It was Fall of 2011 when I recall rising from my desk to walk a short distance but my legs buckled under me accompanied by sharp shooting pain. I had to slowly inch my way back. I was scared and puzzled and really confused. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened to prompt this--no heavy lifting, etc. I had had a problem with my right knee but never unable to walk. I thought it was my knee. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor and she later referred me to the orthopedics division where they performed x-rays of my knee. The x-rays concluded nothing unusual but my orthopedist thought it was my back and ordered x-rays of the spine. After his review he referred me to the back specialist at Georgetown.
The doctor at Georgetown was very nice. He prescribed oral pain medicine and made orders for spinal injections at the Georgetown Pain Management Division in Greenbelt, Maryland. The process took about an hour each time—prep, application, waking up and then going home. I felt I was rolling the dice each time I did this for about six months and then the doctor and I discussed surgical options and decided on October of 2012 to have the procedure.
In July leading up to the surgery, I reviewed a five hour online video of a spinal fusion. I just thought, "no, I don’t think I am ready for this." The patient in the video was a 70 plus year-old man; I was 62. I am an only child with an only child, married to an only child and I was...well, I thought then that I needed a second opinion.
I googled spine facilities in Northern Virginia and luckily found Virginia Spine Institute. They reviewed my MRI from Georgetown and said the doctor was not wrong in telling me I needed surgery because of a number of complications—arthritis, scoliosis, etc. They advised me not rush to surgery and that we would use more conservative approaches to relieve pain. My first pain medicine application lasted nearly a year. The next spinal injection lasted six months; I also had narcotics, which I did not use often. I was exercising, going to physical therapy and had a personal trainer.
When I was in pain I was not a very likable person, though I struggled not to take it out on others around me. I was not able to do a lot of walking and lifting. I could no longer enjoy my favorite place in the world, and I mean in the world is the beaches of Hilton Head, South Carolina. I could not golf or play tennis or walk the trails or shop. The pain seemed to ebb and flow.
The big day—Sunday August 3, 2014.
I am a volunteer at The Kennedy Center at the Visitors Information Desk. I have volunteered there for six years just about every Sunday evening. I am the shift leader and coordinate the times for six other people to work the desk during this time period. That fateful day, I got out of my car, walked in and took the elevator to the foyer level. Stepped off the elevator and could not walk. I literally pushed my self along the walk to the desk and a chair. After an hour or so, another volunteer walked me to my car, and thankfully it was a car my mom had owned, and in the trunk was a cane. I drove home in pain and prayed my legs would continue to work. I was helped into the house; I put pajamas on down stairs and tried to eat as I told my husband, who had cooked dinner, “If I go up stairs I will not come down again tonight.” Well, I was in bed for five days following this incident. I called for an appointment at Virginia Spine Institute and said I wanted to have surgery.
My four-year-old granddaughter said emphatically around Christmas Time,“Nana, you are so much nicer since you had your operation!"
Spine Surgery was scheduled on October 16th.
As a result of the transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) I had the best Christmas I have had in years!
- I walked in Ashville and Philadelphia.
- I stood up straight. I can walk blocks now.
- I can stand at the Visitors Desk.
- I can go places with my granddaughter without hunching over.
- I can smile and be pleasant with family friends and myself.
My recovery was great—why because the post surgical pain is easier than what I endured pre-surgery. There was light at the tunnel. I am not 100% but I know that by summer I will be able to walk the beaches. We have a Viking cruise and walking tour scheduled for France in July, which was an out of the question vacation a year ago.
Thank you to my team!
- Tracy Perkins - Physician Assistant