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December 26, 2014

If you follow this blog, you know of my unfortunate accident with the pal del fer in Italy last summer and the painful and sometimes comical aftermath. After being shot-up with enough cortisone to heal the entire lineup of the Pittsburg Steelers, I finally made it back to the United States. However, there were a few “incidents” along the way. The first occurred when I stepped out of my rental car at the Milan Malpensa Airport after a five hour drive from my mountainous home in the Italian Alps. As I swung my legs out of the driver’s seat, the right leg simply crumpled and sent me to the pavement with a thunderous crash. Undaunted, I revived immediately and boarded the flight for Atlanta shortly thereafter. After the usual welcome back lines, prodding and gate changing, I finally needed to use the restroom before boarding the final flight of our 24 hour trip. Stepping out of the restroom, the leg gave way again, this time sending my head crashing against a tiled wall. Welcome home!

Okay, no harm, no foul. I was back in my home in North Carolina but this time I decided to actually do something about my back after 30 years of limping, falling and generally looking like a Joe Cocker performance from four decades ago. After we got settled in, I made the first doctor appointment with my primary physician. His face said it all; grim but with a bit of hope, just a bit. Without getting too technical, he told me what I already knew, namely that I had severely pinched nerves in the lumbar region. He used the words radiculopathy and stenosis and then sent me on to have an MRI performed with a referral to see a specialist.

I have had several MRIs in my time and I am not a fan. (Who is?) The news was not encouraging. There were big problems at play and I had lost the use of several nerves and muscles in my right ankle. I opted for a conservative treatment and agreed to proceed with an epidural cortisone procedure to see if improvement would come. This procedure itself is a mini-operation and feels much like putting a hole in a leather belt with a punch. Some of the symptoms subsided but I felt I knew what was coming next.

The blunt force of 30 years of denial smacked me like a killer whale going after a seal. I definitely needed surgery. The surgeon recommended doing a double laminectomy and a double micro discectomy along with a removal of some exploded disc material. This sounded, as we said in the 1970s, “pretty heavy.” He explained that a laminectomy was needed (removing a part of the vertebrae) to get at the disc and do the micro disectomy (removal of part of the injured discs).The discs involved were L3/L4 and L4/L5 (lower lumbar back discs). It seemed pretty straightforward so I said okay.

When I arrived at the hospital the day of the surgery, I met many, many health care providers and like a pandemonium of parrots, they all had something important to say and so I listened carefully. Questions and answers were repeated over and over at each step until I finally reached the holding room. I thought the name to be a bit odd and I likened it to the corridor where they hold livestock before they become deadstock. After speaking to the anesthesiologist, I was visited by my surgeon. We were finally ready to go, all set…. but, I needed the bathroom really badly so off we went IV in hand to do a spiritual peeing of sorts. Once I got back on the gurney, I was told, “We’re going to give you a “pre-anesthesia to take the edge off.” The injection was given and I went out before we made the first turn into the operating room.

A moment later (actually closer to two hours), I was awake with an oxygen mask. Ta-dah!  The good news was that I could go home immediately which meant no expensive days in the hospital. So half awake and half asleep, I was folded into my car and driven home to the safety of my bed by my wife. When we got home, I was feeling great and even made a few phone calls and caught up on my email. But then I remembered something that two back surgery veterans had told me: beware of the day after surgery! They were right on the money. When I got up the next morning, I absolutely knew that I had been cut…. ouch!

However, I’m kind of a “get ‘er done” kind of guy, so I began walking a quarter to a half a mile starting the second day home. It felt good to actually feel some of the pavement beneath my feet. But I soon learned that the road to full recovery would be long indeed. The weakness in the ankle and resulting partial drop foot were still there, although both had improved quite a bit. On the bright side, I found I didn’t need the walker I’d rented nor did I need the pain pills that were prescribed.

Three weeks later, I visited the surgeon for a check-up. He was encouraged by my improvement as we discussed the prognosis. But the most important question was saved for last: When could I start wading and fly fishing again? He laughed a bit and said, “Anytime you want to go is good.” But being a fellow angler he added, “It’s below freezing today. You should have gone last Friday when the weather was good!”

There is a time and place for all things under heaven: bad backs, surgery, and fishing. I’m going to try to stick with the latter for awhile!

PS – We lost Joe Cocker this week and like so many I will miss him. He was iconic in every sense.

PPS – I did go fishing but as I exited the stream, I took a really bad fall trying to go over some wet tree roots. Nothing was broken, just my pride!

 

Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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One Comment
  1. PPPS – The back is better! I went back to the same stream a week later. No falls, just lots of hungry trout!

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