Back Update, Post Doc Visit

I have been putting off a “back update” until after I saw the doctor, which did happen this morning. I met today with the surgeon who did my back surgery on July 11.

This last week has been a combo of bed and steroids, and more bed (with my computer). Either the steroids are working or “time heals all wounds.” I’m not sure which one is bringing the magic.

My disc herniated on Wednesday, August 30. It hit critical mass on Sunday, September 03. I was in bed from Sunday to this past Saturday, September 09.

The children rearranged my office so that our nifty zero-gravity chair could replace my standard upright desk chair. Several have asked what a zero-gravity chair is. We have two from Walmart, which I bought a year or so ago so I’d have one up and downstairs. See here http://bit.ly/2wSVBHy These are also perfect for the beach; easy to carry and store.

The new chair arrangement permitted me to sit at the office all day on Saturday. It was not bad. Sunday was similar as far as the level of difficulty. The positive is that it was nice to get out of bed. Today, I’m back in bed because it’s most comfortable.

As For the Back

I’m able to walk, sit some, stand, and move around the house. The pain has dropped from a 25 to a 6, on the 1 to 10 scale. Less pain is great news. And I’m used to “six pain,” so I can take this.

We’ll see if it’s steroids or natural healing because I finished the steroids today, and will monitor the pain for the rest of the week.

I will visit the doctor in a week to ten days to follow up. For now, I’m going to hang out in my bed, spend a few hours a day at the office–at least when I do my podcasting–and keep everything nice and easy for an indefinite period.

The good news is that winter is coming. We tend to hibernate during the cold months. I disdain the winter. With shorter and colder days, it won’t be so bad. I can work, rest, enjoy the family, and come out next spring swinging (or shuffling).

I hope.

How Did It Happen?

The first question folks have asked is, “What happened?” The most accurate answer is that I do not know. And neither does the doctor. His best guess is that part of the scar tissue broke off and herniated the disc.

I was taking a nap!

Geez!!

Napping does not seem like a dangerous activity.

Be warned.

He said at this morning’s appointment that herniation happens to 5 to 10% of the folks who have a discectomy. (I wished I read the fine print.) He also said there is nothing you can do about it to prevent it. It’s one of those things. I’m good with that, though I feel like a walking time bomb.

It has been a week, but I see the end.

Again.

The last time I saw the end, it was only looping around to a more intensified repetition of the past twelve years. Maybe this time it won’t circle back for another dose of pain.

Unless something happens, I won’t update anymore on this issue.

To the Other Body

I do appreciate all who have asked how things are going. I appreciate the random drop-ins (Heidi F.), the food drop offs, the child transportation to school. And Tom and Missy having dinner with us last night. Tropical Chicken is the best. It was still good for lunch today.

Matt C., Nikki, Ruth, and Julie, thanks for the meals.

Oh, Alan, thanks for coming without an invitation and pushing yourself into my life. You stood in your own back pain for twenty minutes in my bedroom. I enjoyed the chat and your sacrifice. Let me know when you want to blow up our Christmas trees.

If I missed someone in this list, it’s because I was on drugs (or wished I was on drugs). But God knows who you are, and the kindness you gave.

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Back Again

Just when you thought things were going well. Then, boom: things are not so good again. I took a nap last Wednesday, August 30. After waking, I felt my sciatica pain in my left butt cheek. It was the old pain, though it was not nearly as bad.

Just alarming.

As the days wore on, the pain worsened until by Sunday I could not walk, stand, or sit. The only thing that relieved the pain was to lay down while writhing to the “lucky position.” It takes about seven minutes to find the sweet spot between torture and agony.

I went to the doc yesterday. It was an ordeal to walk from house to van, from van to office, from office to patient room, from patient room to X-ray, etc. You get the idea. I’m back to counting seconds, measuring distances, and strategizing shortest routes. I cannot stand for more than 20 seconds, and the aftermath for standing, walking, or sitting is excruciating.

It was funny in the X-ray room when the guy went behind the wall to set-up, and after he returned, I was on the floor. He asked, “Dude, what are you doing?”

