Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

6 Months Post Cervical Fusion - 1 bump in my neck, 1 in the road

Haven't posted much lately because I have nothing to complain about, well, at least not about my neck, heh.  I'm calling the recovery phase officially over since I'm about the same as I've been for a couple of months.  I'd call it a better than expected recovery but it is a slightly reduced mobility status quo which only very occasionally interferes with my getting a move on.

The best glass half full part is that my adapted work posture has made a big difference in how productive I am at work.  Moving around just a little helps keep me energized and focused: Previously when I sat all the time, I just stared out the window a lot on conference calls.  Now, I find myself multi-tasking and getting more accomplished.  If only cervical fusion somehow exempted me from conference calls altogether, that'd be something!

Bump in the road:  I took my first spin class post-surgery last week and was proud of myself for not having gotten so out of shape I couldn't do it.  Unfortunately, during the 12-minute climb (thanks, Kim at Gold's Gym!) I had a very short episode of pain in my bicep and forearm.  This was the same place I experienced pain pre-surgery so I backed off the intensity and it resolved.  No problems since then but this little bit gave me a nice small-scale reminder of how bad it was before. 

I have biked before this so I'm not sure if it was the intensity of the workout but I think it might have been related to my posture/clutching the handlebars ferociously.  I just got back from Arizona and did lots of high altitude hiking/walking with no issues so I say again, hey dummy, stick with that!

Closing in on the holiday home stretch which includes lots of travel and the usual frenzy of preparations.  Looking forward to a chance to relax away from the tinsel and turmoil!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

5 Months post-fusion: 5 star review

I don't care if its too soon for a New Year's Resolution.  I've got one and it is to conquer 2013 without surgery. It's been five months already and I feel like I'm about at my recovery plateau.  I'm sure some of it is due to my simply adapting to how things are with this new neck, but I forget sometimes it even happened.

The good: Neck movement in all directions is so good I can do everything as before.   Sleep is comfortable again, albeit with a neck pillow.  No recurrence of arm pain and my strength feels equal again.  Because it was my dominant arm, I use it all the time which has helped.  I still haven't gone back to the pain meds since stopping at about week 3.  I'm standing up for more than half the day at work which means much better posture and no neck issues even after staring at the computer for 10 hours.

The so-so: I notice the numbness in my thumb once a week or so but its very slight.  Some days I have stiffness in the back of my neck which I can forget if I'm working or occupied.  My scar is still darkened and visible and occasionally itches.  My jaw above is still the tiniest bit desensitized but it feels like the nerves are slowly coming back.

The rest: Not being able to jog has thrown my exercise schedule off and I am less active than before.  Partly this is due to changes at work but also needing more time to walk vs. run.  Still trying to settle back into a new workout schedule but so far, laziness is winning.

Also having fun meeting all my scar twins - who knew a visible neck scar would be such a great way to meet people?  All you singles suffering in pain, one more perq!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cervical Fusion - 3 months post op

So I've settled in to my new normal and I've got no complaints.  Well, mostly none.  I had my last post-operative appointment which was massively anti-climactic - no Xrays, no exam, just a lovely chat.  No news is apparently good news meaning as long as I continue to be pain-free, that's good. 

Nothing much has changed in my symptoms which remain just a smidgeon of numbness in my left thumb.  I am also a little stiff in my neck when I wake up in the morning.  Before the fusion, I used to be able to flex my neck and get a crack out of it to relieve the stiffness - not so much now.  I've also got some occasional itching at the incision and sometimes a painful twinge there too.  (Scar pic here).

I had my first long solo drive Friday for about 5 hours.  It was not delightful and I felt pretty sore afterwards.  I think it was from being in a fixed position for so long more so than from holding the wheel.  Being fairly tense because of the merciless tailgating on the interstate surely didn't help.  I worry a bit about getting rear-ended but I sure do pity the fool who runs into the lawyer who's just recovered from neck surgery!  First cross-country plane trip this week - not really relishing 8 hrs of travel plus sketchy hotel mattress.  I am now that chick who travels with her special pillow ;p

Unfortunately, I'm still not able to run - Doc reminded me it wasn't recommended but of course I tried again, same result :(  So me and the elliptical have come to terms - the terms being I crank up the elevation and essentially run on it.  I still haven't been able to get back to swimming but am determined to get in there and see how it works out.

Despite continuing to tell people my scar is from a bar fight, my fellow fusion patients usually figure me out.  After we play "who's got the gnarliest Xray", we swap tales. (BTW who keeps their Xrays on their iPhone??).  Based on what I've heard, lots of others have not had as easy a recovery and 3 weeks back to work is pretty good.  After a fairly rough year, my display of dedication by going back to work early may pay off if I get the promotion I've applied for...fingers crossed!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

12 Weeks: My titanium neck rocks the beach and saves the day

After postponing a trip in July, I finally got to the beach this summer.  The 8 hour drive was a breeze, no neck problems at all.  Well, that's if you don't count the crick I got in my neck from watching the bikes bounce around on the bike rack the whole way ;p.

We started off in Georgia for 5 days at The King and Prince on St. Simon's Island.  My first test was the daily biking around the island. No problems at all and it was awesome to be able to enjoy the area without pain or limitation.  We last went to Florida in March before the fusion and it was frustrating, to say the least. I couldnt play tennis, jog or kayak. I think to prove how well I was doing, I made sure to fit all of that in. Yep, I'm that girl.

We kayaked in the ocean for an hour and it felt great. I've not done very much at all with my arms so this was a good test for me.  Paddling felt great and my arm strength was as good as ever, as far as I can tell.  There was a huge sandbar at the beach so we decided to swim to it at low tide. I had no trouble swimming across, it was about 25 yards. Although both kids had boogie boards, the youngest started to struggle. He was with my husband who is not much of a swimmer, unfortunately.  So after I got across I looked back and saw him just kind of floating with the current pulling him away from us.

I ran out, dove back in and swam with my head above water straight out to him. I kept talking to him to reassure him I was going to get him.  Once I got there, I grabbed his board but realized the currents were much stronger there.  Even with both of us kicking holding the board, we made no headway.  I took off my water shoes, rested them on the board and side-stroke kicked as hard as I could towing him behind me. After about 5 minutes, I was able to get us back to shore.  He was pretty upset - a mixture of scared and embarrassed. After he settled down, I gave him and my husband a lecture about water safety.

Next up, South Carolina! I got the chance to practice my lying around in the sand skills.  Happily, they and my tanning superpowers are unaffected! Going to give golf a try...maybe titanium neck plate + idyllic location will finally give me some game.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Gold medal in finishing up old projects - fusion shmusion!

I've been watching the olympics obsessively which has definitely encouraged me to push ahead with finishing all those projects my neck pain had prevented.  I finally got back to completing the chore of painting the third floor room and the delightully awkwardly-angled knee wall.  This was one of the last things I was working on before the pain got too severe.  So today, almost a year later, I finally got back to it and am pleased to report I had no trouble finishing up including all the tedious cutting in along the edge.  I was a little tense on the 7-foot ladder in the stairwell but the neck was no impediment at all. 

I just came back from a short trip for work and the luggage handling, laptop lugging, etc. were also no problem.  I do miss the fancy cervical pillow when I'm on the road but its just uncomfortable to sleep, not painful.  Still unable to touch my chin to my chest but that seems only to matter if you're folding sheets by yourself ;)  I do still notice a little loss of sensation under my jawline, maybe from the neck brace.  I tried running and unfortunately as soon as I went a short distance, I noticed the numbness return to my thumb and first finger.  I guess the nerves have still not settled down all the way so I'll stick with walking and cycling.

