Reassessing the Nerve Damage

By the second week at the rehabilitation hospital, the extent of the nerve damage to both legs was making itself known. The way the physios taught me to get in and out of bed after the surgery was by bending my knees, rolling over to my right shoulder, swinging the legs over the edge of the bed, and then sitting up. Getting back into bed is then the reverse of these actions. Arriving at rehab though, the way the rooms were set up meant that I was getting into bed on the opposite side. Sitting on the edge of the bed was no problem, lying on my side didn’t cause an issue, but then I couldn’t get my legs up onto the bed. Also, if the problem was only foot drop, then by this point in the recovery process, I should have been able to weight bear on my right leg while being supported; instead, my hip felt like it would collapse. There were some exercises that just continued to be near impossible, while other exercises were being made harder.

My doctor, concerned that he had not fully grasped the extent of the nerve damage, called for a meeting with the team. My doctor asked my permission to access the pre-op MRI on the radiology computers back at the main hospital. Of course, I gave my permission.  The meeting was scheduled for the Monday. The doctor reported back to me afterwards. The doctor admitted that he was speechless. Even he didn’t know the full extent of the damage done. He knew that the nerves had been badly squashed, but not to this point. I saw the same response from the doctor as I had heard from the surgeon when he had just looked at the MRI. Just pure disbelief. Disbelief because of the gap between the presenting problems and what they saw on the MRI. I should have lost the majority of leg function on the left, as well as the right. What the doctor confirmed was that all the muscles controlled by the nerves at the  L4-L5 were still not working on my right side and not working very well on my left. Although I was not hearing anything new, and despite the fact that my response to the meeting that I posted on Facebook seemed pessimistic, the doctor confirmed why I was struggling and was starting to get frustrated. I was reassured that I was actually doing okay. The rest of the team, having only received the bare facts of the surgery at the beginning, found having the complete picture useful. The next day, my physio and hydro programs were redone and simplified. But my occupational therapist thought it time to up the ante – again.

Coming out of the meeting, my occupational therapist gave me back some of my independence. Every patient has an assistance chart on their wall that identifies the level of help the patient needs for basic tasks like walking and showering. Each level is colour coded. Red for assisted only, orange for supervision, and green for independent. By my second week in rehab, my chart was very colourful with red, orange, and green dots. That Monday, the last red dot was changed to orange. I was now either independent with tasks or I needed someone on standby. Also, before now, I wasn’t allowed to do some very basic tasks like pick up towels from the floor, hang up used shower towels, fill up my water jug, and take out and put away clothes. From that Monday, the nurses were only to make my bed. I was now to manage the other tasks myself. Sure, there were many accidents. Jugs of water either ended up on the floor or splashed over doors, cups of tea were filled to high and half the cup ended up everywhere. But what was refreshing is that no bricks came tumbling down on top of my head when I made a mistake or water ended up all over the floors; the nurses cheerfully helped me after I tried. And I was asked to ask for help without it being seen as a weakness or as a failure. What mattered is that I tried and by dropping jugs of water, I learnt how to manage.