I laughed.

He was flummoxed.

Laying down was the only way I could get relief, and I was not about to stand there and wait on him to get setup. The floor was amazingly cold, which was also nice. He took the X-ray, and I shuffled back to my room.

After the visit, I made it to the van, found my spot in the back, and lay there for the ride home. I’m not sure if you’ve ever laid in the back of a van, but there is a lot of tossing and turning that you don’t feel when you’re driving. It’s a thorough jostle. The other negative is that I had a seat lifted up so I could have more room to stretch my legs. I couldn’t tie it off because it was too much effort, which was not a problem since I was holding it with my hand to keep it from falling on me.

I forgot about holding it on the way back home, and at one of the sudden stops, it came crashing down on my head. For about ten seconds I forgot about my back pain. My throbbing head brought sweet relief. I can’t say here what I said when it hit me, but it was instructive. I have some things to work on for sure.

Later in the day, we made the trek to get an MRI. While waiting on the tech, I found a spot on the floor beside a plant. (They don’t vacuum behind that plant.) An old lady was watching with sadness. She was commiserating. Which was better than the “cop on guard” at the doctor’s office earlier in the day. He was nice but also doing his job, which I do appreciate. He did let me lay there. (It reminds me of being pregnant (from what I’ve observed): sometimes you really don’t care what folks think.)

MRI Update

I just received the report from the doctor (Wednesday morning). She said the bulge was greater than the bulge before my surgery. It’s a herniated disc. Shazam. That makes sense because when the nurse checked me in yesterday, she asked the “1 to 10” pain question, to which I said 25. It was only a 17 on the “1 to 10 scale” prior to the surgery. Subjective assessment, of course.

I have three options:

  1. Prednisone pills to mitigate the pain.
  2. Epidural steroid injection to relieve the pain.
  3. Surgery. Again.

I’m going with the pills first. Then we’ll see how it goes. I have my bed set-up nicely so I can work. Haydn brought one of my podcasting mics up last night so that I could do a pod from the bed. That’s a first. I listened to it, and it doesn’t sound like I was laying down. We’re good.

I would appreciate your prayers. It was painful before, but this is unexplainable. I’ve struggled with discouragement and some fear. God is my comfort. And I do mean that. It would be horrible without faith, though mine is a bit wobbly at this juncture.

An Aside – Lucia is doing better. She will go tomorrow to get her second (and last) tube removed. Fortunately, this “back thing” waited until she could be somewhat mobile. It is kinda funny; we’re both laid up in bed. Sorta romantic, in an old people kind of way.

Dear God, “Is this our future?”

Dear Son, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” – Ecclesiastes 12:1

But Let Me Add – The children are inspiring. They are amazing really. They serve so well, don’t succumb to fear, and the laughter continues in our home.

You’re either laugh or cry. I’ve done both this week.

One Month, Five Days: Walking Upright

My back surgery was July 11, 2017. It’s been a bit over a month. My first response to those who have asked (and thank you for asking) is that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excruciating pain, my pain level was a 17 before the surgery. It’s between a two and three now, depending on the day.

It’s remarkable.

I’m sure my pain is more severe now than what I realize but with more than a decade of extreme pain, what I’m feeling now is a piece of cake. I have my old life back.

My small group leader asked me last night when was the last time I felt a two or three pain level. I said it’s been five or six years. It’s something like that; I’m not sure, but I do know it was a long time ago.

That’s the good news.

Now for the bad news: I have to stop using my handicap parking tag that I hang on my mirror. I’m pretty tore up about that. I fell in love with my handicap card. The only bad thing about using it was “feeling judged” by those who looked me “up and down” when I stepped out of our van. (I know who you are.)

I also felt a pinch of conviction because I’m one of those “haters” who judged people when they got out of their vehicles, as though I’m the expert on what handicap should look like on an individual. I may have pretended to “look more handicapped” when I got out of my van so folks would know that my situation was legit. (Oh, the complexity of it all. It’s hard being human in a fallen world.)

The truth is that if you did not know that I was in pain, you would not know I was in pain because there were few “tells,” as they say in the gambling business. For the most part, I looked healthy.