We are getting ready to go on vacation to the beach in a couple of weeks so I'm looking forward to finally have a vacation this summer.  The kids haven't been to the beach yet because of the surgery so fingers crossed no storms thwart our plans!  Continuing to sunscreen the scar daily because it definitely gets red and angry if I'm hot or in the sun.  It has not faded as much as I'd hoped but it is not raised at all.  The incision itself is darkened and pretty noticeable.  My naturally dark skin is in this instance has maybe contributed to the scarring but it doesn't really bother me.  Scarves anyone?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

8 Weeks post 2-level Cervical Fusion AND its my Birthday!

44 years old is looking pretty darn good from my perspective.  Or, as my kids told me, I could pass for somewhere in my 30's.  I will definitely take that. Somewhat tempering this little nugget, they decided to give me a double dose of grumpy pre-teen this morning.  My approach was to ignore them and throw muffins in their direction until it subsided.  I'm sure they appreciated this display of maturity.

I don't go back in to see the doctor for a final checkup for a couple more weeks but I am sure it's just a formality.  After just a few trips back out on the bike, the continuous checking over my left shoulder for traffic as I was making turns has given me back my full range of motion (at least in that direction).  I am definitely seeing the benefit of the Ergotron monitor/keyboard stand in terms of my neck fatigue at the end of the day.  (Details here). I have no pain or stiffness at all at the end of the day now and I always did before the surgery.  Surprisingly, standing for hours a day hasn't been an issue either which I chalk up to all the walking. 

Symptom Check:
The numbness in my hand still becomes noticeable when I exercise but to a much lesser extent.  I haven't had any tingling in my hand for a couple of weeks.  The scar itself looks pretty much the same but sensation is slowly improving with it.  I think there is still a little altered sensation just below my chin on the same side as the scar, from where the neck brace was rubbing. 

I'm still having some minor stiffness and neck creaking/cracking when I get up in the morning.  I haven't fully adjusted to the cervical traction pillow but the trapezius pain I used to think was my norm is gone.  I think now that was a longstanding symptom I'd just gotten used to having all the time.

Birthday Check:
Post-work 5-mile walk in the rain was my present to myself (finally temps below 90!) followed up by a glass of my fave Orin Swift vintage while I wait for my husband to finish cooking me dinner.  Only presents I need:  My health, gainful employment, good friends and family!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

So much for my singing career?

Now that I'm out of neck brace I've been driving again thank goodness.  Something I'd not anticipated was how much I missed solo radio karaoke in the car.  Although my commute is pretty short, I've been making the most of it and belting em out.  Unfortunately, I've noticed my singing (average to poor at best) seems to have suffered.  I just can't hit those high notes like I used to.  Seriously, I actually can't sing very loudly anymore.  No big deal of course but just a little oddity.  We'll see if it gets better.  I also can't really yell very effectively but I can't find any practical application for that. 

7 Weeks after fusion: Back on the Bike!

One week out of the neck brace and I am feeling truly blessed. I never would have predicted how well I would be feeling. After getting the all-clear last week, I have tried to resume full normal activities, mostly with success. At work, I got the Ergotron installed (finally) and it has been nothing less than fantastic. I love being able to stand up for part of the day because standing is easiest to maintain good posture:

With this setup, I'm working full days (9-10 hours) with no pain, no stiffness.  Being able to adjust between sitting and standing makes me feel much more active and keeps me from being stuck in the same position all day. 

I have of course not been able to keep up my daily walking as easily now that work has fully devoured me again. To stave that off, I finally got back out on the road on my bike again today. Even though it was 95 degrees(!) it was a great feeling to get back out. I just did 10 miles but the neck feels fine.   Looking over my left shoulder for traffic was a little challenging but I was able to do so and felt safe.  Next up, giving spin class another try tomorrow to get back in shape. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Its Official: Almost fully fused at 6 weeks

I am apparently a superb healer.  Okay, he didn't say that but on Wednesday at my follow-up appointment, the doctor did tell me my Xrays looked fantastic.  Of course I already knew that because I took a peek at the screen while I was waiting for him.  Even to my layperson's eye, I could see that the vertebrae were well on their way to fusion.  The plate and screws looked in good position (I guess) although I was surprised at how long the screws were, eek.  Most importantly, the wicked awful kyphosis was gone and my neck actually had normal lordosis. 

He did suggest a follow-up in another 6 weeks just to see how things had progressed.  In the meantime, I am free to return to unrestricted activities except he did not recommend a return to jogging.  Small :( because I kind of hated running but did it because it was free, easy to schedule and quick.  We talked about other activities I could do beyond ellipticals (bo-ring) and he okayed swimming and cycling.  Before I got back on the bike he suggested I see a cycling kinesiologist, fancy, I know.  Just a precaution to make sure my bike was set up properly so riding long distances wouldn't put undue strain on my neck.  Don't misunderstand, I'm no super cyclist or anything, I just bought a road bike before doing a sprint triathlon 2 years ago (right before my body fell apart) and I have mostly just ridden for fitness, short rides of 20-30 miles. 

So off I run to schedule the appointment for a bike fitting.  More fun than a dress fitting for sure because the bike always fits and you don't have to hold your breath to do it! I just got back from there and it was the best $150 I've spent in a while.  After watching me pedal for a bit, he measured me and the bike in a hundred different ways and made several what seemed to be minor adjustments to the seat and voila, I'm much more comfortable pedaling and feel like I could go forever.  New pedals and cleats for my shoes and I'm off! 

I've also started my own gentle stretching to to try to increase my range of motion.  Just a few times a day and I can already tell the difference.  It still feels tight but I no longer feel like I'm going to snap something if I hold the stretch too long.  It might be the adrenalin from getting the all-clear from the doc, but I feel almost 100% normal most of the time.  Occasionally I will move my head quickly to look up at an angle say, and I feel a small pull.  Otherwise, I couldn't be happier with the result. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

6 Weeks Post Cervical Fusion - Pretty Good Range of Motion

Finally I've reached 6 weeks!  I am pleased to report that sometimes it seems like it never happened.  I gave up on the neck brace two days ago even though I was supposed to wear it through today.  Once I took it off to shower, it somehow never got put back on.  I am going in tomorrow for X-rays to check the status of the fusion (fingers and all other appendages crossed).  Based on how I'm feeling, I'm giving myself the all-clear. 

Sleep without the neck brace is MUCH better and I don't find myself waking up quite as often.  I chalk that up to being more comfortable out of the sweaty strangulator.  Having taken the brace off, I've been driving myself around a lot more and that has been primarily the way I've worked up to more range of motion.  I've been careful to take routes with stoplights to avoid having to crane my neck around corners.  From what I can tell without having tested the outer limits (because I'm chicken), I have pretty good movement of the neck.

Unscientific Range of Motion Assessment:  Almost Normal

Rotation - slightly limited: When I try to rotate (look left or right), it feels okay until I get to a little shy of my chin being at my shoulder.  At the outer limits, my neck feels just the slightest bit tight so I stop.

Extension - I have not attempted any extension (looking up, bending the neck back) but I have no trouble looking at the ceiling using mostly my head.

Flexion - I've flexed the neck quite a bit just doing normal activities.  I seem to be able to bend my head forward just about to the same extent as before the surgery.  I have no trouble bending down, putting on shoes, shaving my legs, etc.  It also feels a little tight when I get towards the outer limit but there is no pain. 

Side-bending - Not so much.  Really tight trying to bend my ear to my shoulder.  To be fair, I was limited in this before the herniation, i.e. when I was normal.  Still going  to give it a try to increase what I do have. 

I've had a few ominous-sounding neck cracks when I'm sleeping but they don't hurt.  That happened all the time before so I'm assuming its normal.  I've been back to work 2 days full time and it has been okay so far.  The best thing about how I'm doing now is sometimes I'm able to forget the injury, my limitations, etc. It has been a looooong time since I've not been distracted by constant pain, stiffness or aching. My scar healing seems to have plateaued, but I'm keeping at the sunscreen and am happy it is as flat as it is.  All that remains is the redness of the incision - I'll have to wait and see how my genetics handles it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Healthy New Year to Me: What a Difference 1 Year Makes

One year ago this week, I was out of town visiting my parents for the 4th of July holiday.  It was not until I came back again this year that I remembered that it was here that I got the call you dread:  My OB-GYN called to tell me I needed to come back in for a repeat mammogram.  I remember that morning I had gone for a run in the miserable heat with my fancy new shoes and had been delighted to get caught in a downpour to cool off.  I had run farther than usual and was rewarding myself by lounging at the pool, reading a book.

