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Three C-Fusions,after Surgery and Removal of Associated Hardware, Foraminotomy, Laminectomy, Anterior and Posterior

Updated on July 21, 2018
Just one of many sets of hardware I've endured.
Just one of many sets of hardware I've endured.

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.

Living in these for years is no picnic.
Living in these for years is no picnic.

What the Nuerosurgeons don't tell you

  • Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. They never tell you upfront what the recovery will be like, 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. The surgeon told me I could keep riding my Harley Davidson, keep working hard, and do anything I wanted.

Hard to believe this fit in my neck.
Hard to believe this fit in my neck.

The areas above and below the surgery fail

  • 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.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” was that if I allowed 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?”
  • Basically they told me 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 that surgery done and unfortunately was in a great deal of pain for many years to come. I did some research and found out who the best local neurosurgeon was. 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.

Pain level 30
Pain level 30

The Dark Years

  • I would give anything to say that all was well from point forward but unfortunately although I got enough pain relief to continue living, I was not able to work. The final answer to all those surgeries was to live on an immense number of narcotic prescriptions for pain, a solution that made me furious but in order to stay at a low enough pain level to be bearable and maintain my marriage and family I took 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.
  • So by 2012 I'd had two more surgeries and ended up on disability. The option at that point was to allow the doctors to install a permanent infusion pump that would 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 would have had a remote control to vary the amplitude and frequency of the voltage that is supposed to block the pain signals. As I was intent on not having to live on narcotic pain medications forever and wanted to keep the brain cells I still hadn't lost intact, the infusion pump was not a consideration.
  • 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.

Years of False Hope and the Final Blow

  • Fast forward to about 2015, just an estimate as my memory is for good reason a little foggy from that time period. Both VA and private doctors concurred that I would only degenerate further and there was little hope of any other positive outcome. I refused this prognosis and tried returning to different types of work that I believed or hoped my neck would be OK with. I went back to school and got certified as an EKG technician, phlebotomist, and laboratory technician and secured a federal job at VA. When my neck flared up several times and I couldn't keep performing that job I was devastated. For a period of time I simply gave up. My wife gave up as well, not that I blame her, and to add insult to injury my twenty years with her ended with a heartbreaking divorce.

Never Give Up Hope

  • So here I sit, a single guy in a studio apartment in Puerto Vallarta. The warmer climate is much better for my neck, I have learned to deal with the physical pain without any drugs whatsoever. The emotional pain remains but it gets better with each passing day.

Paradise
Paradise
Puerto Vallarta today
Puerto Vallarta today

Comments

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    • profile image

      kz2 

      7 years ago

      I also have had a cervical fusion c5-7. Great at first, as I could use my left arm again. Now I am on disability, and have chosen pain meds to be able to function and take care of my husband who has had bladder cancer surgery 2x and his left lung removed. Although I have no problem with my choice of relief to function, it seems the d.e.a. and my pharmacist do. I am treated like a leper and my pharmacist holds out my medicine as he feels it is criminal. I have had 3 mri's since Dec. And I am treated at a very respectable pain management clinic. Unfortunately, due to the idiot feds and pharmacist I have chosen to move. When I leave, I will then start filing my complaints to what I hope will be sympathetic ears. I am God fearing and love my country but I am certain there are others in the state of Fla. Being treated the same as I and my husband. I cry constantly. As if the physical pain is not enough. My heart goes to all of you that I am sure are being treated the same.

    • TheLastBabyBoomer profile image

      Deborah Turner 

      7 years ago from Surprise Arizona

      Your hub brought flashbacks of MY post traumatic stress after my husband’s two back surgeries... at least that’s what it feels like. He actually had bone removed from his hip to grow into the cage, rod, and pins in his back. Yikes, I can’t imagine the pain he went through but I can tell you he wasn’t exactly the best patient either. That was a rough time for both of us. I congratulate BOTH you AND your WIFE for making it through. We know what it's like. He was out of work over a year.

    • David Warren profile imageAUTHOR

      David Warren 

      7 years ago from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta

      Thank you how-to-make, my best wishes with you also!

    • how-to-make profile image

      how-to-make 

      7 years ago from India

      Your story shocked me friend. Thanks for sharing. Take care of your health, my best wishes are always with you!!

    • David Warren profile imageAUTHOR

      David Warren 

      8 years ago from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta

      Thank you for sharing that. Very sorry to hear the position you are in. Like yourself I make the best of it and remain positive. I had a lot of hardware removed from the posterior surgeries', that provided a little relief. I can relate to the "recliner and a good book". Although not a dancer I was VERY active; motorcycles, skiing, hiking, hard working, and always energetic. It's hard, no way to sugarcoat that. I'm having another surgery next Tuesday, not on my neck but nevertheless related. The pain meds have a tendency to slow my digestive tract which led to a hernia. Hernia repair isn't major as compared to our spines' but wasn't pleasant news. My NS also believes I will be a lot better, just not on "my" schedule or timeline. I remind myself daily that there are many worse situations. Best of luck to you also!

