The journey to neck surgery in Ann Arbor

In my last update, posted on August 11th, I discussed some of the problems I’ve been having with my neck and how two doctors had recommended surgery. Even though I was initially reluctant to undergo surgery, I was exploring the option. I wrote that I was going to go to a doctor in Troy, Michigan because it was closer in proximity. After much thought and prayer, instead I opted to go to the Ann Arbor Spine Center because rather than just one surgeon, they have a team of 6, and theirs was actually the first site to come up when I searched artificial disc replacement (ADR) in Michigan. As I explained in my last post, if I needed surgery, I was hoping to avoid fusion because I’d heard horror stories about it.

I went to the Ann Arbor Spine Center on August 31st and had a consultation with Dr. Issawi. After looking at my MRI and explaining that I was not a candidate for ADR, he confirmed what I had already determined through my own research, that I had cervical stenosis with myelopathy. Cervical stenosis occurs when the neck’s protective spinal canal narrows due to degenerative changes or trauma. In my case, it is likely trauma from the crash, or a combination of the two. If the space within the spinal canal is reduced too much, neurologic deficits can result from spinal cord compression, a condition called myelopathy. Symptoms of myelopathy include pain, numbness, weakness, and/or loss of coordination in one or more limbs. Weakness, numbness and coordination problems in my right hand were the initial symptoms I experienced back in March.

Dr. Issawi explained that since I was a unique case, with my traumatic brain injury (TBI), he was going bring my case before conference, that is, confer with his colleagues, in about ten days. At that point I was still adverse to surgery and may have down played my symptoms during the consultation, hoping to avoid it.

So I wasn’t really concerned when the ten days came and went. However, on Friday September 8th, after a workout at the gym, it felt like I had blown my triceps out. They were both aching and burning, and it wasn’t a good ache and burn. It was unlike anything I’d felt before, and I work out quite frequently. To make matters worse, the next Tuesday I leaned heavily on my left elbow for a stretch and later that night I noticed pain in my left shoulder. I didn’t know if any of this was related to my neck. However, I was beginning to become concerned.

Then on Monday, September 18th, while sitting with my shirt off, my dad noticed that my shoulder didn’t look right. I had an appointment made to see Dr. Makim, with the Port Huron Orthopedic Associates for the next day. He confirmed that I had a low grade separation in my left shoulder and advised me to take it easy with that arm/shoulder and it should heal itself.

At this point, I was starting to get impatient and frustrated with Dr. Issawi. With my speech impairment, I’m not comfortable on the phone. Therefore, I had my mom call his secretary and express my frustration. She said that the surgeons were having difficulty coming together for conference, and if even one surgeon is missing, they can’t hold a conference. However, the secretary said that the doctor would call me Wednesday or Thursday. That was the 20th and 21st of September. The days came and went with no call. The next week, my mom called and same story, Wednesday or Thursday the doctor will call. Again the 27 and 28th, no call. I felt like I was getting the run around and began questioning the wisdom of my decision.

Finally, on Thursday, October 5th, we got a call from the doctor. He tried to express his own frustration, saying that he was trying to track down his colleagues one by one, for their opinion on my case. He said he’d received various opinions from fusing from C3-T4 with a ten day hospital stay, to doing nothing at all. Dr. Issawi said that beyond his colleagues, which he was still having difficulty consulting, he also wanted to consult a rehab doctor. In the meantime, he ordered an epidural to help me cope with the pain. The epidural was scheduled for October 13th. While waiting for the epidural, I began to notice unsavory changes in my right hand. It seemed to be getting more crippled. I also began experiencing sensory changes in my right hand. It’d been numb since March 25th, but now I was experiencing a burning sensation. So I had my mom call and make an appointment with the doctor on October 19th. I had the epidural on the 13th and had absolutely no relief from the pain in my neck that was now getting worse.

On October 18th, the day before my appointment with Dr. Issawi, I came across the following online; “Myelopathy occurs from spinal stenosis that causes pressure on the spinal cord. If untreated, this can lead to significant and permanent nerve damage including paralysis and death. It can impinge nerve roots and cause pain, weakness, or sensory changes in either your arms or legs.”

After reading this, I was unnerved and pretty much demanded surgery in a letter I wrote to Dr. Issawi for the October 19th appointment. An aside, with my speech impairment, I’ve grown accustomed to writing letters when visiting most doctors.  Apparently, Dr. Issawi had finally spoken with all his colleagues and they suggested that he focus on the discs causing the stenosis. Anyway, he proposed performing an anterior decompression and fusion on my C6-T1, with a one day stay in the hospital. Anterior means that he will be going through the front, off to the right of my neck. Decompression and fusion is an intrusive surgery.

I am scheduled to undergo this procedure on November 10th, and slated to return for a post-op on December 14th. Your prayers are greatly appreciated!  As for me I am holding on to Psalm 119:107; “I am exceedingly afflicted; revive me, O Lord, according to Your word.”