Thursday, July 30, 2009

To Hell and Back Again

Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open. ~B.K.S. Iyengar

Wow! It feels good to be back again. For those of you who didn’t know, I have been laid up for several months. In all truthfulness I have not been myself for over a year. To go back to the beginning of my saga, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was in high school. Never one to let things get in my way, I have always sloughed off certain aches and pains to a bad arthritis day, and moved on, albeit a little slower. Well, for the past year it had become increasingly difficult for me to get through my day without significant pain. Back in February I awoke to stabbing pain under my shoulder. Thinking I slept wrong, I took my ibuprofen like a good girl and began my day. The next morning the pain began down my arm. Within a few weeks I had probably dropped and broken more coffee cups, than I had actually held onto. My left arm was on constant fire and I was beginning to lose feeling in my hand. Thinking I had the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel syndrome, I made an appointment to see my orthopedic Dr. Well he felt an x-ray of my neck was in order. Me being the argumentative patient, I have been known to be, told him no it was Carpal Tunnel. He asked me to just amuse him with the x-ray, so I begrudgingly did. What he saw on my x-ray horrified him. I was not surprised by the results. My neck is curved absolutely wrong. I had seen this before several years ago and no doctor had ever made mention of it except to point out places where osteoporosis had begun to set in. I still was convinced at this point that I had the Carpal Tunnel thing going on and argued this with my doctor. To placate me, he ordered an EMG test along with an MRI of my neck. To give you an idea of what my neck looked like I have found the following pictures. The first is what your neck should look like.

not what my neck looked like.

My neck looked more like this, well not quite like this. The red line shows how badly curved I was. I had no luck finding one quite like mine. Lucky me!

The red line shows where my vertebrae actually were. They were essentially pushing into my spinal column. If they have a phase for where my neck was at I would hazard a guess at phase 3, or more appropriately find that girl some bubble wrap quick!

Again, I was not terribly alarmed by this, because no other doctor had been. Like a good girl I went for my MRI and then a few days later my EMG, which let me tell you, it was a good thing I couldn’t feel much at this point. First they attached little metal electrodes to my wrist, hand and fingers and then brought out a mini stun gun and began shocking me. This was to determine if I was receiving electric stimulus through my nervous system, better known as a nerve conduction test. I watched my fingers move involuntarily and imagined it probably felt like grabbing the electric fence over and over again like a moron.

This is similar to what I went through during the first part of the test.

Once that was over, I became the human pin cushion. Have you ever seen the needle they use for this? Well leave it to me to show it to you.

Believe me when I say that needle is big!

The doctor pointed out where he was going to start, which was basically the side of my neck and work down my arm till he got to my hand where the last two points of insertion would be. I turned my head away and a few minutes later the doctor asked me if I was feeling anything. I stated that it felt like a felt tip pen putting marks on my arm. He made a sound that sounded like disbelief and I looked to see a needle buried into my arm and he pointed to the monitor screen and that it basically showed a flat line. It made me think of the Star Trek line “it’s dead Jim.” The doctor continued with his needle down my arm with very little activity on his screen. When he moved to my right arm, we had a bit more activity, but not much. After the test was over I asked him if he thought it was Carpal Tunnel and he felt it was possible.

Now I had to go home and wait a week for the test results to get back to my doctor, all the while the pain in my arm and shoulder becoming more excruciating. Sleep was near impossible and I was becoming quite short tempered to those who dared be around me. Trying to get my barn chores done took me all day, driving anywhere was unbearable. Riding any of my horses was out of the question. Needless to say I was calling my doctor almost daily for the results. Finally on a Thursday, my doctor called to say I had an appointment with a neurosurgeon the following morning. I asked why and he said the neurosurgeon would tell me. I called Jeff in Indiana and cried to him over the phone. What was going on with my body that I could no longer make function normally?

The next morning I went to see Dr. Conry, the neurosurgeon. He sat me down in his exam room and began to explain all that was wrong with me. He used words like spinal stenosis, which according to the Mayo Clinic is: “a narrowing of one or more areas in your spine — most often in your upper or lower back. This narrowing can put pressure on your spinal cord or on the nerves that branch out from the compressed areas.” Mine was in my neck. I had two herniated discs and a few vertebrae that had seen their better days. I had lost 40 % strength in my left arm due to the C6 and C7 nerve being put under pressure due to my really bad neck curvature. Surgery was my only option and I needed it right away. As Dr. Conry spoke to me about the surgery, I willed my tears to hold back from the flood that was about to come. Would I be able to brush my horses let alone ever ride one again? He could see the fear written on my face and asked if anyone had come with me like my husband. I squeaked out a “no”. He asked if anyone could come to meet me. I again said no and told him Jeff worked three states away. The tears were slipping out of my eyes. I asked him in a whimper if I would be able to ride again, expecting to be chastised for being so greedy. He smiled a warm smile and happily told me yes. I would ride again. He had been having tremendous success with this surgery, and as long as I behaved myself during the recovery I would be riding in no time. He requested that I give up starting any horses though and leave that to the younger generation. He has a daughter who enjoys riding and all too well understood the craziness that is horse people. He did caution me though that I had to be extremely careful in the meantime. One hard tug from a horse was all it would take at this point to paralyze me. He then began to explain the surgery to me. He would remove my herniated discs, clean up my over worked vertebras, attach cadaver bones to the affected areas and then fuse together my C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae with metal. He hoped I would get some strength back in my arm, but was not overly hopeful. So much damage had happened. What I had mistook for arthritis pain the past few years had been my neck. Granted the arthritis had taken its toll, but we are still unsure as to how my neck became this bad. One just has to look back over my past history of klutziness, several car accidents, genetic makeup and just general way of my life and you can come up with a plethora of ways I could have become like this. You have a better chance of me remembering what I was wearing under my cap and gown at my high school graduation. Talking about memory, the other thing that I found out was that my short term memory had been greatly affected, due to my spinal column having so much pressure on it. HA ! IT’S NOT MY FAULT I CAN’T REMEMBER ANYTHING. I had a bona fide reason now. Jeff was not buying it, but he did begin to slowly realize it held merit.