A New Day

While in Colorado, at the Home Goods store, we gathered ten shopping carts–two per family member–and rolled them into the store. (It’s a thing we do as a family.) It’s been years since I’ve collected shopping carts (strays) in a parking lot. Last week, we parked at the end of the parking lot at Aldi (grocery store) and walked the distance. My point is that I (and our family) are back to old form. Daddy can walk now.

I still wear a back brace, and will for a while. In a month or so, I will start a personal regimen of physical therapy, which will consist of stretching exercises. It will also be imperative to keep extra weight off, so there is less burden on my back.

That’s about it.

Sitting all day is still hard. I try to remember to get up regularly and walk around for a few minutes. (I’m trying not to judge people who complain about walking or standing. What a privilege.) I do miss my handicap card and my electric wheelchair at Walmart, but if this is the trade off, I’ll take walking any day.

My two prayer requests are (1) gratitude to God for healing and (2) that the rest of this pain will leave.

Post-Surgery, One Week Later

Today is day seven after my back surgery. Things are going well. For the most part. There are the highs and the lows, as you might expect with any recovery.

Up High

As for the “highs,” it’s all about the Oxy. After two days of stumbling around in a drug-induced state, I went Roberto Duran on the meds, and said, “No mas. No mas.” (Reference to the Roberto Duran v. Sugar Ray Leonard boxing match on 11.25.80 when Duran quit the fight abruptly by saying, “No mas. No mas.” https://youtu.be/qtYVyRTvv90)

I’m not sure how anyone can take such a drug and function well. I suppose if the pain is that bad, you have no choice. I chose to suffer the consequences of the pain than live in “Grog-ville.” Honestly, that’s been the worst part of the recovery. It took a couple of days to rid my body of the residual effect of the meds.

Down Low

As for the lows, it’s all about the boredom. The doctor said not to do anything, get as much rest as possible, and not to lift anything more than my Yeti filled to the brim with coffee. Praise God. I’m following his orders, though the temptation to do more is always within my reach.

Yesterday, (Sunday) I sat for three hours recording podcasts. It was okay. Sorta. The sciatic pain in my left buttock showed up again. It was the pressure of sitting. I’m not overly-concerned about it because the overall pain has mitigated substantially since the surgery.

Be Positive

On the positive side of things, I can roll over in bed–while sleeping–and there is no pain at all. None. I have not been able to roll over in bed for years without bracing my body and preparing my mind for the lightning bolt that shoots through me. That’s a wonderful thing. Sometimes I roll over even though I don’t need to. I do it because I can. (I’m a toss-and-turn sleeper, BTW.)

I can walk up and down stairs with no trouble. I can walk around the kitchen with minimal burning shooting down my leg. I’m not sure how much pain is real or phantom. Regardless, it’s real to me, but manageable from a comparative before and after surgery scale. I hope it all goes away, but if this is what I got, I can live with it.

I did walk around the block with Lucia. That was nice–the Lucia part, that is. Haven’t been able to do that with her in years without agony–the pain part, that is. The last time we took a turn around the block, I was going from trashcan to trashcan, propping myself up along the way, trying to bring relief to my back. I made a note to walk on Tuesdays with her because that’s when the neighbors have their garbage cans out to the curbs. It was a bit embarrassing: hard to tell if I’m dumpster diving or stumbling around intoxicated. (Unintended second reference to getting high. Suspend your suspicion. It means nothing.)

Family History

The toughest part of this recovery is not being with my family. They go places; I stay home. They have fun; I lay on my back. This season is the first time in our family history that we haven’t been able to do things together. I don’t like it. At all. I’m glad they are having fun, no doubt, but I have to take my thoughts captive about my lack of participation. It reminds me of all the shut-ins I visited through the years at all those nursing homes. I come in for a visit, leave shortly thereafter to enjoy my life, while they stay put. God is good at meeting me at this angst point.