Of course, being out of town, I couldn't come in to get the Xray so I had to just sit here and stew over it.  Let me tell you I did just that, driving my poor mother crazy.  Up until then, I had never had any real health issues and of course I was WebMD'ing myself to death.  When I finally got back to town and had the mammogram, it was not the good news everyone assured me it would be but in fact showed I had microcalcifications.  Next up, biopsy from hell.  Some women will tell you it was not bad but I think because this lesion was so deep (almost on my chest wall), that thing hurt like the dickens.  The lidocaine they injected did not numb me so it felt like they were using a sewing machine to core drill into my soul.

After yet more interminable waiting, I got the results which were again not what I had wanted:  I had a suspicious lesion and needed referral to a surgical oncologist.  At this point, I was pretty much picking out my headstone but we made the appointment and off I went.  The surgeon gave me even more horrific news:  The procedure would be a wire-localized surgical biopsy.  That means I had to go back to the Mammogram facility for another super-squeezy mammogram but this time, they were going to stick a needle into the lesion and leave it there so the surgeon could be sure to excise the correct spot.  I had to mentally pick my jaw up off the floor while digesting this piece of news - surely medicine had progressed past the point where this kind of barbaric treatment was the norm?

Medium-length story short, I had the surgery and the pathology report did not show the presence of any cancerous cells.  However, studies show that this kind of lesion is associated with a much higher incidence of cancer so I am at higher risk and will have 6-month mammograms forever. 

All this happened in the span of about 3 months - a few months later in early 2012 I started having the neck and shoulder trouble that brought me here.  I am grateful for how well I am doing now thanks to the good care of my doctors.  I am also grateful to the men and women in our military whose service guarantees our freedom and security.  As I sit here on the downward slope of recovery, I am determined that this coming year will be devoid of any more health issues. I'm declaring July 4th the start of my New Year of Health! I wish all of you the same. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Quick Tip for Cervical Fusion Recovery: Reading in Bed

I may be the only one out here who has suffered with this problem but if not, here you go:  I finally figured out a comfortable way to read in bed.  I used to be an avid reader but this neck brace has put a damper on that.  Because the collar is so restrictive, particularly of looking down, it is very difficult to read without holding the book (or e-reader) straight in front of your face.  Add to that mix, eyes which are starting to have trouble reading and its even more fun. 

So in desperation today, I found the solution.  I propped myself up comfortably reclined in bed with two pillows behind me so I was at a reasonable angle but with my back and neck aligned (i.e. my neck not torqued forward).  I laid two pillows across my stomach and perched the book atop.  You do have to hold the book or lean it on a wedge like this one (below):

Its a little bit goofy but it worked for me and I was able to get a couple of hours into The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter). You're welcome!

First air travel as a cyborg: Neck brace and I find common ground

With my doctor's okay, I took a short flight to see my parents today. Although I was convinced I had some quality, intimate time with the TSA in store, it was actually not bad. I took off my neck brace to go through and told the attendant I had a metal plate in my neck. He said if I went through the Xray with it, that would guarantee me a secondary screening. Taking the hint, I opted for the full-body scanner and came through without any further ado.

Once I got on board, the scooped out husk of the seat was even more uncomfortable than I remembered. Because I am so short, the headrest is at just the wrong angle and forces my head to bend at a neck brace-unfriendly angle.  The only positive thing I can say about flying while wearing a cervical collar is that if you fall asleep, it keeps your head from falling over and waking you up. 

Maybe it was the travel or possibly all the laundry I did yesterday, but I'm having moderate pain today between my shoulder blades.  No position seems comfortable somehow, ugh.  This feels like a step back.  I did think to bring my pain meds and my special pillow (nerd alert) so hopefully I will feel better tomorrow. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weaning off the Collar? Week 5 after Neck Surgery

Yeah, so my doctor told me to wear the collar continuously until I see him next but apparently I know better.  Don't tell on me. It started with just taking it off during the shower but now I sometimes don't put it back on for a while after the shower.  Yesterday I went to an outdoor wedding (yes, I know) and left it off for about 3 hours.  It is mostly because its 105 degrees and so humid I feel like I'm suffocating. But, its also just more and more uncomfortable.  When we got to the prayers, I was not really able to bow my head much, partly because it felt tight but mostly because I was afraid to try. 

Now that I'm out of the collar a bit, I've also noticed the skin around my neck at my shouders where the collar sits looks sort of stretch-marky.  I can't  tell if its dry or some sort of reaction to the constant pressure of the collar.  Other than this self-absorbed detail, all of my other symptoms remain mercifully absent.  No neck, arm or shoulder pain and the little bit of residual numbness and tingling in my left hand that I had after surgery seems to be (don't want to jinx it) gone. 

I've been having trouble sleeping again, possibly due to my continued struggle with the brace.  I switched to the Arc4Life neck pillow which is shaped for your head and neck.  That  seems to give me more room for the brace, whether I'm sleeping on my back or side.  Despite that, I've had to resort to sleep aids to get through the night.  Mostly its just aching in my shoulder blades and mid back which I'm attributing to having gone back to work and the fact that I'm rotating at the waist while wearing the collar. 

I've continued to keep up the walking despite the fact that I find it immensely boring.  What has helped is a super-fast, walking-pace friendly playlist (My Ping/iTunes Playlist)  I've also been using Nike+ to track my walks and incent myself to go farther each time:  "This is Lance Armstrong.  Congratulations, that was your longest workout yet!"  For the chart lovers, you can admire my progress here: New Chart - Walks Since Surgery

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

4 Weeks After 2-Level Cervical Fusion and I feel great!

Its hard to believe it has been four weeks already. It would be a lie to say I've never looked back since the surgery, wondering what I've done this for. But at this point, I can say I feel fantastic and am so glad I've gone through it. Although I haven't tested how my ROM is now, the mere fact that my pain is gone has itself increased my function.

I'm not exercising my arms or upper body at all on doctor's orders, but from normal use my left hand strength is almost back to normal and I have no limitations on what I can do with it. I can sleep on my side again with no pain. Today I raked the yard for several hours, wearing the neck brace, and I have had no symptoms as a result.

My neck itself feels almost back to normal. I am having no trouble swallowing and can not feel any internal swelling in my esophagus. The scar tissue is still obvious visually and to the touch but continues to improve. The scar itself also looks far better than I was hoping. (pictures here:

Facing down the last two weeks in the brace, I know I can do it. I have to admit it, I have taken it off several times to drive short distances to the grocery store. It has not been difficult at all to get used to not having it on. I've still been careful not to rotate too much but it has been a relief, to say the least. If the Xrays in 2 weeks don't show good signs of healing, I am going to be seriously bummed!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Stairway Butt Luge: Not Recommended

The title of this post is dirtier than intended - never fear, this post is G-rated. So I was feeling great yesterday. I worked four days this week, about 4-5 hours a day and really had no major problems. I took a lot of breaks and spread the work out so I wasn't staring fixedly at the screen for too long. No pain in the neck, shoulders or back, yippee!

So its Friday night and I'm getting ready to get my margarita on at our favorite Mexican cantina. I had gone upstairs to get my sewing machine which I was loaning to a friend. I'm carrying it by the handle (its not heavy), have one hand on the rail and I'm wearing my brace like a good girl. On the second step from the top, my sneaker slips, both feet are in the air and I land, hard, on my rump and bump all the way down. (Sounds like a kesser-known Dr. Seuss). Aside from the noise I made dropping the sewing machine, it was quite a clatter.

My kids came running with horrified looks in their faces. Somehow I realize as I'm sitting there assessing, I managed not to bang my head or torque my neck at all. Aside from my throbbing butt, I'm okay. As I stand up, it feels like that character's toe in "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka":

I ring up the neurosurgeon on call and he says as long as I don't have any new pain or tingling, not to worry. Unfortunately, the Tylenol I took didn't quite help enough for me to be able to sit in the wooden chair at the restaurant for long. Back to my old friend Ultram and bed. Fortunately, this morning, I feel much better. Its still seriously sore but I can tell its just a bad bruise of the tushy, I'll spare you the pics. I got up early and walked 5.5 miles, rough at first but better afterwards. As if I needed another reminder to be careful on the stairs!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ladies Only: Late visit from your favorite Aunt!