    • profile image

      Kathy Porteous 

      8 years ago

      Hello. I am so sorry to hear of your pain and frustration! On Tuesday I will have my fourth Cervical spine surgery. My NS will be removing the hardware from my neck. It will be a posterior surgery which is always harder on the patient than an anterior approach. It might help you to know that I had originally been misdiagnosed by several Orthopedic Surgeons. I was eventually sent me to a Rheumatologist who told me I had Fibromyalgia. I lived with that (in pain) for 18 years until I was given the correct diagnosis of Cervical Spinal Stenosis from C3 to C7 and bone spurs. I got a second opinion which confirmed the diagnosis. As a Posterior Laminectomy on four levels can cause problems with stability and the bone spurs had to be removed with an anterior surgery, I have had three surgeries. I will get the hardware removed on Thursday from the back (posterior). My NS opens up the scar which really reduces the pain during recovery, and I find I get much more relief from muscle relaxants than pain meds. Also, a recliner and a book stand are enormously helpful!

      The thing I really wanted to say was that because my spinal cord was compressed for so long I developed cord damage. I have a hole in my spinal cord similar to the cracks in the bottom of an old tire. So I will always experience some pain because it is permanent. Had I been correctly diagnosed earlier I would not have developed the hole. However, had I not had the Laminectomy I would have become a quadriplegic. Happily I was lucky enough to get a really great NS, and have had the same one for everything. I have found that taking a perscribed muscle relaxant at night helps the pain, as does acupuncture and massage. I was told by my NS after my first surgery that the spin goes somewhat haywire for the first three months following spine surgery and can continue to heal for two years after. While I have had to change careers, and hate the prospect of having to put off my life yet again while I recover, I make it a habit to do the things I never get done when I have recovered and am busy such as: reading and watching movies on TV, putting pictures in photo albums, meditation, and doing research on the web. I have found that when dealing with chronic pain it is important to remember that the pain is just one part of my life, and I can still enjoy the other parts of my life while I work with dealing with the pain. Otherwise my life is only about the pain, and focusing on the pain only makes it feel worse. Also, I am grateful that I found out about the Stenosis before I became a quadriplegic. The people I have met with this kind of disability that work and enjoy their lives have similar attitudes. That includes my school counselor who's neck is plated and completely immobile, and is in a wheelchair. Lastly, everyone has to deal with some kind of serious adversity in their life. It may be physical, emotional, mental, or financial, or all of the above. I have learned a great deal about myself and my world through my physical pain, and the pain of letting go of my dreams. I used to be a professional dancer. Good luck to you!! I hope you get some relief!!!

    • David Warren profile imageAUTHOR

      David Warren 

      8 years ago from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta

      Ghost and Magnoliazz, Thank you both immensely for your support and comments! Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, I do have the best neurosurgeon, at least the best in our area now. Unfortunately as the medical records show how compressed my spinal cord was I don't have recourse for a lawsuit. I'm leaning toward thinking tendinitis in the shoulder was initially the root of pain but obviously can't turn back the clock. Resorting to VA for medical as this whole nightmare close to wiped us out financially.

    • magnoliazz profile image

      magnoliazz 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I feel total rage as I read this. I hope you go back and sue this ass of a doctor. I can only hope he will one day be in the same kind of pain he has inflicted on you. You need to SUE! Even if you are a nice guy and you don't want to...you should anyway. just think of all the other people out there who will suffer at the hands of this doctor if people like you do nothing.

      As a nurse I can tell you that you would have been just fine without that surgery. Sure, you may have had to take Aleve for your painful shoulder, but that is a lot better than being on strong painkillers for the rest of your life.

      I will tell you that your body may still heal itself to the point where you will eventually feel better than you do now, but we are talking about years, not months.

      In the meantime, life goes on, people, friends and family are great and understanding of your chronic pain, but that changes too with time. Ongoing pain can be very difficult on a marriage, espcially when the other spouse has no idea the kind of suffering you are going through. I would suggest that you and your family get some counseling to help everyone understand what you are living with.

      Also, our entire medical system is a JOKE! You walk into a doctor who is one of the best salesmen of all time, and you agree to have this stuff done, not even knowing how much it will cost you in the end. I am betting you have great insurance, right? Believe me, they saw you coming. The better the insurance, the more stuff you will have done, that's proven.

      I will be praying for you, acupunture might help you too, at least it can't hurt.

      Thanks for writing this hub, hopefully someone else will read this and avoid this kind of surgery.

    • profile image

      Ghost32 

      8 years ago

      Ouch.

      This is one of the truly nasty horror stories...though no surprise to me. I have a "healthy disrespect" for much of the medical profession based on the following:

      1. It's my opinion that, as in any other profession, the top 1% of doctors (if that) are really, really good at what they do...and the quality tails of rapidly from there.

      2. As a commercial underwriter who once handled a book of malpractice insurance, I saw many ugly cases of incompetence and/or bad attitude involving physicians.

      3. Pam's challenges involve both physical and mental health issues. Our ongoing struggle--Hell, WAR--to maintain some workable relationship with doctors is...extensive, to say the least.

      4. At age 22, I was told I needed a hernia repaired, sooner rather than later. Thanks to extreme fear on my part, I did NOT have it done...and was later told by another doctor that it was way too soon. At age 62, I did finally require surgery for the hernia--on the OTHER SIDE of my abdomen.

      The original tendency to bulge is still there, still untreated, and still no real problem.

      Now, about Obamacare....

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