I’ve been quiet, but man oh man did I have a year this past year! Everything was going pretty smoothly. I landed my dream job. I was working out and eating well. I was living the dream!
And then, boy did life happen and happen HARD.
I pulled an all nighter for work right after I got hired. At some point in the night, half of my left hand went numb. I didn’t think much of it except that it didn’t wake back up. This led to an MRI of my neck, where I’ve had pinched nerves previously. My lower back got jealous and I started having sciatic nerve pain, so we did a MRI of that and yes, I had a disc that was pressing on my spinal cord at L5-S1. No big deal, my surgeon and I talked it through and decided a micro-discectomy was the way to go. It’s a minimally invasive surgery where they just shave back the part of the disc that is causing the problem. I got through that surgery in late December with no problems and was healing well and in a LOT less pain. My left hand was still half numb and we didn’t know why, but we were making progress…we all thought so anyway.
January came and I started having weirder symptoms and they began progressing VERY quickly. I began to have shaking in my knees and thighs and then other issues that I’d rather not go into on the internet, but suffice it to say, something was very wrong. My neurosurgery team was baffled, but decided to do a MRI on my thoracic spine, the part that is connected to your ribs. They told me not to worry that it was highly unlikely there was anything going on there. Almost no one ever has issues with that part of their spine because it’s braced by your ribcage. Less than 1% of spine surgeries take place in that part of the spine and then only if it’s an emergency kind of situation.
Well, suffice it to say, I’m part of that 1%.
The MRI of my thoracic spine showed a disc that was pressing on my spinal cord, but my surgeon wanted to hold off and see if it would resolve without surgery. My condition rapidly went downhill and that next week I came in to see his nurse practitioner. After doing some nerve function tests on my feet and legs she looked at me and said, “Is your husband with you? Can he drive you to the hospital…now?” By the time I had emergency surgery the next day, I was paralyzed from the waist down, with little feeling and no use of my legs at all. Everyone else seemed afraid, but I was oddly calm. The way I looked at it, I was already at the worst case scenario and surgery could only improve things or leave me the same.
Finally, I had some luck and surgery DID help. However, I was in for a very long road to recovery, much longer than anyone could have guessed.
That recovery took several more surgeries including a surgery on my elbow that finally fixed that half of my left hand being numb problem. I had my spine fused with titanium rods at T5-T9, so a big part of my thoracic spine. I had another fusion later as that disc in my lower back kept on re-herniating. So, more titanium at L5-S1. I went through months of rehab learning to walk again and I’m still not done. The most frustrating part was that I would make progress, re-injure my back, have another surgery, and essentially start over again. I can’t really describe the amounts of pain, exhaustion and frustration I went through. In darker times, I turned to food to soothe me. It was the only pleasure I could really have as I spent most of my time in bed or in my wheelchair.
So much for learning how to paddleboard that summer. Instead, I was learning to walk and practicing guitar.
As a result of all this, I reached my highest weight EVER. I topped out over 200lbs. My body was falling apart from all the surgeries, injuries, and poor eating habits and lack of exercise. My nonalcoholic fatty liver disease became worse and my blood pressure began fluctuating wildly. I struggled with other side effects from my spinal cord injury. All of it added up to so much pain and limitation after being in great shape.
But…the body has an amazing capacity for healing and after I finally had my lower back fused, I began to finally be able to make progress in physical therapy. I took some time off work and did a week in inpatient rehab, doing hours of physical therapy every day. I began pushing myself to take more steps. I still can’t stand or walk for long periods, but I can toddle around my house now with leg braces and crutches. The term “baby steps” really hits home these days!
And, I decided that now is the time to get my eating under control, but I wanted to try something a little less strenuous or intense as the macro counting I was doing prior to getting injured. I wanted something a bit more gentle to start with as I’m healing. After seeing a friend online having success with it and looking at the program and cost, I chose to start Weight Watchers. I’ve never done the program before, mostly because I just viewed it as the old program that our mothers or grandmothers used, but it’s been revamped quite a bit and is now mostly an app-based program. I’m liking it so far and I’ll post more about it later.
SO…how did I come back from all that?
The answer is that I still am, but the most important part is that I made a decision that I wasn’t going to continue down the path I was on. I made a decision that I was going to take control back of my life rather than keep letting all my physical setbacks and food control it. I know I’ll have less pain and more freedom if I move more and eat better and when I’m tempted to go back to bad habits, I focus on that. I’ve already lost a couple of pounds and I’m back below 200lbs, for which I’m very thankful.
My weight is much like my spinal cord issues…it’s a chronic thing that I will always have to be aware of and manage. There is no “after” really, just a lifestyle change to work around them both. Sometimes, that can feel really discouraging, to realize that I’m never going to be “done,” either with working on my weight or with spinal surgeries and neuro rehab. However, there is also power in realizing that there ARE things I can do to help make these conditions more manageable.
Like I tell friends often, “We all have SOMETHING.” My husband has type 2 diabetes among other conditions. I have family who have high blood pressure. I have friends who have bad knees or hips. Once you reach a certain point in life, everyone has SOME chronic issue that they have to manage. For some, that comes sooner than later, but we all have something we’re fighting. These just happen to be mine. Our bodies are never perfect, but they are always trying to do their best to do what we need them to do.
My part is doing what I can to help, rather than get in the way.