Just when I thought I'd experienced the last of the medication side effects, it dawned on me that I hadn't had a visit from Aunt Flow since the surgery. My how time flies when you're self-absorbed to the point of mania! One of Hydrocodone's side effects is alteration of menstrual cycle, yippee. So, here she arrives in all her fury and I can't resort to my usual high dose Ibuprofen because the Doctor has said it interferes with healing. Since the only thing I can take, Tylenol, is of no use, I'm heading back for the Ultram. Now I'm glad they prescribe 50x more pills than I could ever take.

Since I am still walking outside every day and now that the incision is healed, I have started using Mederma SPF 30. Rubbing the scar does not hurt, exactly, but the skin is sensitive and the tissue beneath is definitely still swollen. Although it's not painful, when I swallow my neck muscles feel a little sluggish. My esophagus is also still a little smaller than before because I still occasionally have trouble getting food down if I have not properly chewed it. The only other lingering symptom is the numbness in my left thumb. It waxes and wanes, worsening after I walk. The doctor said it would persist because the nerve remains irritable.

As the weeks stretch on, my inability to drive while wearing the neck brace is taking a toll. Now that I'm out of the acute phase, its gotten tougher to get rides from folks. Something as simple as needing new batteries in my mouse (because I can't use the stupid trackpad ;p) throws off the whole day. Never again will I take mobility for granted. As a person who likes to get things accomplished, this aspect of recovery is proving harder tham the boredom. If you're thinking I should just take the brace off and drive myself, I tried but after 3 weeks of not rotating your neck, I don't have the ROM to pull it off. So, I'll wear out the sidewalks for 3 more weeks.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

3 weeks post cervical fusion: Easing back into work

I got the okay to start work today, half days in the afternoons.  So far so good but I am definitely going slowly.  My job is largely sedentary so the challenge is varying position as much as possible.  I'm sitting on the Variable Balans chair (see below) and finding it is encouraging me to relax my shoulders away from the neck brace which has been a big problem for me. 

Today's schedule was:  Work 1 hour, walk around for 5 minutes.  Work another hour, take a 15 minute break to relax, etc.  I definitely am not ready to sit at a desk for 10 hours so I am glad my company permits me to start back half days. 

Physically, I am continuing to feel some mild to moderate aching and stiffness in my neck and upper back.  I noticed my spine seemed to have a different shape at the cervico-thoracic juncture (where the neck connects to the upper back) - a sort of bump.  When I spoke to the nurse, she reassured me it was normal having just had this procedure and that it was partly swelling which would diminish.  There's no pain its just a different feeling spine than it was before, I guess I shouldn't be shocked? It also looks a little different.  If I get a mirror and look at my neck from the side, there's a bit of a bulge there. 

My neck itself however seems to be much less swollen.  I can tell because I am having to cinch up the velcro straps of the neck brace more and more.  (See!  I knew there was another good reason to wear the brace ;)  There is obvious scar tissue under the incision but the discoloration is very diminished.   The skin around the incision feels more normal, less numb.  Unfortunately, the heat has picked way up and I am still sporting a heat rash under the brace.  I've taken to wearing it over my shirt rather than under which was my vain attempt to hide it a little, ha.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Back on the sauce and wig shopping

Right after the doctor told me I had to wear the neck brace 24-7 for 3 more weeks, I started taking it off for short periods of time, starting with the shower.  I'm careful about not moving around too much but it feels so stiff I don't really want to move it.  We had some people over for dinner last night and sitting at the bar trying to talk to someone next to me was impossible so I took the stupid thing off again.  What a relief!  One glass of sangria later and I almost forgot to put it back on. 

Then today I notice my diligence in wearing the brace has resulted in a delightful rash under the collar where the base presses on my sternum.  I am washing the pads a lot and still this thing is irritating me.  Grrrr!  On top of this new development, the last few days I have been absolutely lethargic.  No increase in activity (the opposite) but I am unable to get off the couch. 

Ironically, despite all this lounging about reading celebrity biographies (I know, right?) I can't sleep at all.  I got up and took some Tylenol PM last night but it seemed to have the opposite effect.  I may go back to the good stuff if I'm still sleepless tonight.  I'm aching in my neck, shoulders and back and my first post-surgical attempt at drying and styling my hair left me completely exhausted.  That will be the end of that, next up, ponytails and wigs. 

On the upside, the kids and I walked to the grocery store today and bought groceries to cook dinner for Father's Day.  100% Kid-inspired menu: Yellow Snow Risotto, World's Most Dangerous Vegetable (corn on the cob because of the pointy holders), You're a Dork Pork Tenderloin and Yellow Snow Dog Dirt Cake. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

First post-op visit after fusion

Somehow, it was a bit of a letdown. I think I was naively hoping he'd be so impressed with my progress he'd lift my restrictions and release my neck from prison. Alas, it was not to be. He was pleased to hear I was off the meds but it was a pretty perfunctory visit. No exam, no Xray, just a lovely chat. I did see the intra-operative Xray showing the plate in position and normal cervical curvature, something not previously in evidence.

You may know already but there is a divide among surgeons as to whether a neck brace is requuired. My Doc explained that the studies didn't show much benefit for single-level fusions. But for 2+ levels, there was a slightly better fusion rate. So I will deal with the inconvenience and put my vanity on the shelf for a bit longer! Its the only spine I got, right?

So a new scrip for a reality check: 4 more weeks in the neck brace, 4 more weeks of no driving. The good news is that he said I could go back to work when I felt ready. He did suggest starting off part-time, working afternoons since he said it was less likely to spill over to 6+ hours instead of half days. Lucky me, my husband works in the same building so my ride is a snap.

Next up, workplace modifications! A fellow spine patient, Ken, just this week told me about Ergotron products. Here is the link to their site:

I'm considering the Workfit S sit-stand workstation:

Would love to hear from anyone who has a similar product. Looking to start back part-time next Tuesday, 3 weeks post-op. Feeling pretty pleased about it so far, let's hope that continues!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2 Weeks! The good news and the meh news

Having made it to the two week mark, the time seems to have gone faster than I'd have thought.  Probably that's at least partially due to medication-induced haze, but when you're filling your days with TV and twitter, that's about as good as I could have hoped for.  I'm due for a follow-up appointment tomorrow to check on the progress of my fusion (hazy Xray here I come!) and I'm still holding out a wee hope that he'll say I'm doing so well, I can take off the neck brace.

Unfortunately, my progress in terms of mobility and pain seems to have plateaued.  While I don't have any real pain per se, I'm quite stiff and achy in the upper back, near my shoulder blades.  I'm sure its because of how I'm holding myself to avoid flexing my neck.  Unfortunately, it woke me up last night and I had to take some meds to calm down the spasms.   

Today after the shower, I walked around a bit getting dressed without the neck brace.  I thought I was doing pretty well until I accidentally only slightly flexed my neck backwards.  Owie!  Immediately put that thing right back on.  Even if it is just to remind me not to move too much, I guess I'm glad its there.  Starting to be concerned about "spaghetti neck" after wearing it for 6 weeks but maybe that's what PT is for? 

So here is a shot of my scar on day 14:

Scar day 14

The little scab at the end is from where the drain was stitched in (yuk!).  The steri-strips came off yesterday altogether.  The rashy looking areas are from where I broke out due to my allergy to surgical tape (oy).  The skin around the scar is still an odd combination of sensitive and numb.  There's definitely some scar tissue lurking in there.  Overall, its better than I had hoped it would be.  Thanks Doc!

