To celebrate my surgery being over, and my graduation from an MA program, in May, the month before my surgery, my husband and I went to Hawaii. One highlight of that was a trip to the summit of Mauna Kea (by jeep, I definitely didn't hike it.) In the past I've had horrible problems with altitude and we weren't sure it was a good idea for me to go. But I really wanted to, so I did. I go to a cabin in Colorado every year, which is at 9000 feet and I've had some problems there the last few years with the altitude. Mauna Kea is almost 15000 feet, so I was really really pleasantly surprised to feel almost no altitude effects. I'm guess that it has to be the increased lung capacity from the surgery. I also handled riding up the mountain on a very bumpy road with no pain, and I was able to be fairly active in Hawaii, although I didn't do any rugged hikes. We did walk a lot, and I got in the ocean in places where it was gentle-- no rugged surf. I got through the trip with far less pain that I would have had before the surgery. Here's more detail about how I feel:
Things that are better from the surgery:
Hip pain -- gone
Sciatic nerve pain-- gone
Lower back pain-- almost totally gone, may still get better
Hump on upper right back-- gone -- both the pain, and the ugly hump
Lung capacity--- apparently much better
Height-- two inches taller
Waist-- two inches smaller, not counting the weight loss that followed. Sadly, I've gained back much of the weight, but that's partly because I lost a lot of muscle mass. Partly because when my appetite came back and my metabolism slowed down again, I still couldn't do any aerobic activity. But overall the waist is still about two inches smaller, just because there's not a curved spine in there.
Headaches-- greatly reduced, but that might be due to almost finishing menopause rather than the spine
Posture-- I sit like the Queen now, and can sit ramrod straight for hours -- because I have no real choice.
Balance-- I can stand on one foot easily now, and I haven't been able to do that for years
Things that are worse:
Flexibility-- back doesn't bend anymore, so it affects my gait a bit, and I'm working on that. I tend to lean forward and walk on my tiptoes when I'm not thinking about it.
Big toe pain-- this seems so random, but the worst pain after the first two weeks is/was my big toe. Fortunately it's calmed down quite a bit, but the sciatic nerve was so pinched that I had almost no feeling on the inside half of my right foot for the last 5 years or so. Now that the pinching is removed, the nerve regeneration makes my big toe throb at times. I thought I must have broken it, or gotten gout or something, but it's just nerve pain. Painkillers don't work well on nerve pain, so that's been something I had to put up with.
Fatigue-- this was a big one till recently, but I'm back to pretty much normal, or better, stamina. It has been 7 or 8 years since I could stand for more than about ten minutes comfortably, and now I'm not sure how long I could stand if I had to.
Overall, the things that are better FAR outweigh the things that are worse. My spine is not straight-- it's about 28 degrees now rather than 58 degrees. Partly that's because one vertebrae had enough deterioration that the surgeon couldn't put screws there, and he had to be extra careful with straightening that part-- but I'm still very very happy with the result. My recommendation to anyone considering surgery is to start as soon as possible to eat a healthy diet and exercise as much as you can. I'm sure it helped me with my outcome, and I was NOT in good shape six months before the surgery. I started an exercise program and worked out as hard as I could, lost about 12 pounds before the surgery. I think it helped a great deal.