And then there is the guilt of not being able to serve them. I don’t mind my family (and others) serving me, but I’m like a one-legged man right now. All the serving is coming my way, and I can’t reciprocate. A “balanced Christian life” is serving and being served. I feel my limitation. The upside is that I can do ministry stuff (when I’m not high). BTW, my apologies to any incoherent or just plain weird emails or social media posts I made last week. I blame that on the Oxy.

Two Conferences

Our biggest consternation this past week was making a decision on the two conferences I have in the Rockies this coming week and the next. One of the most fun things we do as a family is pile into our van for a multi-week (or multi-month) road trip. We love being together, and it doesn’t get any better than doing the “sardine can” thing in our van. It’s an amazing time of memories, adventure, and laughter. I cannot overstate how much fun this is, which is why it’s been hard to figure out how to get to Denver.

The problem is the “fear of God” monologs I received from the doctor, nurses, and, particularly, the discharge nurse about what traveling in a van for a long distance would do to my back. Yesterday, we finally decided to fly instead of driving. The fun of being in Denver together compensated for the disappointment of the decision not to drive. Nevertheless, I’m still sad we could not make this road trip together. I can’t overstate this: road trips are crazy fun.

The other upside to flying is that I can get four more days in bed, which will give my body more time to make a full recovery. One of the nurses said that the incision in my back is small, but my body is traumatized more than I can imagine. I believe her. Whenever you go into a person’s body and cut something out of it, the body is in shock, and you don’t want to speed up the recovery no matter how well you think you feel. It takes time.

What Do I Need?

As long as I’m laying down, there is no pain at all. Please pray that I can walk around with no pain. That’s all I want at this time. I’ll take what the Lord gives regarding the recovery, but since a few folks have asked, I want you to know that “my will” is for the pain to be gone completely.

At Home Update, Post Surgery

Thank you for your texts, emails, phone calls, and visits. I’m grateful and encouraged on several levels, and particularly stoked about my children getting to see what the gospel looks like practically. Pictures of the gospel are a beautiful thing.

I did a blog post and podcast on our ministry site about part of what happened at the hospital yesterday. The Lord woke me up in the middle of the night with some words. When He illuminates, I try to listen. You can read or listen to that here if you want to.

The surgery went well. Lucia and I arrived before 1 PM; I was in my bed by 1:03. A nurse came in and began the questions, which was a pattern with everyone working with me. I appreciated their thoroughness. I liked being “over-cared” for especially during surgery.

  • What is your name?
  • When were you born?
  • Why are you here?
  • Add ten more, and you get the idea.

They gave me a special “blow up gown,” which was nice. It was hooked up to a plastic tube that blew in hot or cold air. The gown puffed up like the blow-up guy in “Big Hero 6” (movie). I looked quite chesty until the nurses deflated me, both ego and suit. Birthday suit that is.

The “happy gas” man rolled me in around 3 PM. I like him. Too much. I was going to ask him what that cold feeling was crawling up the inside of my arm, but before I could ask, I went to Utopia. My final thought was that this must be what it feels like to get a lethal injection at the prison. Nice.

I awoke around 4:30 and waited until 10 PM before they could get me a room. There were a lot of surgeries, and many late discharges. They wanted all the spine and neck patients on the same floor, so I had to wait for a bed. Three nurse turnovers later, they secured one for me.

The upside is that my A-game was coming back to me because I accomplished nearly all my recovery in the recovery room, so by the time I got to my room, I was back fully.

Will was my nurse. He was a good one. He said I was peppy. Nobody says I’m peppy. I was probably high, the best I can tell.

Lucia stayed with me all night; that was a good thing. I think Will appreciated someone less peppy.

My Two Pains

I have surgery pain in my lower back currently. The pain is not bad. I’m taking Oxy to stay ahead of it, which is what they suggested. I’m not sure if the pill is working because medication rarely affects me the way it should.

Historically, pills have proven to be little help. But the Oxy may be keeping the surgery pain bearable, or it may just be bearable. Nevertheless, I’m taking it, plus a muscle relaxer/spasm pill.

A Side Note: My first nurse was shocked (literally) when she found out I don’t take any medications. I asked her if 75% of the folks she checks in take medication. She said, “No, it’s more like 95%.” We had a good discussion about this.