I can still feel some constriction in my throat when I swallow - it feels like my esophagus is still swollen somewhat although its not affecting my ability to eat, unfortunately.  The only other issue now is my jaw and teeth are sore from having to fight the neck brace under my jaw.  Overall pain and discomfort rating:  1 out of 10. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

No pain but boredom gaining on me: Day 12

Even without resuming household chores (other than clearing the occasional dirty dish), I still feel like I may be doing too much. In the absence of actual pain, I think I was so used to functioning while in real pain for so long, I don't think anything of marching along feeling stiff and achy in my neck and upper back. By the afternoon, say 2-o'clock, even if all I've done is walk, watch TV or fool around on the computer, I'm wiped out.  Now my 2-week checkup is looming and I'm fretting what the X-ray will show and my level of readiness to go back to work.

Truly, being totally dependent for my needs is a drag. I had to call for help today getting out of a sports bra because it was caught up in the collar. I probably could have managed it if I took the collar off but I'm convinced I'll torque my neck somehow so I'm not risking it. When my sister came to take me to Staples to get printer ink, I was so excited it was sad. Alas, after I get out somewhere, pretty quickly I'm looking to go home.

For those still keeping track, I have stopped all painkillers but have 1/2 a Vicodin at bedtime. I never really felt like the muscle relaxers did anything but add to my overall feeling wonky so I have discontinued those completely as well. What I can see of the incision looks pretty good. The steri-strips are loose so I've been peeling them off little by little. I am also happily fully back to a normal diet, including my appreciation for coffee, albeit in a much more limited fashion.

Another positive development is the new neck brace is so much better I sometimes (wait for it) FORGET I HAVE IT ON. Shocking, I know. From what I have read of others' reoveries, it seems I've been pretty lucky from the pain standpoint though, so no complaints here. Wishing the same for all you fellow future cyborgs as well!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Karma's a b*@&! and so am I

One of my earliest cases as a young defense lawyer involved a 50-ish year old woman who was a passenger in a car my client rear-ended when traffic slowed suddenly due to an accident. My client testified at trial that there had been a car between his and the Plaintiff's which darted into the next lane to avoid the accident and he couldn't stop in time. We were in a notoriously liberal jurisdiction and were braced for the worst. She was claiming an injury to her back from the impact and we spent a ton of time wading through her prior medical records to show she had problems long before this accident.

During the Plaintiff's testimony, she was describing the activities she couldn't do anymore. She became tearful at one point, saying "I miss riding my bike". My 30 year old self noticed one of the jurors laughing a little bit as I was thinking how disingenuous her statement sounded.

Here I sit years later, having recently gone through surgery which has left me unable to resume activities I used to enjoy like cycling. Just like that Plaintiff, my condition is probably just something that developed over time as I aged, nobody's "fault". But dammit, I miss my bike now too! Feel free to laugh, it is silly. But the realization that some activities are probably forever off limits for me is something I mourn quietly now but every day. Giving myself an F in compassion.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Don't Anger All the Dogs in the Neighborhood (with a nod to DirecTV)

So even though I understood the neck brace was supposed to limit neck flexion and extension which meant I can't look down, the full ramifications of this didn't hit me until after I spent some time strolling the neighborhood walking paths.  The non-neck brace wearing population are likely blissfully unaware of the benefits of being able to see where you put your feet.  Below are some charts I prepared based on my research (margin of error +/- 15%):

You can clearly see that most of the world are able safely to place their feet willy nilly without taking extra precautions.  When your neck can be flexed so you can fully take in your surroundings, your eyes send a signal to your feet alerting them of the dangers ahead.  Wearers of the cervical collar are deprived of this  previously taken-for-granted skill. 

My exhaustive research efforts over the past 10 days are represented below:

That's right, five out of ten walks result in dog mess on your shoes.  After my last session of shoe cleaning, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I contacted my neighborhood homeowners association and lodged a formal complaint.  Clearly, the ordinances requiring pet-owners to bag their pet's offerings were not being enforced strictly enough.  On top of that, the owners who wouldn't pick up after themselves couldn't be bothered to lead their dogs to the grassy area to go where walkers would be far less likely to encounter it.  My suggestion was for stiffer penalties for violations:  Owners caught violationg the ordinance would be made to clean up the pathway.  Pet violators would be required to wear sandwich boards proclaiming their status:

After lodging my complaint, apparently word spread among the canine population.  The next day, when I stepped out of my house I encountered a mountain of dog poo on my front steps.  So the lesson I've learned here is, take care of your spine. Because if you don't, you wind up wearing a neck brace and fouling your shoes while out on a walk and when you complain to the community association about it, all the dogs conspire to do their business in your front yard. 

Mumford and Sons and Donna Summer

I hope too much walking doesn't adversely affect my fusion because I am clinging to the lifeline of my only activity.  Yes, I am getting an awful reverse-dickey tan line on my neck but I don't care.  In my former pre-cyborg life, I would run to the beat of the songs on my ipod.  Now that I am relegated to walking, there's a lot of embarrassing finger dancing going on.  I've found that Mumford and Sons' Little Lion Man and Donna Summer's Bad Girls have a bpm that pretty well matches my walking pace which somewhat obviates the need for finger shimmying but not completely.  Thank goodness my kids don't walk with me because the combination of neck brace, speed walking and jazzy fingers would surely drive them over the edge with mombarrassment.

At 10 days out I am finding myself actually more at ease with the slowed down pace of things.  Pre-surgery I joked about how maternity leave was my favorite vacation ever.  This period has been the longest time I've ever spent away from work but so far I am making the most of it.  Being able to spend every day doing nothing but taking care of your body is a luxury that I've never had. 

I used to say if I did not work (outside of the home) I'd be the fittest, craftiest, dinner-on-the-table-at-5 mom ever.  I don't know about dinner but I'd definitely be fit.  The lemons into lemonade part of recovery is definitely being well-rested, eating right (mostly because of the nausea-induced vegetarianism) and walking 4-5 miles every day.  When I used to jog, if I could fit in 3 times a week it was a miracle and I would run about 3.5 miles.  Now that I'm walking slightly more than that 7 days a week, it actually seems to be almost as good a workout.  Who knew? 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

First field trip, mood swings and bad breath :)

After not going anywhere for 9 days other than my neighborhood walking trails, stir crazy has taken on a newer and fuller meaning. So when my husband called asking me to get some items together to register my son for soccer, I "sprang" into action. Birth certificate, health forms, code of conduct, triple check. Small passport size photo? What on earth, no. So I snap one with the digital camera thinking I'll just print it but of course there's no ink. So I transferred it to a zip drive so we could print it at the drugstore. After convincing him to take me, battle of the unduly sensitive touch screen ensued. After nearly bursting into tears and then getting stabby, I forgot why I wanted to leave the house in the first place.

I have tapered off the Vicodin pretty aggressively (if you checked out the new charts and graphs page you already know!). I am wondering if I am having some side effects from the meds and/or withdrawal from them. The mood swings have only happened for the last two days, after I am down to a pill and a half per day. The other neat little thing I've noticed is a nearly fatal case of Halitosis. I'm brushing my teeth 3 times a day but its hardly helping. Sorry Hubs!

Not to be deterred by a little hormone spike, I went ahead with plans to have dinner out for the first time. Unfortunately, I didn't pay enough attention to the part of the hospital discharge instructions that said to avoid long trips by car. Even though the restaurant was only 15 minutes away, with my not so gentle-driving Dad at the helm, every bump of those back roads hurt. Why I had to make reservations at to some backwoods eatery, I don't know. Sitting in the wooden chair for 90 minutes wasn't too bad but by the time we were done, I was ready for the recliner. All in all, a good reminder that I am still in recovery. Day 9: physical status=9, mental status=8.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

One week post-op: Almost back to normal?

7 days of almost the same exact daily routine, punctuated by fluxuating medication levels and I feel lucky to be doing so well. Now that I'm down to 1 & 1/2 Vicodin a day, the longevity of the recovery process is sinking in. The one thing about the initial, acute phase is that there are so many things to deal with the time passes pretty quickly. Now that I'm almost pain-free and the only thing left to deal with is the nuisance of the neck brace, I think this is where the real challenge begins. Since I'm no Dr. House, I don't have a ready supply of intriguing medical mysteries to solve. The only puzzle I want to solve is what I can do for the next 2 to 5 (oh my gosh don't let it be 5) weeks before I'm released to go back to work.

