Three C- Fusions, after surgery and removal of associated hardware, Foraminotomy, Laminectomy, Anterior and Posterior
ACDF (anterior cervical discectomy, and fusion) followed by posterior fusion, decompression, laminectomy, bilateral foraminotomies from C3 thru T1.
I am not a doctor nor am I soliciting medical advice. This is simply an explanation of my own experience with multiple cervical surgeries.
I had been living with chronic pain in my left shoulder for years, attributing it to having dislocated the shoulder playing football many years ago. By December of 2006 the pain was intense. I went to my family doctor to get a cortisone injection. The doc agreed but insisted I get some x-rays and return in the morning for the injection. So I got the films done and returned at eight the next morning. Rather than receiving the pain injection my family doctor explained that I needed to immediately see a neurosurgeon because the pain was not my shoulder but actually radiating from my neck. This was surprising news as my neck had never previously hurt. Four major surgeries later it hurts plenty now as do both my shoulders.
So I go see this neurosurgeon at a local spine clinic the same week after having added an MRI to the x-rays. The neurosurgeon shows me that my spinal cord is severely narrowed in three places, tells me I have degenerative disc disease, cervical radiculopathy and myelopathy from herniated discs, and stenosis which is just another term for narrowing of the spinal cord.
When I mentioned getting another opinion prior to surgery he agreed but dissuaded me by explaining how crucial time was, explaining that even a minor MVA such as a rear end collision could prove fatal because with my spinal cord so compressed there would be no room for expansion, and also the sooner surgery was done the more likely it would be that I would get resolution from pain and likely avoid permanent nerve damage.
That was certainly persuasive enough and I agreed to have an ACDF (anterior cervical discectomy and fusion) from C4 thru C7. So with less than two weeks’ notice I had my first cervical surgery a week before Christmas of 2006.
Hindsight is always twenty twenty. They never tell you what recovery entails, probably because most people would opt out of surgery altogether. The neurosurgeon said,
"Four to six weeks and you’ll be good as new and back at work."
I think it was three or four months and a lot of physical therapy but I did return to work and was relatively better for almost three years.
By the summer of 2009 I was in more pain than I had ever encountered prior to the surgery so I returned to the same neurosurgeon. He ordered another MRI, an EMG (electromyography), and a nerve conduction study. Apparently the areas above and below the last surgery were giving out, another common problem that surgeons prefer not to advertise prior to surgery.
So this time the “sales pitch” is that if I allow them to go in the back of my neck and decompress the vertebrae, open up the nerve canals again (foraminotomies), and fuse from C3 thru T1 this hardware will never fail. Of course my first question was,
“Why didn’t you do that in the first place?”
I can’t quote the response from the surgeon’s assistant but basically she explained that this would be a much more complex and expensive surgery with a difficult recovery period thus the reason they always attempt the less invasive procedure first. Seemed logical enough and so again I agreed to surgery.
In July of 2009 I had this surgery done and unfortunately have been in a great deal of pain since. I did find out who the best local neurosurgeon was afterwards. Again hindsight is twenty twenty. I am not qualified to judge a surgeon’s ability however when I would tell hospital staff which surgeon performed the first two surgeries I would get very sympathetic and understanding looks. I was told that my first surgery was certainly not as much an emergency as had been portrayed. I found out which local neurosurgeon had the best record as well as which surgeon other doctors chose for their own neuro-surgeries and had all of the posterior hardware removed by this neurosurgeon in December of 2010.
I would give anything to say that all is good at this point but unfortunately although I got enough pain relief to continue living, I am not currently able to work. The final answer seems to be a lot of narcotic prescriptions for pain, a solution that makes me furious but in order to stay at a low enough pain level to be bearable and maintain my marriage and family I take them.
I would assume if you have read this far that you have some relevant reason to seek information about cervical surgery. My advice would be to avoid it at all cost if possible. I would give anything to go back in time and see if my body could have healed itself as this is an accepted approach to many spinal problems.
So here we are in 2012. I’ve had two other surgeries and currently am on disability. The options at hand are to either allow the doctors to install a permanent infusion pump that will pump morphine directly into my spinal fluid or try a neural stimulation implant. The implant, manufactured by Medtronics, would consist of a battery pack under my collarbone and wires that would lead to the epidural area in my cervical spine. At the end of these wires will be sixteen leads that I will have a remote control to vary the amplitude and frequency of the voltage that is supposed to block the pain signals that go to my brain. As I’m intent on not having to live on narcotic pain medications permanently and would like to keep the brain cells I still have intact, the infusion pump is not a consideration. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you informed of how this neuro stim implant works out.