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|What did the surgeon(s) do? Exact details here|
Page updated May 1st, 2013. I am recovering from Lumbar (lower back) 3-level fusion with PEEK cage bone graft surgery and stainless-steel instrumentation, with 6 pedicle screws, 4 bone cages, and 2 radiolucent rods. Add to that a 3-segment Smith-Peterson Osteotomy, The autografts (bone-infusions) were taken from my inner pelvic bone, the iliac crest. After the bone-infusion heals, my surgeon(s) may want to remove the metal parts (see video and MRI below.) I am requesting your financial assistance to survive the year-plus healing process before returning to playing again. Pre- and post-op views: click here to view MRI's. Please copy, share, post, or send this link — http://www.jessicawilliams.com/donations/index.html — to friends.
Below: later anterior view, CT, Mar 30, 2013 - I know. It isn't pretty. Those screws are connected by two rods but they're radio-lucent (invisible on film). This is one frame of a CT Scan, something I want to avoid because of the high radiation (12-15 millisieverts). More pictures, vids
Report: May 1st, 2013. Hello, loving friends. I am presently weening myself from the awful pain killer Norco, which is a Big Pharma concoction of Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen in 10mg strength. It is an Opioid. Recently, my lovely State made the miraculous political move of legalizing medical marijuana for chronic pain. I was evaluated and prescribed Cannabidiol, also known as CBD Oil, a crushed-flower extract that I take sublingually (under the tongue) once daily. It doesn't get one high, but it kills pain, and is so much more effective than the addictive Norco. And even though it's a marijuana extract, there's no smoking involved. It's a greenish-brown plant derivative that has the consistency of jam, and I use a tiny amount, about the size of a half-grain of rice.
It has been good for my health, good for my State, good for the revenues it brings in to my State, and good for the many returning War Veterans who seriously need relief from their often ghastly chronic pain. And it is not addictive. I see this as an example of Laws for the Good of the Many as opposed to harsh, tyrannical oppression, which never works for long, and only creates scarcity, increased criminal activity, and unhappiness. It shows me that my country can still move forward and use logic and compassion instead of greed and corruption to create a better future for all of us. I still love my America so very much. It's my home.
I play piano almost every day. I can play now for about 40 minutes before I need to lie down and rest. I listen to the radio. I've even grown fond of some of the "New Country" tunes. When I'm feeling tired or blue, I "put my Country on". I was born in Maryland, right on the Mason-Dixon Line, and spent a lot of time in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia... so it's a natural thing for me. I sing along.
I also listen to the classical stations. I love Bach, and I am immersed in the Russian composers, with Tchaikovsky at the lead. A true romantic for the romantic in me.
You said "no jazz?" to which I reply: as the music inside of me goes, so I follow. I love jazz, and I will always love Miles, Monk, Trane, and all of the greats. I played with "Philly Joe" Jones and Tony Williams and Dexter Gordon and Charlie Rouse and Eddie Harris and Stan Getz. I can't erase that, nor would I want to. I spent 50 years with jazz, and it's a part of me. I can never forget that. Don't worry! There will always be jazz in my blood and in my music. But there are things that I still have to contribute, and I don't follow the pack, as you've probably noticed! I won't ever play in a club again, though. My concerts will be no more than 75-90 minutes long, just as they almost always were, and I have new experiences to bring. Music doesn't move forward without change, and I MUST follow the changes in my own life. It is my own version of The Golden Path.
Just like painters paint what they see, I must play what I hear. I found this quote that sums up my life and where I go from here:
"Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering its a feather bed." - Terence McKenna
At 65, my life begins again. This IS a miracle. I DID have to face all my fear. "Face your Fears or they will climb over your back."
So I write down melodies of my own and work on them when I'm feeling strong. I don't have very much strength or stamina, but LOTS of ideas. I practice scales like a good student, just as John Coltrane or Glenn Gould did, and I record the music in my head, in rough form, onto a CD or I write it down.
I walk at least a kilometer a day (to the mailbox), and I dance in the kitchen... well, it's my version of dance, with soft flowing movements very akin to Tai Chi Chuan, and I study Qi Gong (Ki Chung) which is a medicinal, self-healing Chinese Art. I went to a gym once, but almost fell off of the treadmill. My neurosurgeon admonishes me to stay away from gyms, and to exercise within my abilities. Walking is great for me, but I don't go very fast. When I get home, I head for the bed for a few hours rest.
