Sorry it’s taken me so long to complete a post-op update. I’ve been disappointed and discouraged with the outcome of my neck surgery. I went into surgery with peace and confidence, but as soon as I came out of the anesthesia my heart was palpitating and I felt anything but peace. I was in a place darkness, fear, doubt, and despair. However, this cloud of disappointment and despair is finally lifting. Therefore, I am finally able to put my struggles, thoughts and pain into writing.
On November 9th, my parents and I checked into a hotel that was part of St. Joseph Mercy hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The next day I was scheduled to have surgery on my neck. An anterior cervical discectomy (decompression) and fusion (ACDF) on the C6-T1. I was on the gurney with the port already placed in my right arm by the anesthesiologist, when I handed the surgeon a sheet of paper with questions on it. I received an answer to one of my questions that I was completely unprepared for.
My question was whether after surgery I’d be able to resume Meloxicam (an anti-inflammatory) with an 81 mg Aspirin, instead just Aspirin because in early October my mom had discovered that a 325 Aspirin and Meloxicam shouldn’t be taken together as they are both blood thinners. Despite my objections, my parents put me solely on Aspirin, and the longer I was off of the Meloxicam, the more the pain increased. However, I surrendered my objections, knowing that for two weeks leading up to surgery I’d have to be off all blood thinning medications. Anyway, that morning, after I had asked my question, the surgeon revealed that I wouldn’t be able to take any anti-inflammatory drugs for 6 months.
Six months! Had I known that I seriously doubt that I would have had surgery. However, ready to be taken to surgery, I felt that it was too late to opt out. As I wrote above, I was unprepared for this knowledge. Ever since surgery, I’ve been struggling with regret, fear, doubt, discouragement, and lots of questions. I’ve been advised not to share these. But as I read through the Psalms, they often reflect the Psalmist’s struggle to reconcile what He knows to be true about God, with his circumstances and the flood of emotions that arose with those circumstances. So like the Psalmist, I am choosing to be real, transparent and vulnerable.
Circling back, after the operation, I came to in a hospital room with my parents looking on. Later, my sisters Laurie and Nicole would visit me. The first thing I noticed after waking from the anesthesia, to my disappointment, was that my right hand was more crippled than before. However, the numbness that I once felt in my hand was gone. I was unable to urinate after an initial void, more like a dribble that measured 50 cc. The nurses straight cathed me once and after not being able to urinate again, inserted a Foley catheter.
After the anesthesia wore off I experienced the worst pain in my upper back. It was like I had pulled every muscle. As a result, I could hardly move. It was difficult to get a fork to my mouth and even the special cup I use for drinking was too heavy to lift to my mouth. Fortunately, at the hospital, they had this device that the nurses called the “ice machine.” They were able to place it under my upper back to ease and take my mind off the muscle pain in my back. I was able to keep the “ice machine” on all night since it basically just circulated cold water.
I did not sleep at all that first night. However, around 3 am, I noticed that my breathing was shallow and labored. So I told the cute and attentive nurse tech Morgan that I felt like I had or was getting pneumonia. She took my temperature and I didn’t have a fever, but I know my body. The next day, they took blood from my port for a test, and took me down for chest x-rays. Sure enough, not only did I have pneumonia. I had a double pneumonia, that is, pneumonia in both lungs. Therefore, what was supposed to be a one-day stay at the hospital turned into five. The friendly nurses and nurse techs made my stay bearable, and kept my mind off my situation.
As a result of the method of surgery, wherein they went through the front of my neck having to move stuff around to get to my cervical spine, my throat was very sore and swollen. This made it difficult to eat and drink. I could only take very small bites of food and tiny sips to drink. It took me over two hours to finish breakfast that first morning. My dad joked that by the time I finished, it’d be lunch.
They removed the Foley catheter the day after it had been inserted, and thankfully, I was able to urinate. Up until the moment I was about to be discharged that is. Because I had difficulty with having a bowel movement earlier that morning, due to the pain medication, I was unable to urinate again. The nurse was ready to straight cath me when my dad suggested a Foley cath so he wouldn’t have to take me to the emergency room in the case that I was unable to urinate when we got home. I didn’t object because the pain that comes with not being able to urinate far outweighs the discomfort of a Foley cath. I had to wait until Monday before I was able get into the urologist to get the cath out and hallelujah, I could urinate again.
