Me before all this
Doh! So back in October, I'm waking up with the WORST stiff neck of my life. So memorable, I took all the pain pills I saved up from dental surgery last year, just to get rid of the pain. Somehow I survived, but that evening, my left arm went numb from my shoulder down to the tip of my thumb. I couldn't get my kid's shoes on with that arm, it got so weak.
At this point, I knew this was no ordinary stiff neck, so I went to my Primary Care Physician, who prescribed Vioxx and Ultram and told me to treat this conservatively, though it appeared that I ruptured a disc in my neck. Two months later, an MRI confirmed it. Not only one, but two discs.
But the worst part was, my spinal cord was compressed. This would soon affect the lower part of my body, which I normally tuck under the computer stand anyhow. I would not be able to walk if I let this go on too long. At first, I thought, great, no more exercise possible, but then I got to figuring that someone else would have to bring me snacks, which is unacceptable!
Right away the surgeon thought carefully about my case, and the unpaid European sports car he was driving, and recommended immediate surgery. Surgery which would consist of a nice gash in the neck, implantation of various things usually thought of in connection with Frankenstein, removal of most of one vertebra, and a nice long recovery period fought tooth and nail with the health insurance. All in the comfort of a confining neck brace, the latest of the species, an Aspen Collar.
I reported for surgery on 12/13/1999 promptly at 6:30 AM. Just as promptly, the final member of the surgical team showed up, and I was wheeled into surgery at 10:00 AM. I tried to tip the nurses in the perioperative suite to get this over about 8:00 AM, thinking that perhaps the same calculus which applies to restaurant reservations applied to neurosurgery, but they thought perhaps I was under the influence of one of the many sedatives they give you.
I awoke from the surgery at about 6:30 PM delighted, I suppose, that all the things which my spinal column controls were still under my command. Only, I was aware of a great pain in my shoulders (right particularly). It seems that, from being bound for so long on the operating table, my right shoulder, which had been required only to control my mouse for the last 7 years...had received some sort of strain. Nothing that 12 more days of physical therapy could not recover to about 80%. But please, don't ask me to eat soup in a restaurant, as the right hand will rotate only approximately to the lips bearing its load of hot liquid. Look out lap, here it comes.
I am not the sort of person who would post his own MRI's to the Web (really I am but I didn't have them long enough to scan them) so I found these before and after pictures of another similar patient:
Before and after. The little white arrows point to the discs bulging into the spinal cord. Mine were bulging, in those nice medical terms, "severe" on one level and "markedly severe" on another (C5 through C7). Meaning that the neurons had to step out of their canal just to have room to change their minds!
Please note the after picture, in which a drawer handle seems to be inserted where before there was only natural bone tissue. Yes, indeed, I have a titanium Orion plate fixation. When I bend my neck, I can actually taste metal. I'm sure if I told the doctor this, he would mutter an oath under his breath, but it's so.
Here are a couple of pictures of me before and after the procedure. For the last twenty years, I sported (past tense of spurt) a full beard. This was in an effort to escape from shaving forever.
This is an actual shot of me browsing the web, when I discovered what sorts of things had to be done to someone in my condition. I cannot tell you what a thrill it is to find a similar case history out on the web, so you can wonder too, how they insert a nice drawer handle in your neck without detaching or disturbing something useful!
And here we are, the latest Full Moon to reign over Cuyahoga County. Certain parts of this face have not seen sunshine since 1981. 15% of the population is younger than my beard was. However, it took ten years off my appearance, and by now I am getting used to that, so the chin cabbage will be history. It's one thing to be 50 (just turned 50) and look like 40 on account of no gray hair or balding, but then to look like 30 again is quite a treat to earn for a slight tonsorial adjustment.
And here is the new Tin Man, three weeks post-op, in that really comfy Aspen Collar. An Aspen collar is made of five pieces. There is a front section, a back section, and three very important pieces of foam rubber. One side of the foam rubber is lined with cotton, the other lined with Velcro. You can ask my nurses, there are 132,334,292 ways of putting the five total parts together so they come out right, with cotton against the skin, Velcro stuck to the stickers inside the two plastic halves, and everything pointing UP and facing the right way.
I had to pass the Y2K holiday alone at home. I determined an appropriate way of doing this was to down one entire bottle of good champagne (Pieper Heidsieck, $40). Midway through the bottle, I took the following picture:
For once, I was no longer suffering any discomfort whatsoever, from the Aspen collar.
A while after that, the steristrips covering up the incision finally fell off, revealing a purple thing that looks like the kind of tree root that eventually will crack your driveway. The pictures below are digitally enhanced to emphasize the grotesque nature of the whole thing:
Time will tell whether any good will come of all this. More likely, it was a case of potential damage prevented. My left arm is numb now only from the thumb tip to the back of the hand, and it is as strong as it ever was. My right arm still won't do everything I require of it, such as lifting a fork to my cake hole, sticking my finger in my ear, or combing my hair...not unless I guide it with my left hand.
I will soon learn whether, at the 6 week marker, my body accepted the bone graft and whether the screws are still holding the drawer hardware in place. Be sure to turn back in a while to learn whether I get to turn into a regular customer or whether I have made this a one-stop trip!