Scheduled for “One of the more painful surgeries…”
I can’t believe I haven’t posted here since early May. I started, back in early April, keeping a private journal so I guess I just forgot about posting here. But, given what’s happened since my last post, and the lack of personal accounts for the type of surgery I’ll be getting, I will post often so that anyone in my situation might find this helpful in the future.
My last post was mainly focused on getting back to yoga and exercising, soon after meeting with a local spine surgeon who shocked me by recommending I avoid surgery for now and just “get back to my life.” I was so surprised by this, given the urgency and recommendation for surgery the prior two surgeons discussed with me. After the initial shock wore off, I was relieved and decided to put this all behind me and move on.
…until about a week later, when I woke up one morning and went to lift my right arm and realized that I had lost about half of its strength! Very scared, and now not trusting any of the three surgeons I had consulted with at that point, I started googling frantically to determine who the absolute best cervical spine surgeons are and whether I could get an appointment with them asap. Turns out, it’s pretty darned difficult to find a good surgeon. Everyone either likes or dislikes their doctors. Usually that’s based on how nice they are and not how effective. And the “Top Doctors” lists you’ll find on the web are pretty suspect.
After a pretty exhaustive search, I came to find two names repeatedly came up. One, a surgeon in New York City that specializes exclusively in cervical spine surgeries, and the other, a local surgeon at Jefferson who I already had the appointment with for late June. I called the NYC surgeon’s office and was told that he didn’t just take people via appointment, that I would need to submit all of my images and paperwork via a “study” portal, and it would be reviewed by he and his team and they would then decide if I was a candidate for surgery. If so, I’d get a call for an in-person office visit. I did, and it took longer than it should have, but I eventually got an appointment for a couple of months later, in June. It was the week I was on vacation at the beach but I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity, so that morning I set out for the 2.5 hour drive to midtown Manhattan, which was surprisingly not as difficult a drive as I expected, maybe because I expected it to be horrible…
Long story short, surgery, soon, was recommended. He said either he or the guy at Jefferson I was scheduled to meet the following week would be good – that Jefferson is a top-notch hospital for spine surgery and the doctor I had the appointment with was the best there. His recommendation if he does the surgery:
Anterior (front) Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF): C5 through C7, then flip me over and perform a C3 laminectomy*, C4 and C5 laminoplasty, and then, since I’d already be cut open posteriorly, he would add rods and screws to reinforce the C5 through C7 fusions. He warned me that it would be very painful for the first two weeks post-surgery, but that the benefits of this approach over a four level front and back fusion would be:
- No loss of mobility (whereas the four level fusion would result in a major loss of mobility in my neck)
- Guaranteed fusion, due to the posterior hardware
- Likely never need another cervical surgery, since the laminoplasty would widen the spinal canal
- No restrictions on getting back to full activity after 2 weeks, but he warned, “You may not feel like doing all that much” for a while longer
This all sounded both horrific (due to the pain) yet also wonderful, due to no loss in mobility. This surgeon has performed over 6000 cervical spine surgeries, has not had an infection since 2004, and I have since mentioned his name to a couple of other surgeons and they both agree he is top-notch. I scheduled the surgery for August 9th in New York, with the caveat that I may cancel pending the recommendation from the Jefferson surgeon.
A week later, I finally got in to see that final surgeon for a consult. He shocked me, yet again, by asking for a new MRI. I got the MRI and will finally, tomorrow, follow up with him for a final recommendation and decision. I’m expecting him to just tell me to go to NY and get the scheduled surgery, but at this point I give up on expecting anything as every step of the way I’ve been thrown curve balls.
So, exactly 25 hours from now, I’ll be getting the final input from him and then making my decision.
Regarding my right arm strength – it feels like it mostly has returned. I have been consistently attending yoga classes twice per week with no problem, and all pain is gone. Numbness is still there and has increased, and the last month or so I am also having some soreness/stiffness in my neck, which I never had before. All signs screaming out to me that I need to get this surgery soon. In the meantime, I’ll continue to do exercise consistently for as long as I can.
* the surgeon didn’t mention a laminectomy at all, focusing soley on the laminoplasty and fusion. However, after getting home and reviewing the visit report, it shows a laminectomy at C3. I emailed the nurse to get a clarification, along with asking her how painful/inadvisable a ~2.5 hour drive home soon after cervical spine surgery is : (