A big, long update on my stupid neck.

For the past 2-3 months, I’ve been having a lot of pain in my neck, arms, wrists, and hands. It started out feeling like I had just slept wrong and had a kink in my neck but within a few days it went down my arms into my hands. I have had a really hard time lately doing much of anything. The type and level of pain varies so it has been a day to day experience to see how I will feel. Sometimes it is extreme burning sensation, sometimes numb or tingling, sometimes dull ache, sometimes little to no strength in my arms, and usually a combination of all of these in different places. Pretty much anything using my arms and hands is, at a minimum, uncomfortable. Nothing I can do makes the pain go away, but sometimes it not as bad as others, so that is at least a tiny relief.  This happened once before around last Thanksgiving but didn’t get as bad or last as long (or maybe I just didn’t notice as much because of the horrible thing that happened on December 1).

Initially my doctor thought it was just tension/stress. So I started going to massage therapy once a week. While that seemed to help in some ways, in others I continued to get worse. Next, they thought it was signs of carpal tunnel syndrome, so I was sent to a neurologist for EMG and nerve conduction tests. He also ordered an MRI of my neck. The EMG and NCS came back fine, no nerve damage. The MRI showed that I have 4 bulging disks in my neck that are pinching and/or pressing into my nerves/spinal canal/cord.  He sent me to see a neurosurgeon to get his opinion on whether or not I needed surgery or if physical therapy might help.

The neurosurgeon wasted no time in telling me I needed to have Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion to remove 3 discs from my neck. Based on my symptoms and pain levels, he said it would only get worse and that I could have permanent damage, even paralysis, if I didn’t have the surgery soon. He suggested within the next month. Not at all what I was expecting to hear so it completely freaked me out and scared the crap out of me.

Of course I wanted a 2nd opinion, so after collecting a number of recommendations from people, I went to see an orthopedic surgeon. He said, ultimately, yes, surgery is the answer but that I am far too young to have this kind of surgery right off the bat. If we could manage the pain, we could at least delay it for awhile. Then it would just be a matter of what I could live with. So he started me off on pill pack of steroids and said if they were going to help, I should see a noticeable difference within a few days. If not, then the next option was to do an injection in my neck and see how I responded to that. I didn’t see any improvement from the pills so now have scheduled the injection for Monday.

Meanwhile, Mom took a copy of my MRI to a friend of hers from church who she has known forever and who is an orthopedic doctor who treated her for a similar problem in the past. According to Mom, he is one of the most anti-surgery doctor she knows. He thinks I should go ahead and try the injection, that it might buy me some time, but believes I will need to have this surgery soon. Again, not what I was hoping to hear.

My aunt in Memphis had this exact type of surgery done a few years ago. Her neurosurgeon is apparently one of the first to do this type of surgery and is considered an authority on it. So she took a copy of my MRI to him this week to get his opinion. It will probably be Tuesday before we hear anything back on that.

At this point, I have 1 neurosurgeon telling me I need the surgery ASAP, 1 orthopedic surgeon telling me if we can control the pain I can try and live with it but ultimately will need surgery at some point, and 1 ortho telling me to try and get relief from the pain but I will need the surgery in the near future. I’m anxious to hear back from the 2nd neurosurgeon on whether or not he thinks I could have more problems/damage by waiting. That’s the last bit of info I’m looking for clarity on now. I’ve been told that the surgery would involve a couple of days in the hospital, anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks recovery, about 8 weeks in a neck brace, and 8 weeks of no driving. Needless to say, if it comes to that, Mom will move in with me for awhile!

On Monday afternoon, I’m going in for a Cervical Epidural Steroid Injection. It is an outpatient procedure but I will have to be sedated, so Mom is driving up Sunday evening to go with me and drive me home afterwards. She has had this same procedure done before and says it is nothing to worry about, but I worry about everything as it is…so someone sticking a giant needle in my neck is certainly not something I am calm about. I’m trying to be but not there yet.

We’ll see what my 4th opinion has to say about the surgery, but it seems like they are all pointing to having to do it. WHEN is the question. I’m not happy about it at all, especially understanding the whole “fusion” part of it. If I have 3 discs removed, that means 4 of the 8 vertebrae in my neck will be fused together. Which according to the doctors means I can expect to lose at least ¼ of the mobility in my neck. I keep hoping we can at least delay it a year or two and let science improve so the relatively new artificial discs that are now being used in the back can be used in the neck at more than 1 level with success, no fusion. Wishful thinking…

Anyway, that’s pretty much everything that has transpired over the last few months so now you are up to speed. My only experience with surgery or any type of major procedure is having my tonsils out. So to say I’m completely scared to death would be an understatement. I will keep you posted, but I’d appreciate any prayers or positive vibes anyone is willing to send my way.

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