Search This Blog

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

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.