I will have a laminectomy on November 4th. The surgeon will be fusing vertebrae L 3-5 which means he will drill through the presenting lamina bone to reach behind into the interior area. He saves the bone dust to fill in the hole later. The interior is where my discs should be cushioning between each vertebra. But they are not, resulting in bad arthritis. The discs are disintegrating, and one is bulging out causing pressure on a root nerve, which is responsible for much of my pain. This arthritis also allows one vertebra to slip back and forth over another which increases the inflammatory pain with the slightest movement in the wrong direction. The discs will be removed and I will have new titanium springs to replace them. I never imagined that I would be someone with double sets of metal in her spine. A metal cage will hold the three vertebrae in place. I am assured I will not lose too much range of motion and anyway, I am barely moving my back now.

            It is amazing to me that modern medicine can clearly see inside the human body to address this problem. It is further amazing that they now can fix it with only two small incisions on either side of my spine, which is why it is called Minimally Invasive Surgery. MIS it may be but having undergone my cervical surgery, I understand that while reducing the impact on healing cut muscles and nerves, MIS does not change the internal assault on the spine. I know it will be excruciatingly painful for a few days, and in a week’s time it will be tolerable with fewer and fewer painkillers. I am willing to trade my never-ending unstable back pain for a different temporary pain that should totally heal within a few months.

            At first, I had no idea how to time this operation against the reality of becoming a grandmother in late December. When I walked into my doctor’s office last week, he said that he had just gotten a cancellation for the 4th and did I want it. I figured it was my sign to go for it, that the timing was as good as it could get. I should be fairly functional by Thanksgiving, and free of still anticipating a medical intervention after the baby is born. I can’t quite remember what it is like to be free of constant pain in that specific area in my back anymore. To deal with a pain that is always changing as it heals sounds like a wonderful alternative to me.

            I like my surgeon, I got cleared for my pre-operation testing yesterday, and I have a new primary care physician whose office is right next to my surgeon’s. They even like each other, which is a good feeling. I am confident the outcome will be successful and am practicing staying in the moment when I start to spin out into fear of further pain and “what ifs.”  

            I only need to stay in the hospital for one night. Kendal is the right place for me to pursue healing my body as best I can. The rehabilitation nursing staff is just down the hall from my room. As I need less medication and care to see that my wounds are healing, I should only be there a few days before I return home to my own room. My daughter, pregnant as she is, will confer with the doctor when I am in recovery from surgery at the nearby hospital. Back at Kendal she can visit with me when she is done teaching for the day just across from the Oberlin campus. I have many Kendal friends to look in on me. The nurses already know me, and physical therapists know me well and how my body works. I am entirely grateful to feel cared for in all these ways.

            My friends, near and far, shall also be with me in spirit and I am blessed.

12 thoughts on “For My Next Act…

  1. Dear Judi,
    You are in my calendar for Nov 4, to tune in… and the days after. I agree that you are in the right place to get the aftercare needed. I think it is a huge advantage to work with people who know you – at least it would be a relief for me if I was in your place.
    Sending lots of love, all wishes for a successful surgery, great care and a good recovery,


  2. You know what to do to befriend your new body “parts”. Talk to and listen to the fluid intelligence that will guide your healing. I wish you the most graceful process possible as you pass through this ordeal. Here is a poem from Lucille Clifton for the occasion:

    Blessing the Boats (at St Mary’s)
    by Lucille Clifton from Quilting Poems 1987 – 1990

    may the tide
    that is entering even now
    the lip of our understanding
    carry you out
    beyond the face of fear
    may you kiss
    the wind then turn from it
    certain that it will
    love your back
    may you open your eyes to water
    water waving forever
    and may you in your innocence
    sail through this to that


  3. Dear Judi,

    I will be thinking of you and sending much love on your surgery day, as well as today and always. Kendal, and the staff there, by your words about them sound like a wonderful place for you to be for your healing from surgery and daily life there. Fondly, Marilyn


  4. Ah, Judi, so glad you understood the gift of a cancellation. You’re on my calendar and I will light candles and give prayers for you and your surgeon. It really is amazing that you accepted living at Kendal and have made yourself a home and community. You are a sensitive and passionate warrior woman goddess…[suddenly I’m remembering a story you wrote years ago]…love, Rachel


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