I’m referring to me, of course. I have no real pain in the neck (or shoulder, arm, or hand), anymore.
Two weeks post-op. My son’s as hopeful as I am about the possibility of my not needing a chauffeur much longer. I’m going a little stir-crazy, and he can’t always be getting up to shenanigans at my behest.
I’m ready to shed the peeling mess of Steri-Strips and the stitch, or stitches, that are now poking out, trying to catch on sweaters and stray fingers.
I might be smiling just a little too convincingly, here… but the good drugs have left the building, and there’s nothing between me and this “pain in the neck” other than caffeine. I can’t take Advil (or any other NSAIDs) for four months, as it supposedly interferes with bone healing. We can’t have that. There’s no discomfort, at this point, that merits heavy artillery. (I’d be lying if I said “There’s no discomfort at all.” But it’s more of a persistent tension headache, a little tightness between the shoulder-blades, a bit of residual nerve tingling in my arm and hand – the sort of discomfort a couple of Advil could deal nicely with, if allowed.)
My son brings his Physics homework and sets up a study spot in the waiting room at Advanced Orthopædics and Sports Medicine. I wait to be called back for follow-up X-rays and a verdict on work and driving. Technically, I’ve already returned to work – two days after surgery – since I’ve been working from home and my job involves nothing more strenuous than computer use, conference calls, and periodically detaching my stress-attached shoulders from my earlobes. After talking with Dr. Cubbage, it’s agreed that the latter is an excellent use-case for wearing the cervical collar.
Karen removes the Steri-Strips and then the single, long stitch I’ve imagined holding my head on for the past two weeks. Ouch – that stings! But I am glad to be rid of it all; it feels freer and the stinging only lasts a few seconds. The incision’s still a bit puffy and feels slightly bruised.
There’s so little discomfort, so little restriction of movement, that my husband’s been telling me about placebo or “sham surgery” trials on arthroscopic knee surgery and teasing me that maybe the whole thing was in my head. I jokingly question Dr. Cubbage as to whether he did anything at all, beyond cutting open my neck. He just smiles and shows me my latest X-ray:
I know that it’s mine. I recognize the dental crowns and fillings. The hardware, here, is new. That C-shaped bit is the fusion; just below that, the little sandwich thing, is the Mobi-C artificial disc. I’m a little impressed, now. That’s pretty cool!
And I am cleared to drive! I’m not to wear the collar while driving. Given the awkwardness of that thing, I consider moonlighting as an Uber driver. Taking very long, hot showers (another place where I’m officially not to wear the collar) has become a thing. I long to sleep in a bed, but that is not entirely comfortable, yet – and I can’t decide if the collar helps, or hurts. I’ve tried substituting a king-sized pillow, wrapped around my head, instead. The jury’s still out on this. My tailbone tells me that it will soon force a decision, as I cannot sleep in a recliner forever.
I go back in eight weeks, and we’ll talk about physical therapy then.
I tell my son the good news, and wait for him to finish the last couple of Physics problems on his homework. Grinning, he hands me the keys to his car so that I can drive us home. I need to measure my height. I’d lost half an inch, over the past decade or so. Ducking into the car, it strikes me that I have to bend more to avoid smacking my head on the top of the door frame. Have I regained that half an inch? I suppose it could just be slightly reduced mobility due to the fusion; I’ve discovered that the one thing I cannot do, anymore, is hold a pair of pants or a towel with my chin to fold it. I suppose I could, if I opened my mouth very wide and risked drooling on the laundry.
My son heads off to class.
I decide to celebrate with lunch out and an afternoon at the office. The office I just got back this month, after it was partially destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. It’s good to see everyone. I’m cheating, a little, though – my backpack weighs in at 12.99 lbs., and I’m not supposed to lift more than 10 lbs. I might work mostly from home, a little while longer, unless I want to use the wheeled case I got after breast cancer surgery. On the other hand… if I can ditch the external power brick, and obtain another from the lab to simply leave in the office…
I feel like I’m back in Boy Scouts, learning how to minimize the weight of a backpack for a week-long camping trip in the back country.
Working from the office now feels like a novelty, not a chore. It’s good to see everyone.
I’m exhausted. I have to remind myself it’s still just two weeks post-op, and I’m ready to head home by 6 PM. I’ll log in again, after dinner. I’ve still got a few things I want to accomplish before calling it a day, but I can do them in bare feet.
Learning to trust the fusion and artificial disc – to believe bones won’t crumble or that screws and artificial discs won’t just slip out of place, and that my head’s not going to fall off. In other words, a mostly irrational fear. Then again, I watched a screw in my grandmother’s elbow work its way back out after surgery to repair a Monteggia fracture; she and I traveled to Egypt with that thing poking out, and her wrapping it in an Ace Bandage to be sure it wouldn’t get lost before she could have a follow-up with her surgeon to remove it completely.
In other news, I joined AARP. I’m debating, now: Should I celebrate my birthday at Fogo de Chão, or at Denny’s with the earlybird special?
Now that I can drive, I can once again go to Toastmasters on Wednesdays. Our club has just started the new Pathways program, so we all get to do our “Icebreaker speech” over again. For some reason, this makes me laugh. It’s like learning a new programming language:
Pretty soon, you start to imagine the world groaning, “Oh, God, not another programming language.”
I stop by my favorite little Chinese hole-in-the-wall, Egg Rolls, on the way home. This is the half-baked fortune, curled up inside my cookie. My reaction: “Doesn’t everybody?”
Still, it serves as a reminder; I order more books from Amazon – paperbacks, not eBooks or audiobooks – and lose myself in the pleasures of reading, for a while. I’ll tell you about them, soon.
I’ve got a new theory: Doctors don’t hate Google, nor do they hate patients who take a proactive interest in their health and medical conditions. They don’t think we’re stupid, necessarily, but they rightfully question our ability to discern the value in sources. What they dread dealing with are patients who couldn’t tell a primary source from a tabloid newspaper, or an expert opinion from anecdotal evidence. Also, any time you’re dealing with a serious medical issue, you’re dealing with your own unique situation. You aren’t dealing with someone else’s complications or lifestyle or attitudes. My first OB/GYN pointed this out thirty years ago, before the advent of the Internet, and reminded me that together, we would work to craft and bring about the kind of birth experience that was right for me and my pregnancy – not one that was designed for someone else.
It’s easy to forget that, as you peruse myriad Internet forums on cancer or spinal problems and try to discern drama from serious concerns. Beware the forums; helpful as most people try to be, others can craft nightmares that will keep you up needlessly at night. I’m so thankful for my new friend, Cathy, for being just a few days ahead of me on a similar surgical track – she has checked in with me daily to give me a realistic idea of what to expect, shared practical tips, and asked about my progress. Finding one person with a similar outlook on life, going through a similar situation, is a hundred times better than all the forums in the world.