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Some thoughts about surgery

Neck of Steel CindyNNeck of Steel Cindy Posts: 1,064
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:30 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I have contemplated making this post for quite some time, and hope that I word things in a way that conveys my thoughts accurately.

It seems that more and more I am seeing posts urging people to hurry up and have surgery, or the flip side is stay away from surgery at all costs. I feel it necessary to write my thoughts here which fall somewhere in the middle of those scenarios.

If a person breaks a leg in multiple places and surgery is needed to set it, this is a no brainer. If someone's appendix is rupturing and surgery is needed to save their life, again it is a no brainer to head to the OR. Spine surgery is not quite so easy.

Many times I see it written that a person is encouraged to have surgery now to avoid having permanent nerve damage or to avoid paralysis. Clearly when one's doctor tells them this, one should take it very seriously and a 2nd opinion should be sought to confirm that diagnosis. It should be no surprise that some doctors are knife happy, while others are conservative. Unfortunately medicine is a business, and it is our job as patients to find doctors who are in that business who use good practice ethics. Anyway, not to be wordy or placating, just had to preface this next part so you would better understand what I am trying to say.

Prior to having my first ACDF I had multiple other non-spine related surgeries. With those surgeries it was only a matter of time before making a full recovery and getting back to my normal life. So when my life was interrupted by radicular pain and weakness caused from my neck, I was not at all hesitant to have the surgery to fix it. I asked a few questions and said lets do it. My insurance did require a 2nd opinion who agreed that it would be helpful, but he did not say it was necessary. So I basically hopped on that operating table not knowing the risks and thinking that I would awaken and be super human and go back to work a week or two later. I did it after a full open complete hysterectomy, how much harder would a simple 2 inch incision be to recover from, right? Wrong!!!!

Spine surgery is very risky, and I am proof of how quickly things can go wrong and one's life can be changed. I am not anti-surgery, because I know that surgery is necessary in many instances, as it was in my case. However I do think every one of us needs to think long and hard before we have "elective" spine surgery. There are NO guarantees that it will relieve our pain. There may be a .01% risk that something bad will happen, but believe me, if that .01% happens to you, it may as well have been 100%. Also, often when one chooses to go ahead with the surgery to avoid nerve damage, they may very well end up with those same nerves they are trying to protect being damaged by teh surgery itself.

I guess the reason I make this post is because so many people seem to think surgery is the golden solution, when that isn't always the case. Am I sorry I had surgery? No, because I know I couldn't go on the way I was. but I am sorry for taking that decision so lightly and not researching more. There are things i would have done differently, like only having 2 levels done at the same time and rather than doing the third one just "so we don't have to go back in again." or using my own bone rather than cadaver bone. Or checking into the history of the facility and physicians where I had the procedure done. And making certain I had the best neuro-monitoring equipment and technicians on board during my procedure.

Please everyone, just be careful when making such an important decision. We only have one spine. My life will never be the same, and w hile I am finally coming to terms with it, I have to wonder if the results may have been different if I had chosen differently.


Surviving chronic pain one day at a time, praying for a reprieve because living another 40 years like this doesn't sound too fun!


  • it was as though i wrote your post myself.
    i too had the same attitude and jumped on the table and had part of the neck cut like a piece of pie and clamped back to raise my head and view of the world.
    i can see clearly now but i can barely use my hands. what a tradeoff.
    you are so right there is a middle ground, and there is no place for rigid attidudes, only rigid necks.
    hind sight is always 20/20 but i still am not clear if it was a good or bad decision to have surgery. without a second opinion, i made a mistake.
  • Well said, Cindy.

    I think the major mistake many people make is in thinking they will be restored to the way they were prior to the injury or onset of pain...that surgery will "fix it" and they'll be "good as new."

