How a pain in the neck led to surgery

I woke up one Wednesday morning with a crick in my neck. Or so it felt. I popped a couple of Advil, took a hot shower, and moved on with my day hoping it would pass. By Thursday my neck was a whole mess of pain and I knew I needed to see the doctor, that it wasn’t just a “slept weirdly” kind of a deal. I had a headache too, a nasty one.

The doc examined me, gave me a prescription for muscle relaxants, naproxen (NSAIDs) and narcotics and did some bloodwork. Lyme disease was mentioned, along with meningitis and encephalitis. Charming. But, you must cover all the bases.

It didn’t get better and thankfully the blood tests were all negative for yucky stuff. When I went back to the doctor complaining of muscle weakness on my left side that was getting worse, along with the terrible neck and head pain, I got sent for an MRI of my head. The head part was fine – I did have a brain after all! The MRI showed *something* on my neck, and I went back the next day (Day #8 of this saga) for an MRI specifically of my neck. This MRI showed a massive herniation of the disk between C3 and C4. We knew this was something that needed to be taken care of ASAP.

I didn’t want just any doctor fixing me up, I wanted the best. Being close to NYC we knew that’s where we would go for expert opinions about what needed to be done. But how do you find the best doctor? It’s not like they advertise in Best Doctors R Us or something.

I have a friend on Twitter who is a doctor – a specialist in his field. He and his wife are awesome people and we have really established a connection even though we have never met in real life. I sent him my MRI report so he could read through it and explain the complicated verbiage to me in layman’s terms. I wanted his opinion as to where we should go from here. His was not the only opinion we were seeking, but we needed to come up with some kind of plan of action. He broke the news to me gently that this type of issue would probably need a surgical fix. He reassured me that this surgery is performed often.

He asked a neurosurgeon colleague of his in the state where he practices for a recommendation for a top NYC neurosurgeon. As soon as we got the information we set about making an appointment to see the recommended doc. We had to put together a file and fax it through – including a history of the symptoms, personal information and the MRI report. The doc would then read through it and decide if we need to be seen by him or not. It took a while till they called back, but we got an appointment.

We wanted to have two opinions. Surgery is no laughing matter. Many people at this point had suggested chiropractic relief – that kind of manipulation could have paralyzed me. My spinal cord was being compressed – you don’t play around with that! But I did appreciate that these suggestions were given with love.

We called a local organization who help people who need medical care for their recommendation for a neurosurgeon in the city. We made an appointment with him too – again, sending in a long detailed fax with questionnaires filled out etc. It almost seems like one has to audition for the doctors – pick me pick me, my case is perfect for you!!

It just so happened that we were able to get both appointments on the same day, enabling us to have to shlepp into the city only once for consultations.

The first appointment was the recommendation of the local organization, an agreeable personable chap, who wanted to hold off on surgery, try steroids for a week or two, but he admitted I was probably looking at surgery down the road. He did NOT examine me, just my MRI films. How can you not examine a patient?

The second neurosurgeon (thru Twitter doc) gave me a thorough exam after examining the MRI and found my reflexes to be abnormal on my left side. He made me do the walk they make drunks do – one foot in front of the other. I couldn’t manage it. He examined me and asked a ton of questions and answered all of ours. He did not like what he was seeing at all. He wanted me to start taking steroids anyway, but said surgery – Anterior Cervical Discectomy with Fusion – was unavoidable. The longer we would have left it the more risk there was of permanent damage. I was already having trouble walking and using my left arm was becoming a real challenge. To say nothing of the pain and the numbness! This neurosurgeon – Dr McCormick – also a personable guy, really told it to us straight. There were no guarantees that I wouldn’t wake up next week pain free, and no guarantees that surgery would fix the problem 100% – but we had to weigh up the possibility of permanent damage if we did nothing. He left the decision up to us.

