Read&Delete Sticks Its Neck Out

January, 2009


Welcome ladies and gentlemen -- to a land of fusion and confusion, agony and protagony --- a place of metal plates and retaining screws -- and recycled body parts. Submitted for your approval.-- a tale guaranteed to be both spinetingling and jarring to the bone.... Your next stop...... The Trivertibrate Zone.

Our journey began last October, when I discovered one of the limits of my own flexibility by simultaneously bending, twisting and pulling my neck, while balanced upon the top of a stepladder. Yes it was the exact moment when everything clicked out of place. A little later on, two of my fingers went numb, and my left arm went on to demonstrate a veritable plethora of pain choices: burning, pressing, shocking and tiring, among others. A two month foray into various therapies followed, including medication, stimulation, manipulation and intoxication (just kidding!) with little measurable results.  Further diagnostics indicated that several portions of my neck had 'slammed shut' on their neighboring nerve bundles, and that the repair was going to require opening up the whole show and reengineering the works. This is where we left off last time.   After a three week delay due to a bad cold and a tooth extraction, the date with destiny was set. The surgeon made a final pre-op exam to ensure that my bones weren't chicken, and then we went ahead with the grand opening, as scheduled.  On Friday January 23rd, noon, I showed up at the hospital with a nervous smile and a minor case of heebee-jeebees. I went into a pre op room and got into bed, vowing to be the best patient I could be.  By the grace of God, I was able to keep calm and joke politely with everybody I met.

Now quite a lot has happened in the areas of medicine and surgery since the Dark Ages. First, there are many more lawyers involved. Hence, more paperwork- and the cute ritual of the surgeon pre-marking the target area, so that the lawboys could be certain that the sawbones were drilling into the correct neck. They were. Next, the operating room is a crowded place-- and it's hard to tell the players without a program-- so they all came in to meet me--- one at a time- doctor, nurses, anesthesiologist,  technicians,  etc-- each with a big smile and a form to be signed-- a form indicating that I was fully aware possibilities and contingencies involved in their cutting my throat- each person very pleasant, each very helpful, each very informative. I wondered how they could fit all of them-- and me-- into the same operating room. After signing the hospital Magna Carta, another nurse came in and officially broke ground with the first I.V. Then the anesthesiologist injected the first sedation shot, saying, "This one works like a triple martini. It takes the edge right off." Fifteen seconds later, all my bones dissolved, and they had to put the sides up on the bed, to keep me from flowing out onto the floor. They were wheeling me down the hall towards the O.R. when they put the second shot in. The plunger on the syringe was about half-way down when the lights went out..

If you are really squeamish, skip the following section:

The technical name for my surgical procedure is known as C5-C6, C6-C7 cervical fusion, and it entails opening up the front of the neck with a 3 inch horizontal incision at the left base. Then they stick in a microscope to look around. Then the game is to relieve the pressure on the jammed nerves without damaging them  or my windpipe, esophagus, surrounding veins and arteries or vocal chords. The trick is to move everything out of the way without nicking, tearing or disconnecting any of the above, then grinding off edges of vertebrae and disks mechanically (sucking out the crumbs while doing so), and making room for a titanium metal plate to be fitted into the front of the neck.  Just before the plate is fitted, new bone paste is inserted into the gaps made by the removed disks. (I am not going to tell you where this 'new' paste comes from- but the word 'recycled' would be a better description).  This paste is what actually fuses the neck bones together, so that the metal plate (with its six 14mm long screws) is only to provide extra support during the healing process-- along with setting off most metal detectors in airports around the world. Then, after they push the rest of the parts back into their places -- and account for their jewelry and tools----  they stitch up the hole, disconnect the Anesthesia hoses and run me off to recovery in a hard plastic cervical collar.  The whole job takes about 3 hours on the operating table- excluding our smoking breaks.

Squeamish here:

Then, while I am in the magic sleep, the Good Fairy descends from her Gingerbread Castle in the Cotton Candy Clouds, and waves her magic Peppermint Stick wand over my neck as her elves and gollywobbles surround my bed, dancing and singing their enchanted song.  When the dance is over, the Fairy Princess kisses me on the lips, sprinkles her magic dust on me and my neck is miraculously healed.
As far as I can tell, it could have happened either way.

I woke up in the recovery room, and for about 20 minutes, the picture was a little fuzzy and the vertical hold was out of adjustment. I had no trouble
talking, and even though my neck was in the hard collar, I was in no pain.  I was put in a room overnight for observation, and was able to eat a meal within 4 hours of coming out of the anesthetic. The doctors and nurses seemed to be pretty well impressed with my attitude.  I was released just before 1 PM on Saturday.

After spending a week stuck in the hard collar (under house arrest, as it were-- because I was not allowed to drive) I was given a softer collar and allowed to rejoin humanity.  Since the operation, I have felt little or no pain in my arm, but one of my fingers is still pretty much numb.  This was expected, and should be solved when I start physical therapy in three weeks.

I can hardly wait for the bill.