. During these moments, it is important that you have a chance to describe what it’s like to be YOU. You have absorbed all of these hard things from parenting….you are hanging on just by a thread. As you continue to add more and more to your emotional burden, you are taken out of the game, if not given the chance to make room in your emotional being.

Unloading this is empowering. Find a spouse, counselor, or friend who will listen to you get this out. The intent of this is not to find solutions or ideas on how to proceed…. It is strictly to verbally describe what you are going through, and the difficulties associated with what you are feeling.  There is power in this process…. If you don’t believe me, try it this week.

There are people in our life that get us!!!!! There are people in our life that DON’T. Unloading to that person who has the deer in the headlight look as we talk to them is not the one that you want to do this with, as it can actually cause you to go deeper inside of yourselves.

Second secret… Do not own your child’s/teenagers problems. With anxiety, we have a hard time letting things go. When someone else experiences a problem, especially our child,  we own it as if it’s ours. We spend countless hours worried about it, and play things out in the worst possible scenario.

Your kids are going to make mistakes. Let the consequences be what directs them back to good choices. And, as a parent…. Just do the best that you can….Just… Do…. Your…Best…”that’s it!”

I see God as the ultimate parent in how He is raising me in this life. But, even being the perfect parent, one-third of his children did not do as He asked. They rebelled against Him. Our relationship with our children is no different…Our kids have their agency to choose good or bad. We can still love and care for them, but they will make choices that send us into a depression tail spin.

From my experience, there is a tremendous benefit in allowing the full punch of consequences to happen. Don’t try to shield them from the discomfort resulting from decisions that they have made.  Living a life of bad choices is not a happy one.  Let them associate this feeling with the choices that they have made.  The challenge, we are fix it kind of people who always want to show love.  “Showing love” by trying to remove consequences is a set back.  Don’t get caught in the trap.

So, in simple terms, take some time to care and heel yourself.  You can be on the fast track by emotionally purging by expressing how difficult live is… to someone who understands what you are doing.

And, don’t emotionally own people’s problems.  We worry as a way to control situations that we can not fully control.  Excessive worry is emotionally harming.  Recognize that as a factor of Anxiety.  Let the worry of a problem quickly move into a plan.  Once you have the plan, shut off the worry… and implement your plan… whatever it is.

Our job as parents is again to just do our best.  The parental contract with God does not include turning out perfect children… That is impossible.  They have come with their own personalities, and have a constant dark group of evil trying to take them down… each and every day.

Our Heavenly Father gets your stress.  He also has blessed this world with Krispy Kremes and chocolate… He wants us to work through trying times, but His intent is not to have us just suffer.  There is peace in asking Him to take the wheel once in a while.  Then, trust that He will help you drive that crazy car of ours that always seems to overheat.

Now, as you ponder this stuff…. I’m off to grab a glazed dozen of those “Holy Delights”.

…Keep you face towards the sunshine!

You Can’t Pray It Away!

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That’s correct.  I meant exactly what I just said… “You can’t pray it away”.  And… God would certainly like for you to understand this concept.  Let me explain.

Does God live?… YES!  Does He hear and answer your prayers? ABSOLUTLY!!  So why would I make such a statement?

Many of us do not fully understand why we are here on this planet.  Then, when something difficult comes along, we ask God to take it away. Does this ring true with you? So… Let’s back up a bit.

We are here on this earth to get a body for our spirits.  Great, we have all accomplished this.  But another one of the basic, yet incredibly important reasons, that we are here, is to learn and grow.  Faith, Patience, Love, Forgiveness, Compassion, are just a few categories that come to mind.

Earth life is a time devoted to our character development.  These lessons and development are usually associated with specific training in that area.  And yes, that training is usually centered around a difficult challenge, or trial in our life.

Growth is uncomfortable.  But, as we hit that discomfort head on, we grow stronger and we become a greater version of ourselves.  These difficulties are an important piece of the training.  They come to us randomly at times, or so it seems, not usually asked for.  Our first thought is, “Hey, I didn’t sign up for this class…Why is this happening to me?”  And then… what do all of us do next?……  Say it with me…. “God, please make this hard thing go away!”

Praying to have this hardship removed is against the purpose of our existence here.  We are essentially asking God to prevent us from accomplishing our mission here on earth, and to stifle our growth.

He wants us to recognize the purpose of the challenge right in front of us… and to certainly pray to Him… Not to ask for the problem to go away…But those prayers should be to ask for strength, courage, and the ability to go through it.  That, He will gladly do.  You will see that He will actually shoulder you while you are in this learning process.  He will guide you, and give you that strength to continue, even if you don’t think that you have it in you.

Additionally, as you approach life in this manner, you will come to know HIM… Your relationship, trust and love for Him will grow right along with your progress.

So, let’s use this approach as our “Go To” plan in dealing with the tough stuff.  He has created this awesome earth life for us to become the best that we can be.  Let’s stop asking him to allow us to drop out of school.  =)