We went to see his nurse practitioner – Mary – who I adore. Seriously. Such a professional – and so caring. She checked Dr McC’s calendar and said he could fit me in on Monday. As in 5 days from then. But she would need an answer from us by 9 am Thursday morning. If we were going to go ahead with surgery then, I would need to have pre-surgical testing done on Thursday so that they had the results before surgery. The next opening in his calendar was a couple of weeks down the road and then we would be running in to the Jewish Holidays. I wanted to sign there and then – cut me open, let’s do this.

KoD, bless him, was the voice of reason. Let’s take time, he said, to make sure this is the right decision before we just jump into it. We had two doctor’s opinions that were different – let’s just make sure. He was right, but I was thinking, it’s my neck on the line here (haha). It’s totally my decision. But surgery, especially on the mama, affects the whole family – and we did need to think it through.

We came home after our exhausting day and I went to bed to zone out. I knew what my decision was, but I knew I needed the KoD on board. I knew he needed to consult with a few medical people that he knows – and if they recommended I go ahead with surgery, I knew he would be ok with it. Dr McC has a stellar reputation which helped immensely too. He knows his stuff and has performed this surgery hundreds of times.

So the KoD made tons of phone calls. I spoke it all over with my non-medical advisors – my brothers and sister in law. We were all of the opinion that if it’s going to come to surgery anyway, waiting doesn’t make sense especially as I was getting worse each and every day. KoD came to the same conclusion.

The next day we called Mary on our way in to the city to tell her I would take the Monday spot, and that we were coming in for the testing.

We did the testing in record time and I was pronounced fit for surgery.

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10 Comments

  1. rob hammerling says:

    i suffered for 2 years with this injury which created an unrelenting muscle spasm in my upper right back. massage therapy, chiropractor, muscle relaxants, steroids, injections left me with muscle atrophy, sleep deprivation and surgery as only alternative.
    instead, i started spending 45 minutes a day stretching, specifically my neck and upper body along with negative weight resistance program on weak side. relief in 1 week, no symptoms after 2 weeks, complete recovery of all strength in 3 months.
    i was a very active 48 year old vegetarian and exercise fanatic whose quality of life was dramatically reduced by this but i am now fully recovered. this is so new to you that i urge you to consider all non-surgical options before going under the knife

  2. It’s a bit late for that, Rob. Hadassah, I’m so glad everything went smoothly. You’re right, it affects the whole family rather profoundly – you know the exact nature and quality of the pain; they are frustrated there’s nothing they can do to make it better. You know the ultimate risk is death; for them, it’s a life without YOU. So it’s scary, and maybe scarier in some ways for them. The decision really isn’t theirs, but it’s good you understood it wasn’t yours ALONE.

    • HSaboMilner says:

      During my recovery I am seeing how much it has affected the kids. One of my sons is not the most demonstrative – he’ll refuse kisses because euw gross. The first week I was home, he snuggled up next to me, kissed my brow etc… Now they just want me 100% – once you reach 50% the sympathy dries up lol!!

      • I’m having a very minor last surgery on 10/6, and my 23 year old daughter drove down this weekend from college – a 5 hour drive!! – to spend time with me before it. Yeah, it affects them a lot. At 50%, you know they don’t worry that your death is imminent – there are pros and cons. :) (Of course, with your surgery, part of it is probably the slightly self-centered relief that you’re not paralyzed from the neck down and they won’t have to bathe you and feed you.)

        • HSaboMilner says:

          i am sure that didn’t even enter their minds – paralysis! It was front and center in mine! Altho, the night before the surgery, the 15 year old did come to me and ask me if the surgeon knew his stuff and wouldn’t nick my carotid by mistake….

          Good luck on the LAST (!!!!) surgery – may it be your last ever, and may your health continue to improve heaps and bunches.

  3. rob hammerling says:

    clearly a day late, possibly a dollar short! glad surgery went well

  4. Avrumy says:

    We all share ur pain. I hope u contacted ECHO which is near me at (845)425-9750. We hope the new year brings only good things to u & ur family

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