Tag Archives: surgical recovery

Bone Growth Stimulator/Supplements

********update, if your insurance company does not pay for this device or you have a large co payment in order to get it I would say save your money, it turns out that the claims that this device makes are not proven medically or scientifically so I would not recommend it.  The best thing you can do is make sure you do your physical therapy, make a decision to lead an active lifestyle after surgery for example, walking every day.  Exercise will help you recover and rehabilitate more in the long run than expensive devices and or supplements.  Spend time strengthening your core because a strong core will also do more in the long run in managing pain and providing the strength of the muscles around your spine and therefore reducing pain and the chance that you will have further damage to discs in the future, I am  4 years out from surgery now and this is my own advice I am offering and taking.  I am happy to answer questions of anyone currently or having experienced back injury and or surgery so feel free to email me at c.reed.cate99@gmail.com or by posting a comment here, I will respond as quickly as possible.

The newest addition to my recovery from the ALIF surgery is a CMF Spinalogic bone growth stimulator .  It is worn like a belt around my waist for 30 minutes a day.  I will need to wear it for at least the next 6 months.  According to what I have read about it, it creates a magnetic field that apparently increases the rate of new bone growth by 21% vs patients who do not use one.  It is really not hard to fit it into my day, right now I usually put it on after my shower but before I get completely dressed, in fact I am wearing it right now over my bathrobe.  After I return to work, I plan to put it on as soon as I get home.  You simply wrap it around your waist like a belt and there is a circular part that sits right over the discs that you had fused and fasten the Velcro so it fits snugly, then you press and hold the button on the controller which is attached by what looks like an old style phone cord until it beeps. Then it times your session and beeps again after 30 minutes.  That separate piece has a belt clip that attaches to the belt part so you can walk around during the treatment.  The only thing I notice when wearing it is a feeling of warmth on my lower back, there is no pain involved.  It was covered by my insurance company which is BCBS Anthem but they required a prior authorization by my surgeon’s office which took about 2 weeks to complete. I believe it is probably very expensive for people who do not have insurance or whose insurance company doesn’t cover it because I have seen them on Ebay for $200-500. I just got it this week and have not missed a day yet.  The nurse that told me about it told me that I am to bring it with me to my follow up appointment and that they will check the timer unit and it will tell them if I have used it faithfully or not.  Of course as far as I am concerned if I don’t use it I would only be holding up my own recovery and I want to do everything I can to regain my normal activity level so what would be the point of cheating? This is what the device looks like:

So between this, the daily walks for at least 20 min and taking extra calcium supplements I think I am doing all I can to promote the bone growth between the vertebrae that were fused (L4-S1 in my case which are the lowest 2 discs in the lumbar spine).  I have also added a new supplement called Dolomite powder by KAL.  It contains 1100mg/110% of calcium, 2mg/11% iron and 630mg/150% magnesium.  I am mixing 1tsp into OJ and a little milk to make it palatable since its rather chalky, this mixture makes it taste like a creamsicle.  I take this  in addition to the OsCal calcium supplement with D3.  It contains 600iu/150% of vitamin D3 and 500mg/50% of calcium.  The drawback with all this calcium with my pain meds causes Miralax to be a daily supplement as well since these things all cause constipation.  I hope all of this information helps those of you out there going through the same condition as me and I know there are a lot of us.  If we all help by sharing information hopefully we can look forward to a pain free and more active future!  Thanks as usual for reading and please feel free to share your own stories or tips by commenting on this post.





Physical Therapy is even more important than I thought!

I am amazed at how much physical therapy is helping me.  I have to admit I was skeptical about it.  I was feeling pretty good and having people tell me that they couldn’t even tell I had any surgery because my mobility is so good.  However, when the therapist evaluated me she found some problems with my gait (the way I walk) that are easily solved with stretches and exercises.  My hip flexors have shortened because I have been over-compensating when I walk from when I was in pain and now it’s a habit I have to break. 

I have progressed to the point that I now have about 6 different exercises to do every day.  There is the hamstring stretch, the hip flexor stretch and pelvic tilt to strengthen my lower abs.  Two new ones are designed to strengthen my thigh muscles;  using a medium sized ball between my knees with a belt around my ankles I pull my ankles apart and squeeze my knees together at the same time and hold for a count of 10, then put the ball between my ankles and the belt around my knees and this time pull my knees apart and squeeze my ankles together.  It’s important for both of these that your ankles, knees and hips be in perfect alignment.  My thigh muscles are probably going to end up better than they were before so it’s dual purpose exercise just in time for swimsuit weather! J  The other new one is called “the clam” you lie on your side with your knees bent, do a slight pelvic tilt and while pushing the leg that is on the bottom down, you lift the other leg so you look like a clam shell opening.  This one I am supposed to work up to doing 3 sets of 10.  She also taught me a great hip stretch but you need a buddy.  You lie on your side as if you are going to do “the clam” you have someone strong stand sideways in front of you, put the upper leg around their waist so the back of your thigh is against their side, they provide resistance for you to push against, when you push against them it stretches your outer thigh, hip and glutes. 

