One Year Later: Reclaiming and Rediscovering

365 days ago, I underwent bi-lateral occipital nerve decompression surgery.

I was skeptical about the surgery because at this point in my journey, I felt I tried everything, and nothing worked. Leading up to the surgery, I had nightmares every night. I wasn’t sure if I was terrified that they would find something wrong or scared that they wouldn’t, leaving me with no more options and a lot less cash! The idea that constant daily pain could be gone? Completely foreign. I lived with it for so long I could barely remember what it was like before the nerve blocks, meds, dark rooms, ice hats, throwing up, and constant management of the beast that controlled my life.

My surgeon, Dr. Perry, walked in and saw my fear. He gave me a pep talk that I still remember clearly today. He said, “Listen. This is not an elective surgery for you. Your quality of life is declining. This surgery is necessary, and you are going to be fine. Now, let’s get in there and change your life.”

And it did. The day I exited that hospital, I started the journey to reclaiming and rediscovering myself. One day at the time, I began moving toward a new way of life.

The recovery from the surgery has been brutal for me. A year later, I am still working on it. By now, most people are entirely off nerve medication. I am on a low dose, but whenever we try and reduce my dosage, my nerves aren’t ready. I still get some tightening, zapping, and burning sensations. Both physical and emotional stress can delay the healing process, and I’ve had quite the emotional year with the loss of my grandmother so that may be playing a part. The only side effect is forgetfulness and feeling scattered. Basically, how my husband says he feels everyday!

Before the surgery, I spent 3-4 nights a week in a dark room with ice on my head while injecting migraine abortive meds into my leg and taking anti-nausea meds. A little over a year ago, I hated wearing swimsuits because my right thigh was always black and blue from the shots. Since the surgery, I haven’t injected, thrown up from a headache, or had to lay in a dark room AT ALL. Before the surgery, I had a headache EVERY SINGLE DAY. Now, I have maybe 3 headaches a month that are entirely relieved with oral medication.

A year ago, Houston rain meant a killer headache for me and often, a day in bed. Now, I drink my coffee watch the rain headache-free.

It feels like a brand-new life. I’m cautiously learning to say “yes” again. Slowly, but surely, I am reclaiming things I once loved.

  • I get to say “yes” to the movies again! The volume and the lights on the screen were a recipe for headache hell, so I stopped going. But this summer, the boys and I have checked off our summer movie bucket list week after week with no headache pain.

  • I get to say “yes” to volunteering in the school library. Before, I felt so unreliable, not knowing if I would have a massive migraine with the kids with all the words. I had so much fun volunteering at the book fair this year!

  • I get to say “yes” to concerts! For years, they have been a hard NO because of headaches, but I’ve been to two in recent months, and my head did great. ALL THE PRAISE HANDS!

  • I get to say “yes” to adventures. And a huge milestone this week, I took the boys on a mommy adventure in a hotel in the Hill Country. NEVER would I have been able to do that a year ago by myself. We went hiking, road bikes, went to the pool, ordered room service, and I said “YES” to ALL THE THINGS without a single headache or flare.

And now, I get to say “yes” to easing back into a part-time ministry job starting next week.

I often tell people that I would love to talk to the nobleman’s son, or the lepers, or the paralytic or blind men after Jesus miraculously healed them and find out what the rest of their lives were like. I’m still wrestling with and trying to understand how one lives as a recipient of a miracle. It feels overwhelming to think that what once felt impossible is now possible. The only response is to live in gratitude, pouring out my life, telling my story, and offering the hope of the Gospel to anyone who will listen.

Every “YES” in my life is a victory for HIS glory alone.

I am so grateful for everyday. I am so grateful for everyone who has helped our family in my recovery and for every prayer lifted on my behalf. I have no doubt that the heavens heard!! I pray and believe that one day, the healing will be complete, and I will be medication free! Until then, I am one “yes”, one headache-free day at the time.


Luann Riley