The following is a letter I have sent to my spine surgeon and physical therapist:
Dear [Spine Surgeon] and [Physical Therapist],
This is a letter I began writing to you both eight months post-surgery. I was going to send it to you on the one year anniversary of my spinal fusion. Then, I got busy. So, I said I’d finish it by Thanksgiving. And, now here we are on December 15th. I think about this letter every day. Just like I think about both of you every day. Because I am 100 percent pain free. Every day. Every. Single. Day.
Every day for the past 400 days I have gotten out of bed – OK, not bed, per se, as I continued to sleep in the zero gravity chair for a few months until I conquered my fear of lying flat in bed again. Oh my gosh how I LOVE sleeping in my bed! But, every day, I get up, put my feet on the floor, stand up straight, and I thank you both for your partnership and accompaniment on the journey to getting my life back.
I couldn’t have done surgery without the physical therapy leading up to it. And, I couldn’t have done physical therapy without the surgery that made getting stronger both possible and necessary. You two are my dream team. I tell everyone about you.
Though I have slacked off considerably this fall and I need to get back on track, this past spring and summer I walked about 20 miles per week and have gotten my per mile pace under 15 minutes – that’s no easy feat for someone as short as I am, and it’s a far cry from regularly having days when I couldn’t walk at all. I have lost about 25 pounds.
In July, I went horseback riding. Not because I like horses. Far from it. I went simply because I could. I also rode the Aerosmith roller coaster at Disney World. I hated it and won’t ever do it again. But I went because I could. There isn’t much I take for granted these days. And, I have been more thankful (for everything!) in the past 13 months than ever before.
What you don’t know is that, in repairing my back, you both helped me fix my whole self. I had become far more broken than what was visible on an MRI scan. In late 2013, when it became abundantly clear my back was giving up on me, I nearly gave up on myself altogether. My addiction to alcohol, which began as a habit of self-medicating when my back pain would flare up, and had in recent years become a considerable problem, spiraled out of control. In March, I decided to get sober. After a couple of starts and stops, I succeeded.
My sobriety served me incredibly well in preparation for and recovery from surgery. And, now I have the physical power to match my emotional strength. The best part? I’m not scared of anything anymore. Well, maybe just one thing … I’m scared I will never find something that makes me feel the way running used to.
I hesitate to tell you this, but I have done some running – just a smidge. Half a mile here. A mile there. Three miles … but just once. I’m trying so hard to lose the itch to run, but I just can’t shake it. I’d love to talk with you both about it. Of course, I don’t want to do anything that will undo what we’ve accomplished. But, I would like to understand more about the consequences (dangers?) of running – specifically, what can happen if I start pounding a bit more (maybe train for a half marathon?). Can the screws loosen or even fall out? Or is it just a dumb idea because I am missing a shock absorber? I won’t do it if you tell me I shouldn’t. But, if there’s a chance I can get away with it, I’d like to try. So, let’s talk.
There’s something I began saying almost immediately after surgery, stunned that my only discomfort (not pain) was at my incision sites.
It’s true. And, I didn’t know exactly how much I had lost until you gave it back to me. I had no idea how much I had stopped living. Stopped caring.
So, from the bottom of my heart and with every fiber of my being, thank you. I am so very blessed to have been your patient.
With deepest gratitude,