We are also still working on thinning out my scar through massage, now I am massaging it side to side now, this is kind of graphic and I’m sorry but what I am doing is to “pick it up” and slowly move it back and forth to break up the scar tissue underneath that has been causing all the pain, I do this twice a day morning and night.  I really wish I had known about massaging the scar earlier than this, for anyone reading this who has yet to have surgery, scar massage is safe to do as soon as you are healed so about 6 weeks.  The earlier you start it the less likely it is that you will have adhesions like I did, this is a good preventative treatment for that.

All in all I am continuing to improve although am still on pain medication daily at least for now but it’s not as strong as the one I used to be on and I will continue to try and reduce that at each visit with my pain doctor, Dr. Netherton.  Thanks for reading and if anyone has any questions or comments feel free to post them I am happy to help if I can!

ALIF surgery was worth it in the end! Happy 2013!

I had my last follow up with my spine surgeon Dr Frisch yesterday.  He has referred me to pain management since I still have enough pain to interfere with my life.  My appointment is January 30th so he gave me RX refills to last until then.  I have mixed feelings about that since I had hoped to no longer need pain relief this far after surgery.  In a way it makes me feel like I am not strong enough or do not have enough willpower to push through the pain.  I am sincerely hoping it will not be a long term thing.  I stopped wearing the brace a month ago so my core muscles are getting stronger without the support of the brace.  The scar continues to improve, I was really worried right after because it was a shocking sight to me.  It continues to appear thinner and lighter and I know that is something that will take months to see the final result of.  I am planning to start Mederma scar treatment gel, I worked in dermatology for 10 years and that is the only product that has been proven to work in clinical trials.  I continue to use the spinalogic bone growth stimulator every day.  It the easiest to remember if I do it when I get home from work, it takes 30 minutes to finish.  To my knowledge I will need to do this for 6 months.  I am seriously trying to do everything I can do to promote complete healing so that I can have a better chance at a more pain free life after all is said is done.  He told me yesterday to be patient and that it can take me up to a year to feel the full effect and feel like myself again and that gave me hope.  All in all I feel that having the ALIF surgery was one of the best things I ever did for myself even with the complications I had, it was the only way to have a chance at a future with less pain.  My level is between 3-6 at some point every day which is better than the 8-9 I was for so many years especially this past one.  Also my company changed insurance companies as of 1-1-13 so it was a good thing I did it when I did or I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.  I was lucky to have such a good insurance policy, in the end I only had to pay $1500 total out of pocket this year for everything that was done for me and for that I am grateful.  Here’s to a positive 2013!  Happy New Year!

Improving Quality of Life 6 weeks after Spinal fusion surgery

Every day I feel a little better.  Certainly having had the pulmonary embolism surgical complication slowed my recovery and especially my physical therapy but now that it has almost been a month since that event I can definitely look back and see how far I have come.  2 weeks ago I began walking at least 4 times a week, my record was 45 minutes out in the woods with my dog lily and Brian.  I felt great afterwards but was very sore the next day.  I know that will improve with time.  My stamina is coming back little by little.  This past Friday I accomplished a deep clean on my living and bed rooms as well as both bathrooms.  It felt good to take control of my house again.  My family has been so supportive and they made it so I didn’t have to do anything which at first I really couldn’t.  Brian has a been a real trouper, he did all the cooking, grocery shopping and laundry for more than a month all while working full time and still managing to work on his art.  The kids, especially Sam, who is the only one still living at home, helped out a lot with the cleaning and just daily running of the house.  I am so proud of them in how they stepped up when I really needed them.  Stephanie and Sarah were here spending time with me as often as they could and it was a lot and I know how hard it is for them because they both have full time jobs that are not near where I live.  I don’t know if they realize how much that meant to me.  They were my lifeline and my connection to the outside world and my biggest cheerleaders picking my spirits up whenever I got frustrated or down. I have to keep reminding myself that I am only 6 weeks out from this surgery and only 1 month from the embolism complication.  Patience is not my strong suit 🙂 those who know me can attest to that.  I want to thank all my family and friends who have been keeping constant tabs on me by text and email and calls to see how I am and to just keep me company, truly no one is an island and I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am without all the wonderful support that I have been so fortunate to have.  

