It has been 6 months since I was able to do yoga. In late January, my life changed forever and I now navigate life with a combination of a wheelchair and arm crutches with leg braces.
Everything was going well until it wasn’t. I was recovering well from a microdiscectomy on my lower back in December and looking forward to getting active again. I’d been off my mat for my recovery, but I was doing well and almost ready to lose my lift limit. Then, I started having some weird symptoms that couldn’t be explained by MRI’s of my lower back or my neck. My neurosurgery team was baffled as I began to lose more and more function in my legs. They felt “shaky,” like they might fold up under me. I began losing some sensation in my “saddle area,” the parts of my body that would touch a saddle if I was riding a horse. I began to have bowel and bladder changes. My neurosurgeon’s nurse practitioner wasn’t sure what it could be, so she said, “Sometimes a problem in your thoracic spine can cause weird symptoms. It’s really rare, so I don’t think that’s what it is, but we’ll get a MRI just to be safe.”
A week later, I was unable to walk, kind of dragging my body along when I went to her office for a follow up. She gave me a series of nerve function and neurology tests and her face became grim.
“Is your husband waiting?”
“No, he went to run an errand, but he’s not far.”
“Can you call him?”
I was admitted to the hospital and told to go straight there from the office. Because of a covid surge, my husband had to just drop me off. I was told I would be having emergency surgery that night or the next morning. My condition deteriorated rapidly as imaging was done of my entire spine. Soon, I had to have a catheter and was lifted from beds to gurneys and back boards. My neurosurgeon wasn’t available because he was helping people at the VA hospital, but a new neurosurgeon and his students watched my MRI results come in. In one week, a disc in my thoracic spine went from mildly compressing my spinal cord to pinching it off. A ruptured disc in the thoracic spine like this is rare, almost unheard of because of the way our ribs brace our spines. About 1% or less of spinal surgeries. Surgery in the thoracic spine is more complicated and risky because of the ribs and so many important organs, but at this point, I was paralyzed from the waist down. I had little to lose and a lot to gain by trying.
The next morning, I was prepped for surgery and signing consent papers after my surgeon confirmed that the loss of sensation was spreading to my torso. I couldn’t lift my feet off the bed. He was frank with me, letting me know that surgery was no guarantee that I’d regain the use of my legs or my torso.
I was in surgery all day as my thoracic spine was fused, bone removed, and the offending disc removed. My surgeon chose to fuse me because of the extent of the degenerative disease throughout my spine. He didn’t want me to have one thoracic surgery and then another. Most of my back was cut with an incision running between my shoulders to my waist. My blood pressure dropped during surgery and I was sent to the ICU where I spent a difficult night in so much pain. At one point, I told one of the surgery residents that I’d rather have a baby every hour than what I was going through.
Slowly, different lines and IV’s began to be removed and I moved to the Spinal floor and began physical therapy. At first, I seemed to be doing really well. I could walk some with help and a walker. I skipped rehab and went home thinking I’d make a full recovery.
My adventures were far from over.
I kept falling at home. I re-injured my lower back and had another surgery on it. I learned how to use a wheelchair so I didn’t fall any more and worked in neuro rehab to try to regain function. I’m still going to neuro rehab, now down to once a week. I’m moving next week into a handicap accessible apartment. I’m re-learning how to do everything I used to do. I had another surgery to try to decompress a nerve in my arm.
Everything happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to think about it, which I’m actually thankful for. There was no time to second guess my decisions, no time to worry about the outcomes. I’ve had some rough times where the grief at what I’ve lost has hit me fully, but also some immense joy at finding that my future is brighter than I may have thought. I’ve been able to keep my job in network security because I was already working remote. My little dog, Roo, has been by my side after every surgery and my family and friends have continued to support me.
I have more surgeries ahead as my spine acts like an old house where we fix one problem and then 2 more pop up. I have a lot more physical therapy ahead as I fight to regain what function I can. I’m so thankful that I have good insurance and support.
And I still have my yoga mats. I’m eyeing accessible yoga training programs for once my condition is stabilized. Not only do I want to keep doing yoga, I want to help other people like me do it, too.
My adventures aren’t over.