The first thing I remember after surgery is being able to move my hands and feet and breathe on my own. I remember smiling, “I am not paralyzed”. Dr Hitesh Garg, my Spine surgeon later told me, “Congratulations!!” It sounds like something I would have told the Spine Surgery Team (Dr Garg, Dr Tyagi and Dr Kukreja), Artemis Health Institute at Gurugram, India, for their extra-ordinary effort, confidence and willingness to take up a 10 hour long surgical case.
So begins Isawi’s recovery from a surgery that removed a Giant Cell Tumor (GCT) located in Sacrum bone of her spine, just below where the vertebrae ends. Adults with spinal Giant Cell Tumor are rare. Isawi was told that things would be “different” after surgery, but she had no idea just how strange her sensory experiences would turn out to be.
Through writing a testimonial, “A Story of Recovery After Spinal Tumor Removal”, Isawi hopes to give those who are on a similar journey the reassurance that they are not alone. She not only offers a glimpse into what their post-surgical experience might be like, she also offers insights on how they might accept their body’s “new language” with curiosity, humor, gratitude and grace. Here are three excerpts from her testimonial.
After surgery, my legs felt numb. It felt like my nerves were reaching beyond the boundary of my skin. The strange thing about the numbness is that I could feel things—my body sensed touch—but it was not in the same way I had felt things before. I could feel the medical staff touching my both feet and could tell the difference between them, but it almost felt like it was happening to someone else’s body.
During those first couple of days I stuck to my thought: I am not going to feel like this forever. At the same time, I was full of gratitude that the surgery was a success and that it looked like the tumor was removed. I was proud of my surgeon, proud of myself for taking the risk and proud of my body for making it through the surgery successfully. I remember waking up from surgery, seeing my family standing next to my bed and I said, “I did it”. I guess that summed it up.
Now that I was able to sit up by myself, it was time to practice standing and walking. I did this with the help of my physical therapy (PT) team, a walker, and a lumbar belt that was cinched around my waist for safety. When I moved, it felt like my butt and legs were hovering over the ground. It was very distracting. I relied on my eyes to tell me that my legs was under my abdomen, verifying that I was, in fact, standing upright and not floating. But I could walk. I could tell it was going to be a long process until it felt or looked normal, but the worst had not happened, I was not paralyzed. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.
Recovery Continues to Happen
It’s been six months since the surgery. The latest MRI shows that the tumor is gone and the surgical site is healing beautifully. When I wrote my testimonial, I intended that it cover just the first 4 months of my surgical recovery. But something has shifted in the last two months, and I felt it was too important—and hopeful—to leave out. What I want to tell you is that it keeps getting better. This recovery, this healing, continues to happen.
At the end of first 2 months, things were still kind of rough for me, and it felt like I was ending the book on a melancholy note. In the last month, however, my recovery turned a corner for the better. I am working more hours at my job. I am doing more fun things because I have the energy to do them. I am travelling again, one of my favourite activities. Think about that for a minute—three months ago I could only ride a bike for ten minutes, and that was after I spent two months relearning how to ride it. Unlike my experiences with swimming and biking, I found I was able to travel without first having to relearn it.
This is important—healing continues. It keeps getting better. I keep getting better. One evening last week, while I was sitting on the couch, I suddenly realized that my body felt completely normal. I didn’t have zinging sensations in my legs. No ball under my butt. No tight bands around my body. It was relaxing. It was hopeful. It was glorious. I told my parents, “I feel normal. Like I didn’t have any surgery.” Then I sat on the couch and smiled for an hour. Wow. If it can happen for an hour, it can happen again—and maybe for longer. I am living my life again in a fuller, more familiar way. Better now than in the past 4 months. Better now than in the past few years, before surgery actually.