The ride home was traumatic, with the pain in my back being the foremost of the trauma. When we got home, I had my mom give me a couple Norco, my pain killer, and went straight to bed. It was shortly after 9. For more than a week, sleeping in my own bed was less comfortable than the hospital bed because I didn’t have an “ice machine.”
The day after I got home, I noticed that the numbness was beginning to return to my right hand. Every morning, while at the hospital, the surgeon and his team would ask me if I had any numbness in my right hand. I’d report in the negative, thinking this was good. I didn’t know that it was common for numbness to return after this type of surgery. However, I thought it odd that the numbness took 6 days to return.
I was experiencing a host of other sensations; nerve pain in both hands and burning in both arms. After faxing a letter with my symptoms and concerns, the surgeon’s secretary called and reported that the doctor said that it was normal to feel different sensations. Still, to be honest, I was convinced that my cord was still compressed.
On November 30th, I got carried away while doing isometric exercises with my sister Laurie. When pain in what I thought was fusion site began, I thought for sure that I had done something to harm it. Therefore, I had my post-op checkup moved up a week, from December 11th to December 7th. At that time, they took x-rays of my neck and fortunately, the fusion was intact. The surgeon indicated that the pain that I was feeling was below the fusion. He then suggested I see the senior surgeon to help with my doubts and fears. He also wrote a script for an EMG (i.e. a nerve test) on my right arm and hand.
The earliest we were able to see the senior surgeon was January 11th. Since it takes a couple hours to get there from Port Huron, we scheduled the EMG at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital for the same day, to be done before the appointment with the senior surgeon. On that day, I knew the EMG didn’t go well because I couldn’t feel the shocks in my right hand. Even with the machine turned up to 100!
Afterward, I have the appointment with the senior surgeon and he tells me that I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Of course, being a surgeon, he recommended surgery. At this point, I had become dead set against any more surgery. However, I said nothing. Meanwhile, I found it odd that I’d just up and develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome two months after surgery that was meant to deal with the nerves in my hands. According to the EMG report, I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, as well as Ulnar nerve damage. After doing some research, I discovered that the surgery the senior surgeon was recommending was not for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome is Carpal Tunnel’s more wicked cousin!
As I previously stated I found it odd that I developed these maladies in my hand so quickly. I had a EMG performed on me last summer, in June and it showed no sign of either of these. Yet, two months after surgery I suddenly have both? My right hand seems to be getting more crippled, with muscle atrophy in the webbing between my thumb and forefinger, and more difficulty using it. I’m also having symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome in my left arm and hand.
Anyway, without the distraction of the nurses, over the weeks, my mind became the devil’s playground. Doubt, regret and fear dominated my thoughts and emotions. I felt Godforsaken. I had major regrets regarding the surgery, and was focused on the small things that I missed or ignored in opting for surgery. I never doubted the goodness of God, as if His goodness depended on my circumstances. Instead, I started to doubt and question myself.
Did I thoroughly seek the Lord’s will concerning surgery? I definitely sought His blessing, but had I presumed that surgery was right for me? God knows, once I set a course for something, I’m hard to dissuade. I was assaulted with fear and anxiety about what I just put myself through and how it might affect the rest of my life. I was already disabled prior to surgery, would this make me worse? Along with a host of toxic thoughts.
By the grace of God, and with the continued prayers of others, I steadily began to overcome these toxic thoughts. Once I regained my foothold on the finished work of Christ, and the fact that God has promised to work all things for my good (cf. Romans 8:28), I learned to take that regret and turn into anticipation to see how God will use this for my good and His glory. I began to surrender my doubt and fear, to see faith and confidence renewed. I am still on this journey and while I find it easy to fall back into the regret, fear and doubt, I know that in Christ and by His finished work, I have overcome (cf. 1 John 5:5).
Good Lord willing, I’ll be able to give another update in a couple months.