I don't want to compare my current condition condition to that of those who have permanent, disabling impairments, but this process has put the plight of the truly disabled in mind. I'm so pleased with myself for having nailed the showering with the neck brace routine but I think I'm handling that well only because I know its temporary. I never understood the mental impact of having to struggle every day of your life to do small things like put on a shirt, brush your hair or pick something up off the floor. Managing to keep your wits about you when you have to devote so much mental energy to simply getting through the day takes some serious inner strength. My hat is off to those who do and do it with grace.

Monday, June 4, 2012

6 days is too soon to try to work!

I've been progressing so well, I logged on to my work computer just to respond to some emails, or so I thought. 2 hours later, I'm still typing and I have a headache. I propped the laptop up so I wouldnt have to look down but it still was a strain. So I got up and walked for an hour but it was so hot I sweated all over the stupid neck brace pads. My husband went back to work today so I'm on my own, hence the rash of poor decisions, I guess.

After showering, I had to change the neck brace pads myself. After washing them out, I had to stand up to put it back on and it was harder than I thought. I was holding myself so stiffly my neck and shoulders were pretty painful. Now that I'm down to 1/2 doses of Vicodin, I'm much more aware of my pain levels. My front incisor is tender and sensitive to temperature. i'm guessing it got banged during intubation or extubation. Good thing I'm still not eating hard foods though, I'm still eating a soft, bland diet. Unwittingly, I guess this has been a surgery-induced cleanse - no caffeine, alcohol or fatty foods. I've lost 10 pounds so far, but I think that will level off.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

5th Day: Settled into a routine but not yet bored

So truthfully, it still feels like I'm on a somewhat lame vacation.  I'm waking up at almost a normal time, having a leisurely continental breakfast and taking a walk around the lake.  Without the kids here the pace has slowed way down which has been good for a while but I can see the novelty wearing off and soon. 

After stretching the painkillers overnight to 8 hours, I decided to halve the dose this morning.  Turned out well as it gave me just a little pain relief to deal with the neck and shoulder aching but didn't make me loopy.  After last night's spectacularly trippy waking dream (mile-long waterslides manned by aliens ending in a vat of mac n' cheese), I wanted to try to keep my conscious hours as lucid as possible.  I've not had any more dizziness today except for a few short episodes while on the second walk.  Up to 5 miles, day 5.  Surely I can't keep this up...or can I???

Second shower last night was more successful than the first mostly because I figured out how to deal with keeping my long hair out of the velcro of the neck brace.  While drying the plastic pieces of the brace, I reclined on the bed to let my neck air out a bit.  The steri-strips aren't showing many signs of letting go and the whole area under the dressing is still pretty rashy.  Photo below:

Incision Day 5 Post-Surgery
Day 5 Summary:  Mental status = almost returned to normal.  Phsically, lump in throat remains, albeit smaller.  Skin around incision still numb and tender, rash maybe slightly less red.  Strength a little shy of normal, ~90%.  Pain minimal, shoulders and neck a little achy.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Day 4 - 4 miles, 4 meals

Day 4 graced me with cooler weather and less itching. Started the day off with a little food (banana) and 2 mile walk. Now that I'm out and about more, I'm getting used to the looks from passersby. I'm still not used to not being able to look down so I'm navigating curbs like a granny.

I've spaced the meds out to almost six hours with no noticeable increase in neck pain. My arm is still pain free with only occasional numbness in the thumb. Unfortunately, the neck brace is driving me nuts. Even after adjusting the pads it still feels too big. I'm wearing a regular Aspen collar but found the Aspen Vista on-line which looks like it might solve my issues because it is more adjustable for a shorter neck. I'm also hoping the wider opening at the front will help with the itching. If I'm really going to wear it for 5 more weeks, I figure it's worth it. Sporty green color a nice bonus!

Although my stomach is mostly settled, I'm still reacting strongly to smells like coffee and mulch. Having trouble eating protein or milk-based foods but did branch out to mashed potatoes. For those still interested, five days without a productive trip to the loo were a few too many. Oy!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Day 3 post-op: Clean and mostly sober

Without the nausea, my outlook has dramatically improved. Being able to keep some more normal food down made a huge difference. I have worked my way up to plain rice and broth. I took a couple of short walks but still feeling slightly unsteady. I only need one painkiller instead of two and that has helped me not feel as groggy.

I pretty much dozed through the whole day yesterday which, coupled with not eating much left me feeling weak and woozy. I decided to try to sleep in my bed and was pleasantly surprised to find it was ok. The 10-inch foam wedge pillow with a soft regular pillow at the top was just enough height for me to sleep comfortably. I actually got about 11 hours of sleep, getting up only for painkillers. This morning, after a mile and a half walk, it was shower time.

The actual shower itself wasn't too bad but because I have long hair that made it tricky. Changing the neck brace pads was harder than I thought. I tried to do it lying down but couldn't figure out whether the pads were on correctly. So I ended up standing in front of the mirror. I dont know if it was the shower or sweating from the walk but the incision was itching like mad. I took off the dressing and the skin underneath was pretty red and rashy looking. Overall the neck itself looks okay, only a little swelling I could see. It was throbbing visibly with my pulse which was kind of creepy. The skin around the incision actually feels a little numb when I touch it.

Overall, 3 days post-op and the sore throat is still present but much improved. Nausea under control, neck and shoulder muscles slightly sore, overall discomfort 2.5 out of 10.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rough night

After thinking I had made it pretty well through the day, either I ate something that didnt agree with me or too many meds on an empty stomach. Started feeling nauseous around 9 and then vomited about 10 times. If I thought my throat was sore before, that definitely didnt help. All of the meds have nausea as a side effect so I called the Nurse and she gave me a different pain reliever and some anti-nausea meds.

Only up to eating applesauce and cheerios today which surely isn't helping my feeling tired and weak. Pretty lightheaded whenever I stand up, even if slowly. First night sleep in the recliner not awesome but I did sleep a bit. Having alternating chills and sweats but no fever.

Took a little walk around the hood first thing today but havent felt up to it since. All I did today was watch tv and mostly with the sound muted because of the raging headache that's started. I moved to the couch for a change of scenery and I am officially all caught up with the Kardashians.

Incision is itching under the neck brace but not too bad. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the shower tomorrow! Also hoping the throat swelling goes down because that is the worst thing so far.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Day 1 post-surgery: baby food!

After a lovely hospital breakfast of apple juice and apple sauce, I got home around 10:00 a.m. Went straight to pharmacy to get Percocet, muscle relaxers and laxatives. Still itching like mad, but I'm getting around better by myself. Spent all day parked in the recliner, drinking water continuously to stave off constipation.

Also, no matter what I do, I'm swallowing air when I eat or drink so there's lots of burping. Throat REALLY sore today. Feels swollen and a bit raw, which makes swallowing hurt, kind of like strep feels. When I started coughing, got a little nervous I was infected from the ETT. Called the nurse and she said it was too early to have an infection. So more liquids, etc. Getting the pills down is ok but a bit of a struggle. Cough drop helped a little.

Only foods I can get down are applesauce, some cut up peaches in juice. My husband made me some vegetable soup with chicken broth and pureed it until it was totally smooth. Tried yoghurt but it seems to upset my stomach. Popsicles seem to do the trick very nicely but I have a towel stuck in the front of my brace because I keep dropping food on myself.

Left arm pain still noticeably absent and numbness in thumb seems almost gone. Surgeon said he found and removed bone spurs which he thought were contributing to my pain. Unfortunately, meds make me so wonky, I cant read or concentrate on anything but mindless TV.

Even though I'm getting around, I tire pretty easily so really need someone to help with getting water, remembering pills, getting blankets, pillows, etc. Took a 2 hour nap but I am shooting for a normal bedtime and sleep interrupted only by midnight Percocet.

Discharged after 1 night!

Early morning day two, and I'm getting ready to go home already! All the various tubes etc. attached have been removed. I didn't get too much sleep but was able to nod off for about 4-5 hours. The drainage tube in the incision was uncomfortable when the nurse removed it because it was sewn into the incision. Lots of cutting and tugging, owie!

