Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spinal Surgery - but not for Maddy!

I mentioned in my previous post that I have had a crazy couple of months. Unfortunately, that involved a spinal surgery - and not for Maddy, this one was for me! 

For months, I have had this weird hip pain on and off. I figured that the pain was something in my hip and was worried that it could be early-onset arthritis, something that I know that carriers of the DD gene are supposedly more susceptible to (according to our geneticist). I've been going to physio and chiro, and basically just trying to live with it. 

At the end of April, however (when I was only about 8 weeks pregnant), the pain in my hip and leg become unbearable. Since I am pregnant, there is little pain relief that can really help. I didn't even bother taking panadol as I know it's virtually ineffective, particularly in extreme pain. I was seeing my physio and chiro multiple times a week and they both agreed that my symptoms were consistent with a herniated disc in my spine. This isn't the first time I have herniated a disc, I wrote about my previous experience here -  but this time was far more severe.

Even with the treatment they were giving me, I continued to deteriorate. The pain was for me worse than childbirth. The intensity was similar - but it kept going on and on for days and days, with no purpose and no end in sight. At least with childbirth, it doesn't generally go for more than 24 hours, and with the arrival of the baby, all pain stops virtually instantly. 

After a few sleepless nights which involved sobbing in the early hours of the morning, my husband suggested that we might want to consider going to the hospital and seeing if they could do anything more for me. I didn't want to leave the kids at 3am with no warning, and I still thought "Surely there's nothing they can do that I'm not already doing"! I told my husband that I would go to my 9am chiro appointment and see what she had to say.

After showing up at my chiropractor's office (and having another break-down there), she agreed with my husband that I should go to the hospital. At that stage, I couldn't walk without being virtually bent in half, I was in pain continuously - but it was worse with movement. Just getting to her office was excruciating.

I showed up at the hospital and after yet another break-down, the doctor decided to admit me. His plan was to treat me conservatively and to hope that I improved naturally. Many of the regular treatments such as injections and strong anti-inflammatories are not safe while pregnant so I was still only on panadol and a weak anti-inflammatory, but I could have physio in my bed twice a day and have a lot of assistance from the nursing staff. After a few days, my pain levels decreases significantly. 

My nerve function, on the other hand, began to deteriorate. I started to have pins and needles in my foot and up my leg, and also started to have increasing muscle weakness on that side as well. Due to the nerve complications, my doctor decided that we must do the MRI to determine whether surgery was necessary. 

At this stage, I was 10 weeks. Both MRI in the first trimester, and surgery have risks to the baby. The risks of the MRI are more theoretical and after a bit of research, I felt strongly that we should at least do that so that we had a clear picture of what was going on. 

I had the MRI on May 13 and it showed that I had a moderate hernia in the lumbar region of my spine (I think L4-5 from memory) which was pressing directly on my nerve. In the situation that the hernia is compressing the nerve, surgery should be performed promptly to prevent permanent damage to the nerve. The doctor delivered this news to me on the Monday evening and added that the only available time that week would be the following afternoon. I agreed that we should just get it over and done with, so the surgery was promptly planned and scheduled for the following day!

My main concern with the surgery would be the effect on the baby. My research showed conflicting points of view as to the safety of surgery during first trimester pregnancy. Some reports noted that the miscarriage rate was inflated to 10%, but others claimed that the miscarriages were related to the underlying health issues that required surgery in the first place. Generally, abdominal surgery seemed as though it carried greater risk than other surgeries - but still, I knew that any spinal surgery is considered major so I had my fears. 

All went well in the surgery - although the surgeons noted that my hernia was more severe than it seemed on the MRI. In addition, I had an additional hernia one level up. The hernia at the L4-5 level was 10mm in diameter and was pressing directly on my nerve. The hernia at the L3-4 level was smaller, only around 3-4mm in diameter and had less neurological impact. They advised us that surgery would be around 1.5 hours long, but as they had more to do than previously expected, it ended up being 2.5 hours. 

The first few days after the surgery, I still had some pain in my hip and leg, however the severity did decrease. Also I noticed almost immediately that I could stand straighter than previously and had a wider range of movement. On the third night, I managed to sleep a lot better and woke up in almost no pain! I was discharged on the Friday.

Since the surgery, my pain is down to almost nothing. I can stand straight and have almost a full range of motion. On the downside, however, I am not allowed to pick up my kids until a month post-op. I also still have some residual nerve damage that may take a couple of months to fully heal. As a result, I have a bit of a limp and have been using a walking stick for long distances. I will take that over the pain any day though!

We have had ultrasounds to check on the baby and the doctor has confirmed that there was no harmful effects on the baby as a result of my surgery or any of my treatment. I'm so thankful to know that! I will definitely need to take it easier throughout the rest of my pregnancy though!

I never would have guessed that it would be ME having spinal surgery when we've been talking about it for Maddy for ages. I think also that being the patient instead of the parent for once has given me a bit of a greater understanding as to what it is like for Maddy...


  1. Aww, I can identify what's you're going through. You could never keep yourself from having a breakdown, especially when your child's life is at risk. But then, your chiropractor is right to suggest that you got to undergo surgery with your spine to avoid more damage in the future. Anyway, I wish you for your recovery, and I hope that the baby's fine.


  2. The pregnancy certainly complicated the matter, but it was a good thing that the doctors and nurses knew how to properly deal with the condition. Although it took longer than expected, at least they got everything that needed operating on and you didn’t have to come back to have another surgery on another part again.

  3. Wow, 2 ½ hours. Thankfully you’re not awake, or that would’ve been one painful experience to remember! Though I’m sure it took longer because they’re being extra cautious because of the pregnancy. At least that’s over with. Hope you’re feeling better now!