    However, once you have spine surgery, you are NEVER the same.
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,836
    your own personal experience, but you also make it clear that Spinal Surgery is not something that is taken lightly.
    Any time you have a surgical procedure done there are risks.
    That could be as routine as a Colonoscopy to an ingrown toenail. Everything has its risks. Spinal surgery is no different and in fact is much more complicated. Surgery to the spine has become so common over the past 5-10 years, but it is still something that you need to rationalize. You should always look at the Pros and Cons of Having surgery or Not having surgery.
    Many people believe that once the have spinal surgery, their problems will disappear. And we have others that decide not to have surgery and that things will heal otherwise.
    Each situation is different and everyone needs to fully understand what will happen with or without surgery.
    Cindy, I applaud your post, because from your own experience, it is something that everyone should consider.
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • RangerRRanger on da rangePosts: 805
    Hey Cindy & friends,
    This post definitely raises some interesting questions and thoughts. I've thought about how I was diagnosed, asked a lot of questions, signed the dotted line, and had my spinal surgeries without any second opinion, ever.
    Was that a smart move? Probably not.
    Do I think I could have done better seeking another surgeon? Probably not. Would I be better off electing not to have any of my spinal surgeries? Most definitely not! Time was a factor to avoid the possibility of paralysis.
    Now, would any other surgeon even want to touch my spine at this point?
    I'd would say the answer would be probably to most definitely not! And I totally understand why.
    I have this mindset to never look back, never second guess the choice I have made because what is done is done and I have to make the best of what I have. I admit, sometimes I "shoot from the hip" on my decision making, but what the heck, it keeps my life interesting!
    Good post Cindy, I hope nobody takes offense to my posting here. It's just my opinion for what it is worth. Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. ;-)

  • RangerRRanger on da rangePosts: 805

    Ooop's, another double!

  • Ranger, of course I'm not offended by what you wrote. I don't see why others would either.

    One of my sayings on a board is "It is what it is until it isn't." That is basically what you are saying.

    Ranger, my purpose of this thread is not necessarily to look back on it and say I wish I had done things differently, but rather to point out to all who are facing surgery that spine surgery is not like getting your appendix out. Take it seriously. Get 2nd opinions, not to disagree with what your first surgeon says, but to confirm what he is telling you is the proper treatment. If someone says you have to have surgery now to avoid permanent nerve damage or paralysis, find out if another doctor says the same thing. This is your spine. You only have one. We all need to do our best with what we are given and please just check out all your options. If it ends up being surgery, then great, find a wonderfully quallified surgeon and do it. That is basically teh points I wanted to make with this thread. Thanks for posting ranger.
    Surviving chronic pain one day at a time, praying for a reprieve because living another 40 years like this doesn't sound too fun!
  • Wow, what a great post. You are so right - our spine issues are nothing to take lightly and we only have one so make sure you take the best care of it.

    Like Gwennie said - once you have spine surger you'll never be the same.

    Thank you for posting this. Your words are so well thoughtout and touching. If only we could turn back time - but we can't so make this time count.

  • Cindy,
    You brought out some great things to think about if one is needing surgery. In my case I didn't have the option of getting a second opinion, unless you count that my OS sent my mri to the NS and they both said the same thing, surgery now or you will not walk out of the hospital. So if you have the time a second opinion would be a good ideal. I also asked them after the first surgery why didn't you fix everything while you were in there? My OS told us that he only does 2 levels at a time due to making things unstable and probably cause a failure. If you have the time don't be afraid to ask questions about why they are doing this or that,it is your spine. Thanks for the post.

  • I had an appendectomy 21 years ago and woke up from surgery feeling 100 times better than when I had gone in. My recovery was excellent (a little bit slower than normal since I was 6 months pregnant) with no residual issues. That was my only personal reference to surgery and recovery. For some reason I expected the same after my ACDF and that belief was confirmed by other people posting how great they felt just days and weeks after surgery. I learned the hard way that you shouldn't believe everything you read on these forums. What applies to some people may not (and probably won't) apply to you.

    I've said this many times before; read, read, and then read some more so you can educate yourself on every aspect of your condition, anatomy, your options, your surgeon, the various procedures and your recovery.

  • I hope you are doing well. haven't seen you around for a while.

    I love your quote in your signature line.

    Surviving chronic pain one day at a time, praying for a reprieve because living another 40 years like this doesn't sound too fun!
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