Cervical Spinal Fusion-Four Weeks Later
So, four weeks after fusing C5 and C6, where am I? I went back to work this past week. Surprisingly, I did 4 of 5 days, laid down for 15 minutes the first day and an hour yesterday, but I actually worked 29 of my 30 hours for the week, something I really didn't think would happen.
What I'd do different is bring my Omni Cervical Relief Pillow with me and spend time laying on the floor after I teach my kids each day. Ten minutes on that pillow does help somewhat in positioning things better and reducing some of the pain.
Yes, I still have pain. Any doctor that tells you that you will wake up from surgery and be miraculously healed is one I would not ask to do surgery. That said, the pain is different. If you used the Likert scale, my pre surgery pain hovered between 7 and 9 on most days. Now, I'm spending most of my days at a 4 or 5, some days I'm actually around a 3 (the level that most doctors tell you to take pain meds, ha!) The end of the day is particularly rough, though.
I had my first episode of numbness in my wrist and hand since the surgery yesterday morning. It lasted under a minute, and that's something I will need to keep an eye on. My MRI showed C3 through C7 being effected, but my neurosurgeon opted to be conservative. I agreed to just doing the fusion of C5-C6, mainly because the more vertabrae you fuse, the less range of motion you have afterwards. As a result, I know that some of the things I was experiencing before may not be gone.
Range of motion is actually pretty good, considering. Prior to surgery, turning my head left was the challenge, the right wasn't too bad (but the right is where all the neck and shoulder pain occurred). With effort, I can turn my head 90 degrees to the left. Don't ask me to move it fast-that hurts. Turning to the right without too much effort gets me to 90 degrees easily.
I can no longer touch my chin to my chest, my chin stops about a half inch before. This probably is permanent. I equate that to the fact that due to the herniations, my neck looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, with the vertabrae leaning forward because the material between the bones just couldn't do the job anymore. My doctor straightened things up for me, and the metal plate just anchors stuff.
Honestly, tipping my head forward and looking down at my belly button is probably the most comfortable position I can put myself right now-and it's comfy for about 15 minutes. I used to like cracking my neck, apparently a lot of people with my issues did the same, but I can't do that anymore. However, I am experiencing back spasms right between my shoulder blades when I sit in one position too long. If I bring my shoulders foward to try to stretch things out, I hear a mass of snap, crackle, and pops-so the spasms may be my body telling me to stretch more.
Sleeping is a challenge. I am a side sleeper, thanks to the Chiari making me cough as soon as I lay on my back. Before surgery, I could sleep on either side, now I'm finding I can only sleep on my left. Getting out of bed is a challenge. I have to remember to roll onto my belly, then ease myself up to avoid putting too much torque on my neck. Some nights, I end up sleeping in my chaise, because I tend to stay in one position and don't deal with the torque problem. For comfort, the bed is preferable, and I look forward to the day where I don't have to worry so much about torque when getting up!
Everyone on the doctor's staff and in the hospital told me I'd be eating soft foods for a long while. I bought a mini blender to make smoothies-and it's still in the box! I also bought some frozen sides that I love from the meal prep kitchen I used to manage and only used one of the four packages. Within a week of surgery, I was hungry for steak and ate it-which I was told would really hurt for while. If you have this surgery, your mileage may vary. The only physical aspects I have are a 2" long cylindrical bump in my neck and the feeling that something is stuck in my throat, especially if I hadn't had something to drink in a while. Point is, I have to keep myself hydrated a lot more nowadays.
When I left the hospital, there were many instructions, including leaving the neck brace on 24/7. My nurse practitioner told me otherwise, but I know I'm slacking off because of the back spasms. I do wear it at work pretty much constantly and when I'm out in public to protect myself from others (and the fact that I am the 8th dwarf, Clumsy). One I got was no lifting beyond 10 pounds. I already had that one from the neurologist for the Chiari, and I thought the restriction would be lifted eventually.
Now I realize that no, if I lift something heavy, I feel a pulling sensation in my neck, and I don't think that will go away. I may truly be limited in lifting forever. I also know that at my next follow up, I'll be asking for the (short) list of rides that are okay for me to ride at Disney. Hoping that Pirates of the Caribbean is still okay, but realizing that it probably is not!
Oh, and I got the letter from my insurance that said "Hey, we got your hospital bill and wanted to let you know we're reviewing it", in which they tell me how much the hospital asked for. Let's just say the hospital wants the same amount of money I paid for my first house! Yikes! Neurosurgery is decidedly more expensive than, say, a hysterectomy with a two night stay. Then again, most people don't get neurosurgery because they just feel like it, so I guess I'll be paying what's left over because I didn't like being in pain or having twitchy, numb fingers!
Ultimately, I'm not where I'd like to be a month post-op, because this recovery is going far slower than anything else I've ever dealt with. That said, I am better off than I was before. It's progress. Slow progress is better than none, so I'll take it.
In the interests of documenting for my doctor and others, I'll probably follow up each month to give a comparison and maybe see some dramatic changes.