As for the sciatica pain, I just finished a podcast, which kept me standing up for 30+ minutes while doing it. It was painful, but nothing like the most recent pain. It was more like “five years ago” pain. So I’m curious to see how things go tomorrow.

I hope it’s less than my most recent history. I could not make it to the hospital from the parking lot yesterday. Twenty seconds is all I could do at a time without the pain doing that thing it does.

To stand up and walk around today was encouraging. I’ve missed the last two church meetings, and have been a shut-in for the past few weeks.

I’m sleeping off and on, working from the bed. Can’t lift anything more than my coffee cup, which is perfect, since I “may” have issues with coffee. You decide: I did change the lyrics to “in the morning when I rise give me Jesus,” to “in the morning when I rise give me coffee and then Jesus.”

I can lift my laptop too.

Confession of a Former Legalist

I’m obeying all the rules. Can’t mess this up. I have no intention of doing anything that will hurt me. Being a former legalist helps: I can follow a list of rules well. That’s my wheelhouse. A good thing.

It’s day to day.

  • No lifting.
  • No bending.
  • No driving.
  • No washing clothes.
  • No vacuuming floors.
  • No doing the dishes.

I specifically asked about these last three.

Rick’s praising God right now.

I do want to walk more tomorrow and the next day. They encouraged all the walking that I can take. It also reduces the scar tissue if I move around. They gave me a lumbar belt, which I wear when I’m not laying down in the bed. That helps, and I guard against becoming overconfident with the support.

They say a month of not doing normal tasks should get me out of the woods. I think that’s about it. If I can serve you or if you have any questions, please ask.

I think I can do about 75% speed on ministry things, but no more. I must rest, so I sleep as often as my body tells me to.

The Surgery Date Is Set

The surgery date is July 11. Hopefully. Things do shift around when it comes to hospital scheduling. But that is the plan for now. Nothing has changed on my end (rear end). It still hurts. And God is still in control, so we press on with life, helping folks.

Lucia is amazing. No surprise there. The kids are stepping up, which is something they have been doing for eight months now since we told them about Lucia’s cancer and the subsequent surgery.

On that surgery? She is doing well. She is functioning at pre-cancer norms. There will be a reconstruction surgery at some point this year, but it’s not a high priority. (Her decision.) We may do it around the holidays.

Historically, the Christmas season is slow for us on the counseling front. People “sin less” during the holidays because they are shopping and partying more than usual. I’m for real, yes I am.

Okay, perhaps they are not sinning less, but they are busier during the holidays than their “normal busy,” so sanctification takes a back seat. They will come roaring back during January and February when the bills are due and they are staring at each other more often.

Our family loves the holidays because it’s the slowest time of the year for us, which may be a good time for a surgery. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Thank you for your prayers. I’m asking the Father to make the surgery go well. I’m trying to guard my heart against “over hoping” what it might be like to be pain-free. It has been twelve years. I don’t know what it is like not to grimace while I roll over in bed. Or not prognosticate how many steps I can make inside Walmart before I have to sit. Or not having my first thought at doing anything be, “How much is that going to hurt?”

It reminds me of what Paul told the Corinthians in 1:8 that they would be guiltless in the day of the Lord Jesus. Just wow! I know I’m guiltless in Christ. I get it. But to truly feel it all the time is an experience that is not mine. And to think I can be pain-free is similar.

I admire people who stand and talk at the church meeting. I praise God for folks who walk around because they can. I hope I can be one of those people. I want to take a walk with Lucia without a time limit.

Anyhow. I guess I’m not guarding my heart too well. 😉 Please pray for a pain-free outcome.

I have a three-day conference at the end of July. There is another three-day conference at the beginning of August. And I have a third one at the end of October. It would be nice if those gatherings were without pain. I can sit and teach, but walking upright is a perk. I know folks who do that, and I’d like to be one.