And I've never played any sports, never done anything too physical. But those of you who have seen me play know that I get a real workout when I perform. I always tried to keep up with the men. Now, I'm happy just being me and bringing my female self to all of my music. This music needs Yin and Yang, and jazz (both local and world-class) could be more welcoming to women players. I think my struggle to "keep up" is one reason that my back gave out. We're built different, we think different, and we are different, so we must never be in competition with anyone for long. Our way is cooperation. (I think cooperation and an open heart and mind is good advice for the guys, too.)
I love to play 'frisbee' in the yard with my little dog Angel (a Boston Terrier). I love the taste of food but am still at 148 pounds (67.1 kilos) and with my height at an even 6 feet tall or 1.8 meters, I am skinny like a model. But it feels good to move, and my movements get gradually easier. I sure look good in clothes now! The hardest thing for me is what I am doing RIGHT NOW which is sitting at a computer keyboard and updating this chronicle.
It still hurts enough that I can't sit for more than 40-50 minutes or stand for too long. It's a slow road back. Of course, good lovin' always makes hard times easier, and I am very happy to say that I am blessed.
I think I've said enough.
This is/was/will be one incredibly difficult and painful operation to have, with a recuperation period that can extend for several years. Morselized bone grafts do not heal in 6 weeks or even 6 months. Some people's PEEK cage grafts never fully solidify. So I still have the metal in me, the pedicle screws and the rods and the bolts and the PEEK cages. Dr Hanscom says that I will keep them for life or until a screw comes loose. I don't want any loose screws!!!
In summary, I just want to thank you all, from my heart, once again. You are helping me get through the hardest, most painful time in my life, and, although I'm not there yet, I am getting there! Blessings to you all. Stay well and stand up straight! - JW, May 1st, 2013
Report: Apr 9, 2013. And how am I doing? Well, pretty good, considering. I hate taking pain meds, but I've found some entirely legal and quite effective alternatives, and I'm slowly cutting back on the Norco (essentially an opiate-narcotic pain reliever that is very addictive) and getting some much-needed sleep. Sleep seems to be the best force for healing. That, and laughing.
I LOVE to laugh. Watched some great W.C. Fields — one of my favorites is "The Fatal Glass of Beer" and another is "The Dentist" — and then I went retro and immersed myself in the Austin Powers movies. All three. I think comedians are as important as artists in this world. And with your help and their help, I'm making it.
(I got rid of TV because the programming was awful and the cable was too expensive. Best thing I've done for awhile. You can rent or even buy movies on sale, much more cheaply, and the OLD MOVIES are cheaper still. And they're still the best!)
I AM going to make more new music... I already am. I have some great new ideas, new visions, and a new piano. I'll be going into the studio sometime in September of 2013. Then, by the end of the year, if my condition allows it (it will, it will) — I'll start doing what I love to do best: playing for audiences.
This operation is NOT for wimps. But then, a life well-lived is full of all kinds of experience. I have a new neurosurgeon, one who tries never to perform unnecessary surgery, and always tries to avoid the "cascade" effect. He's a very famous and highly-respected neuroscientist — Dr David Hanscom, author of "Back in Control". He's a forward-thinking mind-body healer and surgeon who prefers that his patients actually get better.
I am here and I am winning because of your love and support. All I can say is thank you so very much for being tuned to my frequencies. We're in this together, and you certainly have all been there for me. - JW, April 9, 2013
Report: Apr 21, 2013. I saw Dr Hanscom a few days ago. He says that my posture is near perfect. My grace of motion is much improved. All of the function that I lost (ability to bend forward at the waist, put on my own socks, twist my body left and right without moving my hips) remains lost. It is not a big deal for me, as I am not a sports enthusiast, and I get out of doing the dishes. But still I must dry!
I am very happy that I am not considered a "botched" or "failed" back surgery. There is a thing called FBSS — failed back surgery syndrome. There are people that have had 30+ surgeries! I am not one of those, but to secure my future I must always maintain a good posture and a flow of movement that I am now learning, every day. It relies heavily on the muscles of the pelvic floor. It causes a flow of sensuality through my body, thus reinforcing my practice posture and even my compositional style. Actually, it has invaded and improved all aspects of my life. I am a 65 year old woman with the body of a (slightly used) thirty-year-old, and my face shows a few lines of pain and experience that it did not previously. I have seen and felt a lot of pain, and I have watched others in my place become hopeless and go down the entropy slope with cascading facet-joint failure and disc mis-alignment. It is so sad, and I will work hard to avoid that. I am lucky that a gym is nearby. I can slowly build up my leg and back muscles, with the aid of a trained PT (physical therapist).
