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Pain and Surgery Recovery

After back surgery, pain is an unwelcome — and constant — part of recovery

Very little was spoken about what to expect after the surgery. I thought I understood and just said, “Let’s do it.” Spinal surgery would be a new experience, but I trusted my instincts.  The lumbar fusion took about four hours.  Two days later I fled the hospital, anxious to sleep it off in my own bed and return to a busy life.  I was in pain, but so what?  No one was happy with my hasty retreat, but physician and family knew better than to try to talk sense into me.  Meredith, my wife, could only mutter, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

See also: 7 pain-fighting foods.

Richard Cohen

Richard M. Cohen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 30 years ago. — Richard M. Cohen

Before surgery, the pain was razor-sharp.  Every step was a nightmare.  My back was on fire.  The crisis had started years earlier from a herniated disc in my lower back. That pain had festered through the years as I developed spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal canal — with vertebrae pinching nerves in some places and creating bone-on-bone pain in others.           

My prognosis was clouded by my multiple sclerosis.  No one could say with certainty how successful the surgery might be, because they didn’t really know which piece of the physical deficit was muscular and which was neurological. In spinal surgery patients with MS, neurological function does not always return.

After an uncertain first few weeks post-surgery, when the pain seemed almost unbearable at times, everything seemed to be getting better. I was just about ready to rejoin the world outside when I arose one day to discover that my back was so weak I could barely stand straight. I could not walk more than a few feet without finding a surface to lean on.  I couldn’t even carry a cup of coffee or a glass of water into the next room. This new normal was a body hunched over, looking as if it would fold in half and crumple to the ground.

This went on for weeks. I freaked. I told my neurologist I was having an MS flare.  Frequently, the patient is the first to sense trouble, so my problems were taken seriously.  I had four consecutive days of steroid infusions at an MS center, where drugs were pumped into my body to reduce inflammation. On the final day, I was dropped off less than a block away from the clinic.  I barely made it to my appointment, collapsing in the doorway.

Next: Is it normal post-surgery pain or a relapse?

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