It’s My Time Now

In 2005, I felt this pain in my left buttock. It was sharp, but I could “calm it down” by making adjustments like leaning on a wall while propping my foot on it. The pain happened as I walked or stood. Often, I would do different things to bring relief like lay on the floor in Walmart so Lucia could stretch my leg back to bring relief. It was an odd rigamarole in Walmart, but necessary.

When the pain happens, it’s acute. When it’s not, I can function normally. I have learned a few things that I can’t do like carry my children (back then when they were tiny) or walk extended periods. I got a few walking sticks, which I used more to lean on to relieve the pressure on my back. I bought a trifold camping chair from REI, which was a godsend. I never leave home without it. (Unless I leave home without it: I do forget stuff.)

I began various “cure” approaches like the chiropractor, wearing a “tens unit,” physical therapy, lotions of all sorts, traction, dry needling, yoga, acupuncture, exercise, dieting, X-rays, MRI’s, and tons of ibuprofen. None of these things worked ultimately. The pain level has always been the same, but the length of the pain has grown and the amount of “painless time” has decreased.

In the beginning, I could stand or walk for 10 to 15 minutes. Today, I cannot stand or walk for more than 60 seconds before the pain comes and stays. I can’t sit, stand, walk, or lay down without pain. When I do stand, I contort my body in different ways to move the pain around. Nobody would know what I’m doing because it does not look abnormal. Only recently has it become more evident to people.

Historically, there would always be a counter or chair or rail that I could sit or prop on while talking to someone. If anything, I looked lazy but not debilitated.

During our conference in Alaska, I told the folks about my problem because I could not hide it during eight straight hours of teaching. I sat on stools or propped up by using the backs of chairs. At our Peru conference, I could prop in a similar way (or just sit). While traversing Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO, I got to speed around with all the “blue hair” (elderly) people in one of those motorized scooters. That was both embarrassing and exhilarating.

I don’t like to talk about it because, quite frankly, people are compassionate: they give you endless cure ideas. I also don’t talk about it because it becomes your identity; I’d rather talk about Christ and His work on earth.

I’ve never hidden my problem for any other reason, with the exception that talking about it so much is tiring. Plus, when people ask, it’s hard to reduce my answer to the thirty-second sound bite they want. Truthfully, I need ten minutes with you to tell you how I’m doing. Rarely does the person asking me how I’m doing expect me to talk ten minutes about my problems and it’s nearly impossible to tell them how I’m doing in thirty-second sound bites. It’s a relational dilemma. So I don’t talk about it a lot.

After the last MRI, it showed a bulging disc that is pushing against my spine. The sciatica has no other place to go and is being squeezed. The symptoms are excruciating pain in my left buttock, pain down my hamstring on my left leg, pain in the calf muscle, numbness, tingling, and my middle toe involuntarily twitches. My hips are also aching. Those are the main things.

The surgeon recommended, (a) do nothing, (b) injection to relieve the pain, (c) surgery. We’re looking at surgery. Soon.

I have speaking engagements in August and October; two in Colorado and one in Oregon, so we’re waiting, at this point, to see how soon I can get the surgery and recover, or wait until the fall.

Currently, my days consist of getting out of bed, writhing on the floor for 15 minutes until the pain subsides, crawling into my zero-gravity chair to work all day, and then go back to bed at night. I do sit up to do my podcasts, walk around the house a few minutes at a time, sit at the dinner table on occasion, and go random places around town. A few weeks ago, I got my handicap placard, which I do use as it saves me a few steps since my walk/stand time is down to seconds. I can go mostly anywhere anyone else can go; it just takes me longer.

I’m not discouraged or struggling spiritually. I don’t live in an illusion that my health should be perfect or that God has failed in some way because my health is spiraling. Though it takes longer to do everything, I still get to help people daily, and that is my reason for living–to bring fame to God by teaching others about Him. The kind of vessel I have to accomplish this good work is a lesser concern.

No, I’m not flippant about it, but I’m a sovereigntist: I do what I know to do and trust God with the results. Right now the physical “results” are painful, but our redemptive work is flourishing. The point is that I have nothing to complain about because of the goodness and mercy of God on my life. I would love your prayers. If Sovereign Father wants to change this thing, I’m open for the possibility.