Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A few hours ago, I was discharged from the hospital. Yes, hard to believe that a guy who once bench-pressed 540 at a body-weight of 178 would ever be in the hospital, but... whoops, did I say 540?

Anyhow, yesterday I had a cervical discectomy with fusion at C4-C5. Effectively, this means the neurosurgeon intended to open up the front of my neck, push around the trachea and such, remove the offending disc, put in a polymer replacement disc and then fuse the top and bottom vertebrae together with a cardboard (or perhaps titanium) cage. However, as I understand it, Dr. Schwetschenau discovered - once he was able to see everything - that the disc had already ruptured, pieces of disc were scattered everywhere and there was not enough room for the cage. So he put the polymer plug in a much tighter-than-normal space and sewed everything back up.

I'm guessing the whole thing took about three hours, and my wife was fortunate to have Candy, Lori, Phyllis, Julie, her Mom and probably a few others there to lend support. After all, it's not like we're talking about neurosurgery or anything... oopsie!

I just remember the surreal experience of being wheeled into the O.R. and staring up at these two giant, steel rhododendrons suspended from the ceiling. I guess they were some kind of super-focused lighting systems for those tough-to-reach spinal cord areas. I remember saying hi to the Doc and than - lights out - I was waking up a while later in the recovery room.

After a bit, I got rolled up to my room, which was the size of large phonebooth where I was surprisingly coherent. Amy, Joanne, Tudy, Tommy, Marc, and Rick all stopped by at some point. I was able to call Mom & Dad and Gerry to check in. After the drugs kicked in, I was able to crash for a while, and 2AM found me attempting to get my bladder to work correctly to avoid the threatened "straight up catheterization". Luckily, my bladder came around.

So, why did I have this surgery? Me, the notorious "walk it off, bitch" guy? Well, in August sometime, I was hit pretty hard on the top of the head while playing basketball. A little bit later, during the game, I felt shocks run down both my arms. Generally, I think that's a bad sign. I just thought it was a fluke, and I played ball the next week as well. Same thing happened while running downcourt... shocks running down both arms. Then the tip of my thumb started going numb.

Visited the G.P., who diagnosed cervical radiculopathy. This is usually a situation where a nerve is getting pinched at the foraminal opening; where the responsible nerve exits the spinal cord. This often happens with a herniated disc (also called a 'slipped disc', 'ruptured disc', etc. - for some reason the medical community hasn't standardized their disc lingo). He was sufficiently concerned to order up an MRI.

The MRI - taken in September - showed a "moderate" compression of the spinal cord at C4-C5. Often times, this is not that big of a deal, if symptoms are nonexistent or very mild. Problem was, I started feeling the tip of my _right_ thumb going numb. Then, a few weeks later, the most disturbing aspect occurred. Driving to work one morning, I started feeling a burning sensation on my right shin and thigh. Uh oh.

Over a relatively short period of time, my toes, feet, thighs, shins and even crotch area experienced durations of tingling, numbness, burning and a whole range of other, somewhat unpleasant symptoms. Once these symptoms started, we were fortunate enough to get a quick-react visit with a neurologist, Dr. Schmerler (whom I would highly recommend). He took one look at the MRI and said, "Uh, yeah, you need surgery." He walked over to the neurosurgery practive and, lucky break, there was a cancellation with one of the surgeons, who are notoriously difficult to schedule an appointment on short notice.

At a subsequent visit with Dr. Schwetschenau, he reviewed the symptoms and then brought us into an MRI viewing room. As he looked at the C4-C5 disc complex where the spinal cord was getting pinched, I said, "isn't that just moderate cord compression?". He looked back at me skeptically and said, effectively, I wouldn't call that moderate. He showed us the white spot on the cord which would indicate either permanent or temporary loss-of-signal. While not a medical professional, I suspect that's not a _good_ thing.

He felt that surgery was needed ASAP. Again, through a stroke of good luck, Mary Ellen - his head of nursing - was available to give us a pre-op briefing. When she opened her office door, a schedule was taped on it. Surgery was on Monday! And this was Wednesday. One could hardly ask for a faster turnaround. Like I say, we were very lucky.

At 11:15am, we were at the OR waiting room. At 11:20, we were in pre-op. And the rest... you already know. So it's the day after - as I write this - so I think I'll go and rest for a while. Anyhow, thanks to all of the docs, nurses and staff of River Hills and Bethesda North. I'm sitting at home, preparing to rest, and the only pain I seem to have is... swallowing, from the manipulation of the throat and the intubation.

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