My Spondyloarthritis Surgery and Healing
My first major surgery was when I was 37 years old. A disc herniated in my neck giving birth to my daughter 10 years earlier. I spent 10 years searching for answers to the acute neck and arm pain. Over the next 25 years, I have seen upwards of 12-14 physicians and had 9 more procedures for various reasons.
For years, I suffered from bouts of increasing and unrelenting full-body pain. A rheumatologist dismissed my symptoms when I was in my mid-to-late 20s. Five years ago, I broke down and sought the opinion of a 2nd rheumatologist, and after a clinical exam, labs, and imaging, he diagnosed me with spondyloarthritis (SpA).
Managing symptoms isn't easy
I have both axial (AxSpA) and peripheral (pSpA) features of SpA. There is chronic inflammation in my spine and pelvis and enthesitis affecting my extremities. At times the nerve pain is unbearable. Managing symptoms has been difficult over the years. Having a diagnosis gives me the knowledge to fight the pain.
I've gotten many surgeries
Surgeries have consumed me. I have had my ankle replacement replaced, heel fixed with a 4-inch screw after it twisted, ankle ligaments shortened to hold the implant, thumb arthritis surgery, hip replacement, and spine surgery on my lumbar, thoracic and cervical spine, to name a few. Remaining active and mobile has been difficult, but it is a necessity.
Bathing and dressing after surgery
When considering any type of surgery, the bathroom can be a daunting dilemma. I needed help when I finally stepped into a shower. This task was made 100 percent easier with a shower bench to sit on as I washed, rinsing with a hand-held shower head, utilizing a wall bar to get up from the chair to stand to maneuver in the shower stall. Recovering, unsteady, and weak, I was able to bathe and do it independently.
Following my lower extremity surgeries, I was non-weight bearing for over 2 months. There was no way I was going to be able to get on and off the commode on my own. To make it simpler, I picked up a 5-inch toilet seat riser. As funny as it sounds, this “booster” seat helps immensely, taking the strain off of my hip, back, and ankle while healing. I have used it for all of my surgeries and think it is one of the best devices I have bought.
I find it difficult to hold much weight, even a hairdryer, above my head and shoulders. Nerve damage after disc herniation is an on-going issue. Having a hair dryer arm that suctions onto the mirror can be welcoming. Blow-drying my hair hands-free, slowly turning my head around, my hair dries in no time, and I can move on to get dressed quicker. Disclaimer: It helps my daughter is a hairdresser; her ideas are AWESOME!
There’s a questionnaire at my rheumatologist’s office with a question about being able to dress yourself adequately. The first time I saw this, admittedly, I smirked. But now I fully understand the importance of this agility question. As my SpA worsens, I feel more and more unsteady on my feet, and I've fallen a few times being off balance while dressing. With a wide-based chair in my spacious closet, I can sit to put on shoes or balance as I dress myself. It's no good when you fall and break a foot bone, like I have, unnecessarily - Get a chair!
Scooting and moving about
Wearing a foot boot, with a no-weight bearing restriction, and on crutches, it was difficult using the front steps. We temporarily converted them with a metal ramp, permitting me to ride up and down on a knee scooter. Navigating on four wheels, access to the ramp aided me in heading out of the house unchaperoned. Maintaining my independence dredging through life is a gift.
Every surgery I have, I seem to come back with less and less energy. It's been draining, to say the least. Recent hip surgery was no different. Drained, I was having a hard time standing without the help of a walker. It assisted me in walking out of the surgery center a day later. The ability to get up from a seated position to stabilize and balance minimized weight on my surgical hip, keeping pain to a minimum. The anxiety I faced abated. Although tired, I wasn’t as impaired as I felt I was going to be.
Use of my cane abetted me in the months after procedures. It helped by getting me off my knee scooter and leaving the walker behind. Each time, I began physical therapy and with baby steps, my gait improved. I am unable to run or ski, but I can currently walk using my cane with minimal difficulty. This device continues to aid me, as I have bad days suffering pain with hip and ankle implants on the same side.
Remaining agile and mobile is not a choice. I will admit I did not think much about it prior to diagnosis. It became a very important part of my life when it was threatened by my chronic inflammatory arthritis. Spondyloarthritis is a painful, debilitating disease for those who have it. One can choose to sit through the years dealing with pain. I chose to find ways to glide gracefully through the storm.
Here are the products that have helped me:
Does reading AxSpA patient stories help you in your journey?