Good thing I've been practicing sleeping on my back (well I had to because of the neck and arm pain). Slept almost upright in the hospital bed which was the only way to get comfortable. I will not miss the constant monitoring of vitals, for sure.

The anesthesiologist and OR nurse came by to see how I was doing but I haven't seen the surgeon. He did talk to my husband yesterday but I had more questions for him. I guess those will wait until the first follow-up in two weeks.

After all my worry, I am pretty confident I can do this. Thank you modern medicine!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

So far so good! All the gory deets.

WARNING: Contains some medical details you may find skeevy. Read on if peeing doesn't offend you. I went under at 7:00 a.m. and woke up at 11 in a sunny room with a nice view of the City. The last thing I remember is the anesthesiologist loading up the IV. Status check: All four limbs present and accounted for and mobile. Left arm pain? Gone! Tingling? Also gone. Numbness in thumb and finger, improved but still noticeable. New symptoms: Neck and trapezius aching and moderately sore throat. Tried out the pipes and voice is weak but largely unchanged, just a little hoarse. Ginormous neck brace in place and tube present draining from the incision. Incision doesn't hurt at all but I'm still coming off the anesthesia. Two percocets later and I feel just fine. Too fine, apparently to use a bedpan in a crowded room. Apparently I'm shy that way. After transferring me back to the private room, the nurse gave me a sacral patch to ward off bed sores (?!). She peeled off the leads on my chest and back but I've still got the pulse Ox monitor on one finger and a second IV on my left hand. I've got electronic leg compressors which alternately squeeze my legs to promote circulation. Drank two ginger ales with ice which helped sore throat. Got a little hungry and had good success with some yoghurt. Crackers not so much because throat pretty dry and they stick going down. I'm juicing up on an IV for hydration which is making me need to pee quie a lot. I am pretty unsteady on my feet but got up with the nurses' help and shuffled to the bathroom. Little difficult to empty bladder, seemed to require some concentration. Not sure why since they said I didnt have a catheter. My oxygen saturations are occasionally dropping below 92% so nasal cannula replaced, yuk. Then she gave me a tube to suck into to work out my lung capacity. Kind of hurts my neck actually. I guess that's from being ventilated/intubated. Worst symptom so far is itchy, itchy face, nose, trunk. After a couple of hours, I needed a hit off the Morphine pump. Wow was that fast! Unfortunately, more itching ensued. Thank goodness my husband stayed all day because I can't really move around much at all. The neck brace started getting really uncomfortable and felt like it was allowing me way too much movement. We called the Resident who took it off and bent the tabs on the bottom up so it fits more snugly now. Much better. Only downside is it will not be much fun for sleep....but giving it the old drug-induced college try. Considering I only got about 4 hours last night, that should be no problem. Overall assessment: Pain, tubes, other interventions so much more manageable than feared. Day 2 post-surgery may change all that but we'll see. Positive Attitude: 7 of 10!

Monday, May 28, 2012

See you on the other side

Packing a bag for the hospital reminds me of picking out the outfit for my first son to wear home from the hospital: Something comfortable with buttons that can be slept in, washable a plus. Somehow this is way less fun. Now all I have to do is cram in all the things I won't be able to do for at least 6 weeks.  Options include: Finish painting the 3d floor ceiling (task which clued me in to the severity of current neck problem), drive myself around all over town or hone my hip hop dance moves. 

Instead, I'm giving my husband the list of people to call/email after, relocating all the power cords for my fave gadgetry and testing out the sweet granny grabber my neighbor got me.  Next up, buying all the drinkable groceries I can think of.  I've also decided to allocate some post-surgery thinking time to solving the dilemna that is laundry.  No matter what the life event, it seems like far too much time has to be spent dealing with smelly clothes. Not many options really, considering public nudity laws but its too soon to rule out some edible/instantly biodegradable possibilities. 

Next post:  Drug-induced, wonky and even more stream of consciousness.  You have been warned. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Jumping off a cliff

Just got back from final work trip. Glad it went well but now the gaping maw of the recovery period is staring me down and I'm definitely blinking first.

The hospital just called to confirm I'm the first surgery on Tuesday and I need to be there at 5:30 a.m. What a relief to know I can savor those clear liquids until 3:30!
The good thing about this time slot is if the anesthesiologist messes up, I'll still be unconscious.

Even though I've been preparing mentally for a month, the fact that there are no entries on my calendar for 6 weeks is officially weirding me out. It feels a bit like I'm hurling myself off a cliff, no bungee, no 'chute. I've delegated all my work tasks and spent 3 days training so others can continue the project I've been on for the last few years. I'd be lying if I didnt say I'm worried everybody will discover I'm dispensable after all. I think my brain is going soft already.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pre-op labs

So there went 5 hours I'll never get back. Two blood pressures, a temp and a bunch of consent forms. Granted there was A LOT of waiting around, thanks to the lady with an earlier appointment who got lost for an hour on her way from the parking lot. Singlehandedly raised the BP of everyone else waiting for her. I'm actually surprised I didn't get lost myself in the labryinth of habitrail hospital buildings. Being a non-smoker with no chronic conditions did not get me a free pass unfortunately but I did tell everyone who wanted to know. The first intake nurse had actually had this surgery as well. She showed me her scar which wasn't bad at all. She confirmed that my surgeon did recommend the neck brace for 6 weeks (ayeee!) and that my throat would be pretty sore for about a week. No driving until the neck brace is off which I'd kinda forgotten about...fortunately my husband and I work in the same building so that will give me some hope to get back to work part-time, sooner. My last day in the office is tomorrow because I'm squeezing in one last trip through the end of the week. What was I thinking?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Countdown getting serious

Little over 1 week to go and I'm ratcheting up the preparation level.  Since its the end of school, I'm sending my kids to stay with my parents for the week to spare them the joy of watching me sleep on the couch and drool on myself.  Current status = somewhere past 50%: 

Disability forms submitted?  Check. 
Work projects completed?  Sort of check. 
Kids end of school party nonsense/projects completed/prescriptions filled for trip?  Check.  

In addition to bangin', motorized recliner I've got coming, I've ordered the arc4life pillow (thank you Queen of Neck Pillows) and am eyeballing foam wedge pillows in the hopes of sleeping in my bed.  We bought a Tempurpedic memory foam mattress last year and I already miss it :( 

Searching for a ray of hope about recovery time landed me here:

Experience Read stories from people who say...

I've been forced to tell people at work who are trying to schedule meetings for me that I'm not sure how long I'll be out after the surgery.  When they gasp and start sympathetically clucking at me its surely not helping, much.  Major shout out to my "work sister":  She has been so helpful - reassuring me that she'll cover my projects while I'm out.  This past month we've been working on a 3-day training seminar that I'm traveling for next week and the preparation has helped pass the time, no doubt.  No one can say I didn't try to impart all I know before going! 

Now all I need to do is not jack my neck up even worse grabbing my luggage off the carousel again.  Maybe I should bring a collar so I can convince people to help me retrieve it?  My husband tells me I don't look like I'm in enough agony to be needing surgery, whatever that means.  Must practice damsell-in-distress / pain-face more, I guess.  Here's hoping I am this tough afterwards. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Now I remember how I got here

After a few good days I'm back to the constant arm pain, tingling and numbness that I started with. Without it I was questioning why I needed surgery but as soon as it returns, I remember. I've still been doing pretty much nothing so I can't relate the increased symptoms to activity. Still looking for support from others who have similar syndromes but so far no luck.

Artificial Disc Replacement is intriguing but I can't seem to find surgeons doing it locally or even in-state.  The below study also suggests my degree of kyphosis doesn't make me a candidate.

Complications of Bryan cervical disc replacement

Very detailed overview of the relative risks and benefits of traditional fusion vs. disc replacement. While researching treatment options I found some interesting information about injecting growth factors into discs. Check out this recent interview:


Unfortunately, the treatment doesn't sound like its an option for me as its primarily for lumbar patients.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Movies, TV series and finally getting to the TBR pile

Now I'm 2 weeks out and the long recovery period is starting to look longer and bleaker...Note to self, no more message boards because no one there seems to have a good story to tell about recovery or the dreaded neck brace. So I am stockpiling books, audiobooks, movies and TV. So far for video I have The Walking Dead, Dr. Who and Breaking Bad. Amazon has contributed Johannes Cabal, The Necromancer and Sir Pratchett's June release will arrive just in time.