My spine surgeon, Dr. Frisch,  gave me the go-ahead to start weaning off of the brace.  I had been wearing it all of my waking hours with hard plastic pieces in the front and back.  He now only wants me to wear it when doing heavy chores and I have removed the hard plastic piece from the front of it.  I am now starting re-build my core muscles which have taken a terrible hit.  My incision is about 6 inches long and runs vertical to the left of my belly button.  The skin around it is no longer numb so I am feeling the first pain from it.  It was numb for nearly a month and that was an eerie feeling to touch it and have the sides of it not feel anything, the actual incision site had pain but the sides felt nothing.

People have asked me over and over if I think it was all worth it and I really do.  The biggest source of my pain before surgery was excruciating pain that eventually ran the length of the side of my right leg.  As soon as a week after surgery I noticed that it was gone and it still is today, so yes, the surgery itself was a success.  I do still have some pain in the middle of my lower back which is probably residual surgical pain caused by the trauma of installing the titanium pieces and the screws that hold them in place but I would rate that pain at a 4 most of the time.  I have some pain in the middle of the back of my left thigh that is caused by my herniated L3 disc that was not repaired in this surgery.  As I said in previous posts, surgeons do not feel comfortable fusing more than 2 levels in a surgery  or to perform surgery at all in a person who has multiple damaged levels of the spine. So my surgeon chose to repair the lowest 2 as they were causing the majority of my pain.  I was actually fortunate to find a surgeon who would even try repairing just 2 out of 3 herniated discs, most doctors over the 16 years since the original injury told me I was not a surgical candidate and would need lifelong pain management.  I will need to learn to live with the pain from L3 so I will not have a completely pain free life but that pain level is anywhere from 4-6 depending on my activity level.  I will probably need to be on some type of pain medicine or at least have it on hand for this pain but all in all my entire quality of life is improved and I know it will continue to get better over time.  I was told to allow 3 months (for me that will be January 19th) for full effect of the surgery and that it may be an entire year before I completely feel like myself again.  With this in mind, I can expect my quality of life to continue to improve over this year and I have found my hope again.  I sincerely thank Dr Richard Frisch and his staff of the Southeastern Spine Institute for taking a chance on me and giving me this chance at a better quality of life.  I hope he knows that through it all, I am sincerely grateful to him.  I also want to give a shout out to his assistant Tina who has tirelessly helped me complete the reams of paperwork required for me to be able to be on short term disability from work.  Just when we think we have sent everything in they want something else, all I have to do is call her and she gets it done for me, Tina, thank you!!!  I am scheduled to go back to work on Monday December 17th and I will be ready for it, actually looking forward to seeing everyone again after all this time.  As always, thanks for reading and please feel free to share information in the comment section about your own experience or any thoughts you have.  TTYL

Road to recovery, this time for real!

Thanksgiving was just lovely and I am amazed that I managed to pull it all off.  I think everyone in attendance had fun.  My niece Sarah spent the night and we always have fun when we get together.  We went shopping at Michael’s yesterday and it was the first time I drove since the surgery a month ago.  Gosh, was that only a month ago????  Even that fact amazes me.

Healthwise I am still battling my Coumadin level.  I am going every week on Wednesdays to have my level checked.  A week ago I was over 3 which is too high so my dose was changed.  This week it was 1 (obviously too low)  they want me in the 2 range.  I am taking 5mg every day except the weekends when I take 2.5.  At least I don’t have to do the shots anymore.  I also had a blood test to see what type of genetic trait I have that caused me to have the emboli.  I was shocked that this test took about 15 vials of blood, thankfully I am not squeamish!!  Even the phlebotomist was surprised by that number.  I am awaiting those results now.

My energy level is coming back, slowly.  Actually I feel pretty energetic most mornings since Wednesday of this week and am finding that it makes it easier for me to overdo it.  Brian has been pushing me to take daily walks.  Today I really didn’t want to go but I made myself do it.  I said I was only going to walk 20 minutes but ended up walking for 45.  I am pretty sore now but I know every day gets better and better….  I took some great pics out in the SC woods today and will put those up as a gallery.  When we got back, He and I worked together to clean out my little zen garden next to the back patio and plant a little fern we transplanted from the woods into it.  I also pruned my little rose bushes and fed them and noticed that my camellia tree has it’s first bloom of the season as of today.  All of these things combined make me feel grateful to be alive and make me realize how very very lucky I am to be here.  I think all my senses have been amplified by this realization of my own mortality and I am looking at it as a positive thing.  I wish everyone would look around and appreciate the beautiful small details around us every day.  There is beauty everywhere if you notice it and now I am!  I said it before but feel its true, there must be a reason that I didn’t follow Debbie on November 4th and I plan to keep looking to find out what that reason is.

