It's official - six months after spine fusion and I am back to normal. Well maybe even better than what passed for normal for me before recurrent lower back pain morphed into incapacitating sciatica - cured hopefully forever by the application of cutting edge (ooh bad pun) spinal surgery.
When your surgeon tells you that he does not want to see you again, that's a GOOD thing. Apparently bones are knitting together appropriately and the titanium hardware remains in the correct place so I am free to bend, rotate, extend and lift weights, and generally keep on leading the active kind of life I enjoy.
After a couple of weeks of working out to dance music in my gym, and a planned dance lesson that had to be canceled because of the downtown crowds for Game 7, I finally walked back into the ballroom for a dance lesson. This is the first time I have been back since October 3rd, two days before my stenosed spine decided to finally compress my sciatic nerve so severely that I felt like I was one of the baddies in an episode of 24 with high voltage shocks going down my right leg. So its been 8 and a half months with no dancing - almost as bad as physical torture for an addict like me.
But now I have mentally switched from thinking rehabilitation to thinking "GI Jane training" and though I am not working on weapon or demolition skills, nor for that matter getting exhausted, water-logged, starving, or resisting torture, I do have a multi-faceted program that keeps me plenty busy.
The nutritional plan-low carb eating seems to be working despite the fact that I have occasionally - well quite a few times actually - been busted eating fries and breads. And then of course there is wine. But still I have managed to drop half the 15 pounds I gained during my 5 month forced couch-potato existence.
Right now I try to get to the gym or walk for a cardio workout at least 4 to 5 days a week. Cale, my usually Satanic trainer has been relatively cherub-like as he gradually eased me back into a weight training and general fitness regime after the surgery. But he is now starting to channel Viggo Mortensen's Master Chief role as my workouts with him are getting more intense.
It is working because I am managing to hold core exercises like bridges that I thought I would never have the strength to do again. So when I hear "10 seconds more" and I think "can't do it", I just breathe and think of my muscles getting longer and stronger - and I hear "done!" Whew.
So when you have had spine surgery, when do you stop thinking of your workouts and training as rehabilitation from a major trauma and start thinking of just getting fitter, stronger, faster and more flexible? It may sound like splitting hairs but I think there is a philosophical difference in approach and mental attitude.
For me at any rate when I think "rehab" it raises concern about messing with healing or re-injury, taking things slow and cautiously. Getting fitter makes me think Demi Moore in GI Jane - love that movie. Though as my trainer points out "remember it's a movie - not real life." I think he was too polite to point out that I am not Demi Moore - and am also a lot older than she was when that film was made. Sigh!
I had really found the Activator poles helpful in the first few weeks after surgery. I felt more stable and secure when I walked, and it really helped my posture and balance. The poles also served a semiotic purpose in that they were a signal - like a cane - that people should keep their distance, and their off-leash dogs out of my way.
As week thirteen post surgery approached I was feeling 90% back to normal. Still working on rebuilding some endurance, tackling posture and really increasing my flexibility. Neglecting stretching and flexibility for the more fun endorphin-producing activities was one of the key things that got me into difficulty in the first place so I am determined not to make that mistake again as I build up my strength for dancing.
I have started dance workouts in my gym focusing on the basic movements in both standard and Latin - but wearing workout shoes not those sexy high heels!! A good guide for me as to how much endurance I lost over 5 months of minimal activity, is the fact that I can barely last through 2 minutes of a samba tune - compared to my previous "record" of close to 10 minutes. See "I Could have danced all night" from the West Coast Ballroom and Wine Tasting Cruise story. On my first cruise with Dancers at Sea I was dancing a samba with Piero, one of the dance-pro hosts and the band just kept on going for what felt like 10 minutes till I thought I would not be able to move another step. Gillian's "10 minute samba" became a standing joke between Wendy and myself. So now I have to work back from 2 minutes till I can last at least 5. Interestingly it is my arms that tire long before my legs.
Anyway feeling so absolutely great I thought it was time to celebrate my recovery, and thank my wonderful and varied group of friends who had sustained me through this ordeal. What better way than to throw a party - and so I did. Fifty friends and family members arrived to celebrate with me - and I actually wore one of my dance dresses for the first time since my last cruise in September.