Beyond that, I am searching for other projects to fill the days. Suggestions welcome! I'm pretty sure I'll be too medicated to get to fun things like finally going through the 12 million loose photos in boxes organized. ;)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Don't run out of pain meds

So I've been feeling so well I got a little relaxed about my pain medication.  But I remembered to call and ask for a refill from the surgeon who's going to perform the surgery.  His office said sure, just have the pharmacy fax the request and we'll fill it for you.  After reassuring me that I could continue to take Ultram up until the date of the surgery, I promptly forgot to pick up the prescription.  That is until last night when I realized I'd taken the last one. 

Now I'm scrambling around at 2 a.m. looking for something stronger than Midol.  Long sleepless night short, I won't be making that mistake again.  My new normal should not involve zero sleep. But, being the type A personality that I am, I made good use of my time finding things like this: 

A homemade desk you install on top of your treadmill so you can walk while working at your computer! This is way better than the stupid balance ball I've been sitting on at work. That thing only works my core (what core) - if I can actually walk for 10 hours a day I'll never have to diet again.

Alas, I'm guessing corporate real estate wouldn't be too keen on my installing this in the office.  Next best thing, adapt current desk for standing:

Peyton Manning and Jason Derulo

Oh, that's the same surgery Peyton Manning had and he's already throwing footballs and dodging sacks?  I'm sure I'll bounce back in exactly the same way.  Now that I've sort of stopped feeling sorry for myself and watched enough skeevy You Tube videos of the surgery, all I can focus on is planning for how I'll get through the recovery period.  I'm in full-on worst-case-scenario preparation mode.  Aside from straightening out the details for being out of work for N weeks, all I can think of is "what am I going to do with myself???" 

So here's where I start stockpiling back episodes of TV shows I missed:  Breaking Bad, Dr. Who and The Walking Dead.  Let's see, that should last me about a week.  Next up:  5 non e-reader books from the TBR pile.  Thank you!  So, I think I've covered maybe 8 days...Since my surgery is going to pretty much devour the best part of the summer, I'm stuck with nothing but reality TV.  I'm almost as scared by the prospect of 6 weeks of Big Brother as I am about the possibility of not being able to speak or swallow after the surgery.

Plan hatched at 2:00 a.m.:  As soon as I'm able to walk, I'll get up every day and walk the 1.3 miles to the movie theater and see a matinee!  By then, it will be deep in the heart of blockbuster summer movies so surely I can find something worth $8 bucks, right?  Fast forward to the "next" morning, when I realize that girl in a neck brace won't be able to turn her head to see all the cars of the 8 lanes of traffic I'd have to cross to get to the theater. 

I guess I'll have to content myself with bedazzling my neck brace a la Jason Derulo:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More reasons why I am an idiot

After getting through an unrelated medical issue last summer, I renewed my fitness regimen with perhaps a bit too much vigor.  Push ups while suspending from swinging straps? Sure thing, I'll give you 25!  Road cycling in the rain on rural, shoulderless roads?  Why not.  Four weeks in, I thought, ow, my arm is killing me, I really am out of shape.  More acrobatics please! 

Then Dr. Doesn'tHaveAMedicalDegree decided she had "pulled a ligament" which was why I couldn't lift my dominant arm.  Der.  Let's sit on that for 3 months and see if it gets better.  Meanwhile, let me continue with my numerous activities entailing exactly the same head and arm positioning:  Desk work, reading, piano, cycling and my tablet addiction.

It wasn't until I was unable to sleep the night without agonizing pain in my shoulder and bicep that I figured some actual doctoring was needed.  Coupla X-rays later, I think I've got the best neck in the whole world and some Alleve would do the trick.  Yeah, that didn't work at all. 

After a week of steroids, I felt like I was 75% better but was probably only 50%.  I didn't realize until that initial PT evaluation how limited my neck range of motion was.  6 weeks later, I'm still getting what seems like random bouts of tingling and pain in my left arm.  I've started using ice finally and finding some relief there.  Tried the muscle relaxers once and drunk-worked myself through that whole day.  Finally settled on a medication regiment that involved low dose pain relievers at night and during the day as needed.

No Offense But...Second Opinion Please?

My first MRI was on a day when I was feeling pretty good.  I was happy to hear they had a seated one so I didn't have to lie in the coffin tube.  That lasted until it actually started and I got a nice increase in symptoms that lasted during the clicking.  I know, I know, hysterical reaction.  If someone else had told me that happened, I would have made soothing noises, maybe even a shoulder pat while thinking, "loony!"

So...I met with the doctor for the second time to review the results.  He did a great job of showing me the films so I could see what was going on.  Again, I'm not physician but I could see right away I was hosed.  That wicked-looking forward kink in my neck?  Probably not a good sign.  So on we go to surgical options.  Being the good researcher that I am, I have my head filled with all sorts of hopeful, minimally-invasive notions.  Not so. 

However, we do have options apparently.  While there is clearly a herniated disc at C5-6 which was indenting the spinal cord, it is less clear at the level above.  So he tells me that it is "up to me" whether to have a 1 or 2-level fusion.  Umm, what?  Yes, based on the hundreds of these that I have performed, I would definitely have an opinion on which way to go.  After getting passed off to the nurse for scheduling, I pretend I'm going to go through with this immediately and pick a date for about 5 weeks out.  Meanwhile, off to the social media to beg former classmate doctors for a neurosurgical recommendation. 

And then I got a crush on my physical therapist

Next up - neck surgeon. I was expecting it but still delighted to hear the S-word mentioned on visit #1. Even though I think of myself as reasonably (ok more than that) intelligent, it wasn't until he asked me that I even realized my hand and thumb were numb. Worst history-providing patient ever! I waffled, equivocated and I-guess-so'd my way through the history. Honestly, it seemed pretty pro forma. I'm sure it is statistically borne out BUT I still felt like I was just getting queued up for the surgery train.

After a bout of "how will I ever find the time to go to therapy", I dove right in to PT. Developed a wee crush on my therapist, but I think mostly that was the Medrol-Dosepak speaking. After a week of steroids, I felt like I was 75% better but was probably only 50%. I didn't realize until that initial PT evaluation how limited my neck range of motion was.

Soon, the kids were joining me in the dorky nerve glide exercises she gave me. I like to think they were cheering me on but in reality I think they were ribbing me a bit. Snarky brats! At this point I'm walking around with ice on my neck every hour and thinking how much better I'm doing. (Product plug: Found a great reusable gel ice pack which fits perfectly around my neck

In reality, I think I was just adapting to "my new normal". This included me not bending to put clothes in the dryer (so sad for me, I know), no housework, cooking (okay I didn't cook before) but no exercise of any kind. I'm home on the couch under a blanket trying to counteract arctic neck syndrome.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Saga of the pillows

Goldilocks would have been proud.  It all started with my quest for the highest mountain my neck could climb.  I might as well have been sleeping rough in a cave that thing was so dense.  My first clue should have been the fact that Pillow Everest and I broke up and reconciled so often.  While we were on a break...I couldn't bear to be with another so went without.  (Punintentional). 

Then, I remembered something about anatomy and went ergonomic and memory foam.  Ahhh, sweet neck pillow, what times we had.  You didn't even get mad when your 12" eensy cousin and I even went on vacation together. 

What 1 item helped you the most after surgery?

Your Host

My photo
I'm 43-years old, married mother of two boys. I work full-time but the daunting prospect of 6-ish weeks of recovery has led me here. How much TV can one person watch?

Total Pageviews

Medical Details If You Must

Two-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion scheduled for May 29th. Herniated discs at C4-5 and C5-6 indenting the cord with significant kyphosis.

I am not a medical professional. The information contained in this blog is not intended to be nor is it medical advice. Nothing contained herein should be considered a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional.