It is hard to believe that it has been 7 years since my first neck surgery. I say that because although a part of me feels like it has been a lifetime that I have been dealing with the pain from it, there is another part of me that has a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that life changed so drastically for me 7 years ago.
Prior to having my 1st surgery, I had been dealing with neck pain and the side effects of the damage to my spine, for about 20 years. It of course, progressively got worse over the years. At first, I would have occasional flare ups, where I wouldn’t be able to lift my head off the pillow in the morning. On those days, my husband would literally have to come lift me from my shoulders, supporting my neck/head and lift my upper body up so I could sit up. When I would have that kind of a flare up, I generally ended up on a heating pad for a couple of days. I had been to our regular doctor, when I had one of these episodes, and had been given muscle relaxers to use when I had a flare up. For the most part, they did the trick and I was able to return to work within a day or so and continue on with my normal activities, raising kids, taking care of the house, working, etc. I would generally only have a flare up like that about every 4-6 months. I knew at the time as I went through those episodes that eventually it would reach a point that I would have to make a different decision as far as treatment went. I was right, as they started happening more frequently and the symptoms became increasingly worse.
About 9 years ago, I started having so much pain at work, that I couldn’t even sit at my desk and type, without tears streaming down my face due to the pain. I had pain not only in my neck, but running down my arms and into my hands. In addition to the pain, I would go completely numb or have massive tingling. My neck would literally feel as though it almost locked up on me, due to the nerves that were in spasm.
I made a choice to go with Chiropractic care first, since I knew that the only other option I had was to see a NeuroSurgeon and I wasn’t quite ready to go that route. I loved my job and didn’t want to risk having to quit work due to the issues I was having. Our Chiropractor was amazing ! After my initial consultation with him, he immediately set me up with some Spinal decompression treatments. I would go in and have the decompression done 3-4 times a week.. During the time I went through the treatments, my symptoms started to lessen. They didn’t completely go away, but I was certainly better. I started to have some real hope that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have to go the surgical route. To this day, I am so thankful to our Chiropractor, for all that he was able to do for me during the 2 years he treated me. I often say , he is the reason I didn’t have to have surgery sooner than I did. However, eventually, we realized that my neck was no better and I needed to make a decision to go a different route.
I finally broke down and went to a NeuroSurgeon, and he of course sent me for a ton of tests. (MRI, nerve tests, etc) It was determined that I had damage from C3 to T2 in my spine. I had Degenerative Disk Disease. I knew prior to going to him what my actual diagnosis was, as I had been given that information by our Chiropractor. I can still remember my first visit with my NeuroSurgeon, after he had got my test results back and he came into the exam room to talk with me. He looked at me and said, “ Mrs. Brandon, you have the neck of an 80 year old.” Well, let me tell you, no 45 year old woman wants to be compared to an 80 yr old in any form or fashion!! He was amazed that i had gone as many years as I had with no type of treatment for my neck. I guess that was just the stubborn side of me. My mom has had issues with her neck for years and I knew it was hereditary and I guess I just didn’t want to hear the diagnosis. Now to some of you , that may sound silly but to me , I knew what I was in for because I had watched my mom deal with it for so long.
At any rate, I was told that in order to try and repair the damage to my neck, I would need surgery. I will say that he told me right out the gate, that there was about a 50/50 chance of my symptoms improving. I honestly didn’t like those odds, so of course I wanted to know what would happen if I chose to not have the surgery and just deal with it. I was told that he couldn’t promise that the damage would become so severe that it would affect me long term and cause me to eventually not be able to walk or use my hands, due to the nerve damage that was being done and the fact that I had basically no discs left in my neck. When he showed me the test results, there were several areas where I should be able to see discs, and they were gone! I know that had I chosen to go to the doctor all those years ago, I could have avoided a lot of the damage that was done in my neck. But I was young , dumb and stubborn and didn’t want to go through what I had seen my mom go through as far as neck surgeries.
The 1st surgery he did was a Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) They basically go in through the throat area to fuse part of my spine together, from C3 to C5. That was in December, but by March, the doctor had said he needed to go back in and do a more extensive surgery. When he had done the 1st surgery, it had done what we feared would happen and put pressure and more damage on the discs below where had done the initial fusion. With the 2nd surgery, he did a Posterior Cervical Fusion, which is where they go in from the back of the neck. This time they fused me from C6 to T2. They also put in 2 titanium rods and 6 screws to hold the fusion in place and to align it all up. The took bone from my hip and put into my neck to assist with my healing time. That particular surgery was the roughest one of all. The recovery from the bone being removed from my hip was almost more painful than the neck surgery.
I was in a hard collar neck brace from March of that year until August , for a total of 5 months. During that time , I was not allowed to take it off at all. The only time i was allowed to take it off was to shower, and even then my husband or children had to give me my shower. I can not tell you how thankful I am to my family for the care they gave me during those months and for more months after that than I care to talk about.
At any rate, here I sit , 7 years later wondering if it was all worth it? What I mean by that , is I often ask myself if I had it all to do over again, would I actually do it? Honestly, the answer to that question is usually a big fat NO! I still have as much pain as I had before on a daily basis, if not more than I had prior to the 1st surgery!! However, I know that if I hadn’t done it, I could very well be in worse shape than I am today. Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful and blessed to be able to get up and function each day. I miss working more than I can put into words, but I have found other things that I can do, that keep my mind active. Writing this blog is one way I stay busy and being a Nana is another almost full time job. I love writing this blog and my prayer is that somehow I am reaching others that can relate to what my story is, or at the very least, that it helps others in dealing with things in their own lives.
I know this was a long post and I want to thank you for taking the time to read it. Please let me know below in the comments, if you know anybody that has neck or back issues? Or maybe you know somebody that has Chronic Pain of another sort? I love interacting with my followers/ readers!!