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!