I am doing very soft, graceful dance movements! I will also do some soft yoga when I find the right teacher. I can never do the lotus position, and quite a few of the others will elude me. But I can still rely on my Qi Gong (medicinal Tai Chi) and new pain therapies available in several states, of which mine is one.
You cannot know how much love and caring you have given me. You have shown me support such as I have never experienced. I am not just filled with gratitude, but also with a daily awe at your graciousness and your supportive donations, purchases, gifts, and letters. I really feel so fortunate to know some of you, and I wish I could know all of you! You make my life whole again with your caring and concern. Oh, my friends of such purity, loyalty, with great gifts of your own to give all the world: thank you from my heart. I feel love more than ever, and I feel love for you, my partners and friends in this difficult yet amazingly miraculous time we live in. - JW, April 21st, 2013
Below: Pre-op (before surgery). Click photo to enlarge
Click to enlarge. Above: Dicom MRI images from First Hill Diagnostic Imaging. Attending, Dr James Borrow. L5/L4 compression and degradation (plate1) and my scoliosis, lordosis (plate3) and disc deterioration (plate 1). The middle plate shows the "seepage" of L4 and particularly L5, and the pressure placed on the dura, which is what causes the pain and increasing morbidity. Without intervention, organ damage, incontinence, and full motility loss can occur. See the photos below for the surgery that saved my life. These are my personal images.
Below: Post-op (after surgery). Click photo to enlarge
Click to enlarge. Above, 2 post-operative views, the first showing me from the front, with pedicle screws and PEEK bone cages and other "instrumentation. Slide 2 shows the left side, and the perfect alignment of screws and hardware (instrumentation). Between the screws are steel rods which are radiolucent and thus invisible to xray. Notice increased space between vertebrae. These are my personal images.
Below, a video that's not too graphic that's very similar to my operation
Below, a CT scan of my own spine, from a CT Scan done Dec, 2012. Notice stainless steel pedicle screws, bone infusions (show as thin white lines: titanium PEEK cages). Rods are radiolucent (not visible)
Below: later anterior view, CT, Mar 30. 2013
Below: lateral view, CT, Mar 30. 2013
What did the surgeon(s) do? Exact details here
- L5-S1 posterior interbody fusion and posterior fusion
- L4-5 lateral extracavitary arthrodesis
- L4-L5-S1 pedicle screws
- Posterior posterolateral fusion, L4-5
- Smith-Peterson osteotomy, L4-5 and L5-S1
- Neuroplasty, adhered nerve root, L5-S1
- lnterbody cage, L4-5 and L5-S1
- Bipedicled paraspinal trunk flap
- Laminectomy with foraminotomies and medial facetectomy L4-5
JW, Feb 10, 2013:
I am starting to understand what it is like to be suddenly confronted with a disability. I realized one night not too long ago that there were things that I would never be able to do again. Ever.
I'll most likely never be able to:
- Take a shower without sitting down
- Roll around on the floor playing with my dog
- Pick something up from the floor
- Stand for a long time (10 minutes maximum, 16 Jan, 2013)
- Sit for a long time (30 minutes maximum, 16 Jan, 2013)
- Sit through a long-haul plane ride
- Angle my shoulders at more than 15 degrees in relation to to my hips
- Play more than a one-set concert (which I was doing before this ever happened — if one set is long enough for classical performances, it should suffice for other serious idioms as well)
- Take long (or not-so-long) walks in the park
- Climb any number of stairs
- Dance, except at a very slow pace (not a problem)
- Put on socks, shoes, or stockings on my own
- Play piano with all those trademark acrobatics and hunching and low sitting postures. I can still play, though. I just have to sit up very, very straight. Like a proper piano student. We are all students, are we not?
- A thousand and one things that are too personal, banal, or mundane to post here
Ever. That's a bracing realization. I am not who I was. Oh, I'm Jessica. And I'm alive. My disability is insignificant compared to many, many others, and I still have the gift of music. I will be getting a piano soon (had to sell mine). But this is very like having been in an expensive and life-altering accident. I feel like I'm starting over, with certain limitations. And I know my limitations.