Since I was also happy at being back writing and reviewing for my website, which will celebrate a three year anniversary this August, I chose the teal and aubergine colours of ReviewFromTheHouse.com as the theme colours for the party.
Week 10 and I am feeling great. My energy level is high, I am back in the gym, my low carb weight loss plan seems to be working and I am going to social events, plays, movies and restaurants. In fact the one thing everyone keeps reminding me about is that "you have had major surgery, don't overdo it."
It's hard to be disciplined and sensible when I feel so good but here is me, walking back from grocery shopping with a light bag in each hand. If I need more than I can carry comfortably I confess that I drive there.
The picture was taken for me by a person who was also enjoying the sea wall. It was supposed to show the two light grocery bags but I guess I did not make the concept clear so the grocery bags don't feature at all.
It is 7 am and the sun is streaming in through the window of my office and glinting off the waters of False Creek. I see three kayaks out on the water but I don't yet hear the strident voices of the dragon boat "dragons" exhorting the rowers to move it. My coffee, fresh ground, and mellowed with a touch of cream, is steaming on the desk. My back feels great and I am going to finish my coffee and head out for a walk on the sea wall.
After a rough week last week, this week has shaped up to be the best so far. The evening before I enjoyed a fun supper at Fortune Garden Restaurant on West Broadway. Yesterday with friends I walked from my place in Yaletown up to the Scotiabank Cinema on Smithe and Burrard, had lunch at Joey Burrard, saw The Lincoln Lawyer, and then walked home. Other than the fact that my pace was much slower than my usual speed walking, I actually felt "normal" for the first time in seven months.
It is now the end of week 6 after spine surgery. I have achieved some major milestones - for me- and my walking program is going well. The weather has been such that I have been able to get out for a sea wall walk almost every day and how can one not be happy and get better in such glorious surroundings. I thought I would share some of this beauty of Vancouver with you in this post.
I was interested to note that the same distance that takes about 37 minutes to walk when I walk with a friend, took me only 33 minutes when I went by myself. I guess conversation is a pleasant distraction to stop me from getting into my automatic speed walk mode..
Perhaps its because I come from a scientific background , or perhaps its just my naturally obsessive nature but I have this compulsive need to document my progress. Way back when, my friend Michael, then Executive Director at the Fraser Institute, made a point during one of our heated debates - 'If it matters, measure it". The sentiment struck a chord with both the scientific and obsessive parts of me. Since my progression back to being strong and fit enough for serious dancing matters a lot to me - I am trying like mad to "measure it."
So since the only "get fit" type of exercise I can do for now is walking, how can I measure my progression to fitness?
It seems to me there are few options. There is "duration of walk" - that's easy using the stopwatch function on my IPhone. My criterion for distance is how long I can walk before I feel my posture flagging - and remembering that however far I go I have to walk the same distance back.
Actually the post title is misleading because I have just completed week three post-surgery and in reality I am still more in the recuperation phase than rehabilitation. Maybe this would be better titled "from Munchkin to Dancing Queen."
The picture of the left shows me all lopsided and scrunched up but still trying hard to stand with good posture 6 days after surgery. The picture on the right is to remind me that if I am patient, I will be back enjoying my dance cruises ... and even last out another 7 minute samba.
I like to think about my daily recuperative activity as a job. The surgeons (and the anesthetist - GBH) did their jobs fantastically- they stopped the pain and removed the cause, hopefully forever. Now I have to do my job which is keeping mobile and doing what I can to promote healthy healing without doing any activity that is potentially harmful to perfect healing.
Today I achieved yet another small step on my way to recovery from my recent back surgery. I managed to get my sock onto my right foot. It may not sound like much but it was the absolutely last thing I needed to be able to do, in order to say that I could completely take care of myself, at last as far as getting dressed is concerned.
Actually I should not be too hard on myself. It is now day 15 after spine surgery and I am feeling good. The surgery pains frankly were trivial in comparison to the agony I have been in over the past 5 months - in fact for the first few days post-op the ABSENCE of pain was almost tangible and more significant to me than the discomfort from the wound.
Even though I was only taking one little blue pill 3 times a day - instead of the recommended dose of 2 every 4 hours as needed I decided the heavy duty painkillers were making me crazy and needed to be stopped. So I stopped, had one bad night of insomnia but feel a hundred times more myself now and more tuned in to what is actually happening with my body.