I left his office and walked to my car so suddenly aware that one wrong move could be it. I sat down in my car and began to bawl my eyes out. Neck surgery! Is that not what everyone fears? My prayer up until the day of surgery was that Dr. Conry would not sneeze during surgery with a scalpel in his hand.

May 26th was D-day. I went in to the hospital at 5 in the morning. I was first on the table. I was nervous, terrified and hopeful. Please don’t sneeze was all I kept saying under my breath, and then the “count back from 100 was all I heard. The next memory I had was waking up in the recovery room. I did a quick check of all my limbs. YES! They all worked. Better yet I had absolutely no pain in my shoulder or arm. I had been in pain for so long; I had forgotten what it was like to be in the absence of pain. It was euphoric. I was such a stellar patient, I was released the next morning to go home and begin my 6 weeks of doing absolutely nothing. While that seems tempting and you might even be envious of doing nothing, let me tell you it is not all it is cracked up to be. That was the toughest 6 weeks I have ever endured. I had to give control of my barn and animals over to Jeff and the kids. While I will say they did a fantastic job, it was not me doing it, which means I can do it better. I also read about 10 books, watched every movie I had not had time to before and basically sat staring at the 4 walls around me. Sleep again eluded me due to the not real comfortable cervical collar I was in. I had to turn to a prescription sleeping pill to get some sleep. I tried to remain extremely grateful though. No matter how hard I tried, I did slip into a bit of a depression. I had my little pity party as I watched Morgan ride Romey, envious of her youth and good health. I kept counting down the days till my release. I thought of posting here, but typing for any amount of time in a collar just was not happening. I did get out of baling hay though. That was a good thing. Finally July 7th rolled around and I was able to go get my x-ray. The techs showed me the metal in my neck. I had grown a little alien in there.

Side view of my little alien

I have three of these now in my neck, mine are purple though.

That Thursday, back into Dr. Conry’s office I went to review my x-ray and see if I could get out of my collar. Other than a slight chastising for sweeping my floors in the house, he was more than pleased with my recovery. My neck is still not curved the way it should be, but it is much straighter than what I had. He is concerned about C3 and C4, they are somewhat pressing into my spine and he warned me that in 5-10 years I might have to have those fused as well, but my prognosis was good and I have begun the slow transition back to normal life now pain free. He strength in my arm is slowly retuning which was a surprise to my therapist. Now to just work off those extra pounds I packed on for 6 weeks while doing nothing.

Stay tuned for my catch up posts.


Grey Horse Matters said...

I'm sorry to hear all the pain you had to go through. But the surgery really seemed to help.
My sister has basically the same thing as you do and she is a very hard sell on the surgery. I wish she would just get it and feel better.
Hope you continue to heal and get more use out of your arm. Don't rush the riding though until you are completely healed and feeling better. I've just started riding again after my knee replacement last Sept. I know it's a long time, but I just couldn't be safe, so I waited. You sound like you were in worse shape so take it easy please.
Good luck.

Mrs Mom said...

Your timing is wild- just the other day I was wondering why it was so quiet, and if all was OK there. Glad that the surgery went well, and that you are back and moving around now! Take care, and enjoy not having to deal with that pain!!

Jennifer said...

Holy Holy Cows! I had absolutely no idea. I'm so sorry to read of all you've been through. I figured you'd just given up blogging for , um , the rest of life.

So glad to hear you're improving, and hope you continue to take the doctor's advice. Lazy & bored now are much better than lame & hopeless later, eh?

*gentle hugs & lots of prayers heading your way*
- Jenn & the Boys

SkyBar Farm said...

Thank you guys for your well wishes and concern. It means a lot.

GHM: Hopefully your sister changes her mind. I too know people who need to have the surgery and refuse to do so due to concerns that your having your spinal column worked on. It is very scary stuff. I do not regret one moment of it though. I feel better now than I have in at least 5 years. Good luck with your knee and happy trails to you.

Mrs. Mom: I wanted to post just physically couldn't. Thanks for the well wishes.

Jennifer: No haven't given up blogging, just took an extended break. :) Lame and hopeless id definitely not where I want to be. Thanks!

Adventures of a Horse Crazed Mind said...

Wow! I really dont know what to say but thanks for making me realize how much we should all value our health. That is what I think of when I read stories like yours. I cant imagine being in your shoes, you are so brave! Thank goodness you are able to ride again and enjoy life painfree! Thanks for sharing and I'm so sorry you had to go through that buy happy to hear that you have hope for the future.

Melanie said...

Goodness....I am glad that you are on the mend! What a terrible thing to happen, especially right before the summer months.

My neck has no curve in it, and it causes me quite a bit of pain. Thankfully they have developed an inflatable pillow thingy (I go to physical therapy) that I can use to help put the curve back in it. It lasts for a month or two, and then my arms get numb and tingly, and my migraines come back.
Thankfully ii helps though!

Thanks for sharing this with us, and here's to a speedy recovery! :)

Melanie said...

Oops! I mean to spell "it" not "ii!!"

Wendy said...

The girls and I are so happy to hear you are doing better! M had told me that you just had surgery the day before, and we've been sending prayers and healing thoughts your way! We are so glad to hear you are up and about! We miss you!
The O'Krays