So, as Miles Dewey Davis said when he returned to the stage after 6 years of painting and isolation and silence, "I ain't playin' that heart-attack music." And truly, when I was 4 or 18 or 28, I didn't dream that I would be as successful as I was at "that heart-attack music". Now that I know what I wanted to do in the first place, which was clear when I was 4, it is MY TIME now to do it. I'll be back. But different. More me. I do know, after having visited a local piano shop, that I can still play like the wind. So don't worry. Whatever has changed, I am not slow.
Meanwhile, every dollar counts. I never asked for money before. I never asked for help paying for this mind-boggling (but life-saving) operation. I paid insurance premiums for years as my bladder and other internal organs were being crushed. I was down 2-plus inches from my usual height and now I'm at a regal 6 ft (1.8288 meters), just like when I was 16, and weigh in at 154 pounds (69.8 kilos). Skinny.
But I can't work yet. I still need your help.
For the misinformed: we musicians do not get pensions, unemployment compensation, 401K's or retirement accounts. We have no provisions for sick-leave. We are often uninsured. Our unions are infested with corruption and greed, and most of us reject membership. And me? No boats. No property. No home ownership. No estates. No cars. No investment property. No stocks. No hedge-funds. No visible (or invisible) means of support. Last week I talked to a nice lady at Medicare who said "What have you been thinking!?!"
Comments about above comment (see above): I promise I will never say "I'll never do this or that again, EVER" - again. I know better than that. We create our Universe in subtle ways, and every action has a reaction. Words have power and belief has infinite power. Pain Pathways are memories, and they can be re-routed, un-memorized, de-programmed. I AM going to get better and better. Last night I picked up the dog's bone. I bent my knees but I DID IT. This heart and mind and soul here contains the Universe, just as the Universe contains me. "Never step back, never back down, feet on the edge, face to the wind" - that's from an old country song. And as far as my future, it's long and hard and easy and beautiful and everything anyone can imagine. I am determined to fully live until I die. If the doctors told me tomorrow that I only had 6 months to live, I'd do everything that I always wanted to do. And I've done most of that, anyway. No. I turned a corner, and I AM going to do at least SOME of the things listed below in my "bummer" list. My spirit has improved as I get off these pharmaceuticals, as I take less of them whenever possible. They're not a drug that abides a happy, serene, or evolved consciousness. - JW, March 15th, 2013
I have had genetic musculoskeletal difficulties since early childhood, and several spine surgeries, though none this risky and severe. Hunching over the piano and poor posture for 50+ years also took its toll. Several months ago I was 5' 10", and now I am 6' - my height at age 16 - with NEARLY perfect posture. My neurosurgeon was Dr Richard Rooney in Seattle.
AGAIN: this is NOT a solicitation for help to pay for the surgery as my insurance has paid:
This request for donations is for the time AFTER surgery, the approximate year or two that I won't be able to perform.
Also, I sold my piano to help pay for the time I will be unemployed: but I have a line on one as of Mar 1, 2013, and I have a good feeling.
Without spine surgery I experienced trunk and leg paralysis, loss of renal function, and constant intractable pain. If it progressed up the spine and reached the thoracic and cervical spine, I would have lost movement and sensation in my arms and hands. This surgery is an interbody 3-level cage fusion with stainless steel pedicle screws and radiolucent rods to stabilize my increasing lordosis, scoliosis, and to ameliorate my intractable lumbar (lower back) pain (Surgical report here). Bone grafts were taken from my inner pelvic region to supply the autograft infusion for the cages.
It was like being hit by a truck. I was in the hospital for 8 days. I'm now home and am recuperating, already walking without a walker. Personal Progress Report HERE
I'm really happy that I can give back through my music. I know that you people who love my music are the kindest, gentlest people in the world. Your donations have been steady and generous and I believe in love and friendship more than ever! There are great people on this earth and I must know a lot of them.
And I need your help more than ever.
THESE DONATIONS ARE FOR LIVING EXPENSES - food, physical therapy, utilities, the necessities of life. Please make a donation of any size that you can afford. If you ORDER MY CDs, that'll help immensely. Every order and every extra dollar helps. And if you can’t afford it, I can understand that. We all share difficult times. Just keep listening and loving life if you can.
Thank you from my heart, with peace, sanity, love, and freedom, Jessica.
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My surgeon was Dr Richard Rooney and he works at Swedish Hospital, in Seattle WA.
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This site is dedicated to John Coltrane, Glenn Gould, Elvin Jones, Mary Lou Williams, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, and all who have devoted their lives and their souls to Music. "I want to be a force for good. I know there are bad forces here that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the force which is truly good." - John Coltrane