If you have ever experienced prolonged neck or back pain, my sincerest sympathies go out to you! I had a cervical herniated disc – Its something that disturbs every aspect of daily – AND nightly existence. It’s that nagging pain that keeps you awake at night not able to pay attention to anything that anyone is saying. Look at that picture above… see how my spinal cord is ever so crooked there in the middle? … that is what you call a “Pain in the Neck!” That little imperfection caused me so much suffering for what seemed like an eternity, me not being me.
It showed its ugly face to me one morning. A day earlier I had enjoyed a full afternoon riding my moto-scooter through the glorious curvy Tuscan roads visiting vineyards and quaint Tuscan hill-towns with friends. This particular morning I awoke with a slight back and neck ache… not any different from many other mornings; I sleep in weird curled-up positions & wake with random aches and pains. I took some Advil, tried to walk it off, rubbed some ointment on my back… yet nothing could dull the agony. The pain would not shut-up. Day after day, slightly worse, horrific, then unbearable. After a week, I couldn’t feel my hand… numbness radiating into my left arm and hand. Frantically trying to restore my body, I sought out a masseuse to ease the tension in my muscles that were harder than Mount Rushmore. After an hour of massage and feeling electricity shoot into my arm, I walked out of the massage in a stream of tears. Massages are enlightening! This was sheer torture. I knew right then that something was seriously wrong.The following contains graphic medical images not suited for all viewing audiences
I am not one to overreact but when my surgeon told me that he needed to slice open my hip…to chisel out a piece of my bone… to insert into my neck vertebrae… after chopping open the front of my neck… yes, right below my pretty face… I started freaking out. You need to cut my neck open-in the front, push aside my trachea & larynx to get to my vertebrae, remove my cervical herniated disc and be careful not to touch my spinal cord that leads to my brain bc you could cause my permanent paralyzation. Whew whew whew whew… insert hyper ventilation & me almost passing out. I have never been so scared in my entire life. Minutes later after agreeing to this procedure there I was laying on the surgical gurney knowing that I might never wake up the same again… that was the most panicked I have ever been in my entire life.
Thank the heavens for modern medicine and amazing doctors who can rid the world of unwanted cervical herniated discs. Two hours after the ACDF surgery began, I woke up surrounded by doctors and nurses in mid-dream that I was organizing some party for my husband… AND that’s my favorite part… even in quasi-death-consciencness, there I am organizing someone’s party! Classic JJ!
- Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF): A procedure that reaches the cervical spine (neck) through a small incision in the front of the neck. The intervertebral disc is removed and replaced with a small plug of bone, which in time will fuse the vertebrae.
the moral of my story… post-surgery emotions & neurotic thoughts
So here I am alive and well! Immediately after surgery I was relieved of that pounding constant arm pain. It was the first time in over a month that I could comfortably lie down in bed without feeling extreme arm pain and electricity shooting through my arm. Despite the cut in my throat and my hip, I was honestly relieved. Not yet a full week later & I am walking like normal and my biggest complaints I have is the pain in my hip if I sneeze or laugh, (talk about “laughing in stitches” – OUCH!) and that fact that I am dying to wash my stinky ragged hair! My voice is almost back to normal, scratchy and raspy at times, but I can swallow just fine. I still can’t feel my index finger but I am told that the nerves are the slowest parts to recover. I am taking steroids, nerve-specific vitamins, & antibiotics and finally feeling fabulous taking zero pain medicine!
There are life-experiences that we go through that really change us. This surgery has struck me with fits of feeling old and decrepit, ugly and disfigured, helpless and needy… yet today and stand tall feeling loved by my friends and family and a proud survivor of what was for me the scariest surgery of my life.
I had a pity-party breakdown upon returning home seeing my neck and hip all scarred up, bruised Frankenstein Style. I cried feeling grotesque and monster-like. But then the sadness turned to empowerment. I envisioned creating a line of fashion-neck-chokers for other women who have undergone ACDF. We need the sporty-day-line of chokers for exercise/day-wear careful not to expose the scar to the sun. Then there is the evening-line of elegant chokers in every fabric and color: pearls and beige-lace, neo-classic black velvet, maybe even something of leather – yet still careful not to dip into the S&M market. My husband tells me my scar makes me that much more desirable and hard-core! Think of all the fun stories I get to come up with to explain how I got that scar on my neck and my hip. Yeah, that one time when I was tight-rope-walking in the Parisian Circus while the baby chinchilla was performing cartwheels on my shoulders and then out-of-nowhere this earthquake shook us down to the ground and I was saved in mid air by the chinchillas pinky finger just barely holding me up by my neck!
Then came the thoughts that my husband is mad because he unknowingly married an old decaying lady who is always in the hospital with some dilapidation issue… yet here he is sleeping by my side in the uncomfortable hospital couch… cutting up my food and feeding me… tying my shoes and being the most loving husband in the whole wide world. He knew all along that I had to have an intense open surgery, but he told me I was coming for a laser simple in-and-out surgery so as not to freak me out.
Day two of recovery in the hospital, I have a tube sticking out of my throat draining blood so that I do not hemorrhage to death and collecting in a little container and IV’s pumping me full of meds. I cannot walk by myself because of the pain where they sliced open my hip and hammered out a slab of bone for my neck. I can barely hold my head straight bc I am afraid my head will fall off… but I gotta pee. My husband helps me up out of bed, which is a huge labor! One foot out, ouch. Slide the right foot to meet the left. Imagine the Zombie Walking Dead, that’s me. At some point my husband thinks its funny to put my arms out to really walk like a Zombie. He says in his horror monster voice, “I am FrankenJJ & I want to eat your Brains! Brains!” It’s the funniest thing in weeks… I am trying not to laugh bc it makes me feel like I am going to bust a stitch, but it’s so funny and it feels good to laugh again!
I realize that I have such loving family members and friends, everyone calling to check on me sending their love and prayers! I love you all so much and appreciate all of your calls and thoughts and prayers! It’s important life experiences such as these that force me to reflect on how absolutely lucky that I am to be alive and healthy! I really love my life, my family, and my friends!
play this animated video to understand the exact procedure:
so what’s next?
My surgeon told me that 70% of people today above age 35 have a c-curve in their neck that is out of alignment. This is caused by reading in bed, watching movies in bed, sitting too long at a computer, constant travel in airlines and modes of transportation. He believes that this combined with degenerating discs over time is what caused my Cervical Herniated Disc. Our society & environment is creating havoc on our bodies.
- I am now working on correcting the C-Curve in my neck by NO MORE reading or looking at my iPad in Bed!
- no Pilates or exaggerated neck movements
- no motor-scooters or modes of transport that cause too much jerky motion
- physical therapy to strengthen my neck and shoulders
- taking it easy
- looking fabulous in neck-chokers