Thank you so much for reading and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to post!

Pulmonary Embolism Pulmonary Infarction Defined, Explained and Felt


Reading about Pulmonary Infarction and Pulmonary Embolism is a scary and sobering wake up call.  Seeing the words “sudden  death“ used to describe an outcome of this event that happened to me really makes me think.  What if I had died on Sunday?  I actually could have died on Sunday.  I didn’t, so apparently whatever purpose I was put here for has not yet been fulfilled.  I had all of the symptoms described below except for coughing up mucus, I haven’t coughed at all really.

Let’s start with Pulmonary Embolism in a nutshell:

Pulmonary embolism is sudden blockage of blood flow in an artery in the lung. The blockage (an embolus) can be caused by a blood clot, tumor, amniotic fluid, or fat in the artery. (mine was caused by a clot in my abdomen/pelvic area after surgery)

Blood clots in the deep veins of the leg are the most common cause of pulmonary embolism. A clot may break loose from a deep vein in the leg and travel to a pulmonary artery in the lung, where it can block blood flow.

Pulmonary embolism can be a very serious condition that can result in death. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolus include:

  • Sudden, sharp chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing.
  • Coughing up blood or pink, foamy mucus.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Anxiety.

Pulmonary embolism is treated in the hospital with monitoring, oxygen, and anticoagulants to prevent more blood clots.

Without treatment, pulmonary embolism is likely to come back.

Complications of pulmonary embolism may include:

  • Cardiac arrest and sudden death.
  • Shock.
  • Abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Death of part of the lung, called pulmonary infarction.
  • A buildup of fluid (pleural effusion) between the outside lining of the lungs and the inner lining of the chest cavity.
  • Paradoxical embolism.
  • Pulmonary hypertension.
  • Blood clots that cause pulmonary embolism may dissolve on their own. But if you have had pulmonary embolism, you have an increased risk of a repeat episode if you do not receive treatment. If pulmonary embolism is diagnosed promptly, treatment with anticoagulant medicines (usually heparin and warfarin) may prevent new blood clots from forming.
  • The risk of having another pulmonary embolism caused by something other than blood clots varies. Substances that are reabsorbed into the body, such as air, fat, or amniotic fluid, usually do not increase the risk of having another episode. Cancer increases the risk of blood clots.
  • Having multiple episodes of pulmonary embolism can severely reduce blood flow through the lungs and heart. Over time, this increases blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), eventually leading to right-sided heart failure and possibly death.



I am being treated with Lovenox injections twice a day in my abdomen.  http://www.lovenox.com/consumer/default.aspx

and oral Coumadin.  Both are blood thinning medications.  My Coumadin level is almost up to the therapeutic level of 2, it was 1.9 today up from 1.35 yesterday.  I have also been diagnosed with Pulmonary Infarction which is the death of part of my right middle lobe of my lung.  This is irreversible. Part of my lung is dead forever.  Typing it is helping me face it and accept it, at least somewhat.

“In medicine, infarction refers to tissue death (necrosis) caused by an obstruction of the tissue’s blood supply, which leads to a local lack of oxygen.[1] The resulting lesion is referred to as an infarct,[2] (from the Latin infarctus, “stuffed into”).[3]”””

I was diagnosed with these conditions after having a chest X Ray, CT scan, echocardiogram (very cool, an ultrasound of your heart where you can see it beating on a screen and my tech pointed out my different valves) and being hooked up to an ECG machine.  I am actually still hooked up even as I type this, I have electrodes stuck all over my chest with leads attached to a machine that keeps track of my blood pressure, heart rhythm and pulse 24/7.  My oxygen level is now only checked about 6 times a day and today has been in the high 90’s.  I was attached to that all the time until this morning when the oxygen was taken away. Now I just have to find out how long I can expect to be short of breath like I am, even just sitting here I feel like I just climbed a flight of stairs.  If I get up and walk to the bathroom or anything, I feel like I ran a marathon.  It’s a strange and scary feeling.  I am also trying to deal with the idea that part of my lung is dead.  The death of part of one of my organs is not an easy thing to wrap your mind around. My hope is that I will go home tomorrow and by next week begin my walking therapy for my back and go on with my life and try to live it to the fullest.  Changes need to be made.  If nothing else, I have learned that our time here is short and unpredictable.  I thought I knew it before but I really know it now.  I feel stronger, don’t stop me now!!!  🙂