Some answers and some treatment
I underwent MRI scanning of my head and neck in January 2012 at my local hospital, so already it was 9 months since the initial symptoms started. The MRI was a noisy, hot, claustrophobic machine. Fortunately, I was aware of what to expect from the MRI scan, so I didn’t feel too intimidated or anxious about being scanned. I was able to listen to a favourite CD during the procedure & the time passed by relatively quickly.
February arrived & I returned to see the neurologist for my results. The news was that I had a significant spinal cord compression due to a large prolapsed intervertebral disc, particularly on the left at the C6/C7 level. My radiculopathy was due to the nerve root that supplied my arm & thumb side of my hand was being squashed, hence the pain & weird sensations I was experiencing. The neurologist informed me that I needed referring to the Spinal Care Team at the nearest regional neurosurgical unit.
In the meantime, I was signed off work by my GP and was advised to watch out for any sudden changes of walking, bladder or bowel habit, which might indicate a neurological medical emergency. I was prescribed Amitriptyline for neurogenic pain in my arm which helped a little.
I kept going as best as I could, but it became more & more difficult. I felt stiff, clumsy and permanently tired. I walked with a wide, stiff-legged gait. I was in increasing discomfort. I was frightened of falling lest it caused further damage or even paralysis.
June arrived and I was seen by one of the Neurosurgeons at the Neurosurgical Unit. I was shown my MRI scan and was given a diagnosis of Classical Cervical Myelopathy, because the prolapsed disc had severely compressed and compromised my spinal cord. I was offered an ACDF the very next day due to a cancellation, but because I had to put my home affairs in order and because the deadline for my final paper on my degree module was imminent, I had to decline.
I was advised that if I did not have the operation, I would progressively become more paralysed. I was also advised that if I fell, due to the severity of the compression, that it would be “curtains” for me. I was also advised that the surgery itself could possibly result in further paralysis, but as far as I was concerned it was a risk worth taking, given that if I didn’t have the operation, neurologically, I would continue to deteriorate
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Because of the waiting list, I was not listed for surgery until September 2012. The wait was agony as I was constantly frightened of falling. On attending preoperative assessment, I was diagnosed with hypertension & was obliged to commence antihypertensive medication as prescribed by my GP before undergoing the operation.
I underwent a C6/C7 ACDF on 12th September 2012 – one year, four months after the start of my symptoms. I was an inpatient on the neurosurgical ward overnight. I had a small scar approximately 2 inches long at the right side of my neck in the lower crease, so it was neatly done. The wound had been closed via a continuous soluble stich, overdressed with steristrips and I had a small drain exiting from the wound. I was bruised and I was sore. My voice was hoarse and croaky & swallowing liquids and solids hurt initially, but this soon passed.
What was immediately evident is that the radiculopathy pain in my left arm had improved dramatically. I was over the moon. Apart from some intravenous tramadol that I had had in post-op recovery because my shoulder was painful, I didn’t require any other opiate analgesia at all during my stay. The drain was removed the day after the operation. I had a post-operative check X-ray performed to ensure the cage & plate used in the ACDF were still in place and once I had been assessed by the ward physiotherapists, I was discharged home with a sheet of post-op neck exercises, advised to remove the steristrips on my neck after a week, told not to drive or lift anything heavier than a kettle or a pint of milk for 6 weeks after the operation.