Health & Wellness

Update on This Pain in the Neck

18 Feb , 2018  

I’m referring to me, of course. I have no real pain in the neck (or shoulder, arm, or hand), anymore.

Would You Let This Woman Drive?

Showered, Caffeinated, Ready to Hit the Road!

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.

To Work from Home, or Not to Work from Home?

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.

What’s Been the Biggest Challenge, So Far?

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:

“Hello, World!”

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.

Why Do Doctors Hate Google?

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.

Practice discernment.

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21 Responses

  1. Anklebuster says:

    Howdy! Nice to read these encouraging words of healing, adapting (No chin folding? Wow! The things we take for granted!) and returning to normalcy.

    Your stories and recollections are heartwarming. Keep on smiling.



    • “No chin folding? Wow! The things we take for granted!” RIGHT? It’s also extremely challenging to mine for belly-button lint. But life goes on, and I’m pretty sure I could rig an adaptive device out of a dental mirror and a magnifying glass. 🙂

      I’m smiling? No, YOU’RE smiling! (At least, I hope you are!)

      • Anklebuster says:

        Of course I’m smiling! How can I not, with your cheery countenance on my screen? I would think the warm showers would obviate the need for such a collector…



        p.s. Apropos of nothing, I keep pressing CTRL+ENTER on this blog. Gmail muscle-memory.

      • While I wrote tonight’s latest post in response to the latest from our friend Mitch M., I’m betting you’ll be first to decipher at least one of the additional challenges I tossed back when I say that I saw his, and raised him two. One is too obvious; it’s the other, of course, that I refer to.

        Hahahah… well, I’m in the habit of SHIFT+ENTER and CTRL+ENTER. I understand, completely!

      • Anklebuster says:

        Perhaps it’s plainly Villanelle
        and “villainous” is challenge two.
        But knowing you I just can’t tell!

        Could cadence be the second bell?
        You mixed it in a wordy stew.
        Perhaps it’s not just Villanelle

        You also mentioned those who spell
        five syllables where one would do.
        But knowing you I just can’t tell!

        This hidden clue will start to smell
        like death of prose in purple hue.
        Perhaps it’s plainly Villanelle

        Ah! Self-imposed! What doth compel?
        Should I give up or see it through?
        But knowing you I just can’t tell!

        This gauntlet you have thrown so well
        has hurt my head and eyeballs too.
        Perhaps it’s plainly Villanelle
        But knowing you I just can’t tell!

      • I wish I could give this one 10 stars!

  2. I am incredibly impressed. You’ve no idea how much I hate writing that form, and you’ve made it look easy. You took on what I thought would be the harder of the two, and it’s…wow.

    It’s also not so plainly Villanelle; there IS of course, a second bell.

    • Anklebuster says:

      Thank you, Holly. It was the opposite of easy. The head and eyes hurt, now. LOL Not just due to my attempts to decipher your hidden message, but eschewing that cumbersome iambic pentameter in lieu of my favorite iambic tetrameter.

      The whole exercise reminded me of my time on

      So, what IS the second glove?



      • The rhythm is no problem for me, but the repetition – and finding ways to weave it into each verse without just being merely repetitive – is the challenge of that form, for me.

        Hahaha… I’ll email you a HINT to the second glove. You could consider the italics a sort of boundary – those paragraphs are not part of it. In between, it’s the prose version of another poetic form near the opposite end of the alphabet. Perhaps that’s enough of a clue to get the idea across?

      • Anklebuster says:

        Holly, as I mentioned in the other thread, your clue was on point. I enjoyed seeing it revealed.



      • Thank you! It was more challenging than I’d thought it would be, and I am inordinately pleased that you did not disappoint me – you found them both! (And revealed to me another hidden gem… I will be consulting with you on that other matter, no doubt!) I’m still just so impressed with your poetic skills. (It took me the better part of a day to come up with my first, and then I wrote one basically mocking the form and sneering at it just to get it out of my system, then never wrote another.) We should do an online poetry slam, some day. That’d be fun.

      • Anklebuster says:

        Poetry slam 🙂
        Okay, I’m game.

        As for villanelles, I totally get why you look askance at them. I went looking for alternatives to the definitive representative and found weirdness. It was as if other folks did not want to repeat the refrains.

        I figured, if it was good enough for Dylan, it’s good enough for me. LOL



      • Here’s the first one I wrote (with minor revisions – the title is “Amusement Park II”):

        A vibrant world of light and color, wild rides whose structures gleam!
        On the tainted shores of Erie, life was carefree, full of joy –
        Now it just seems tawdry, tarnished echoes of a tattered dream.

        The rollercoaster ratchets up; hear the children’s happy scream
        As it plummets to the water’s edge, a shiny metal toy.
        A vibrant world of light and color, wild rides whose structures gleam!

        See the peeling, gilt-edged carrousel? Life itself’s the theme –
        Boardwalk barkers sell blind luck with every trick they can employ.
        Now it just seems tawdry, tarnished echoes of a tattered dream.

        Sticky hands and faces, hot dogs, cotton candy, and ice cream
        Downed with quivering excitement by a girl in corduroy.
        A vibrant world of light and color, wild rides whose structures gleam!

        Into the garish funhouse door! Dizzy wonder reigns supreme
        Lunging, lounging lizard man, the bearded lady, pretzel boy –
        Now it just seems tawdry, tarnished echoes of a tattered dream.

        The freaks take off their makeup (even they’re not what they seem!)
        We once were young and certain that nothing ever could destroy
        A vibrant world of light and color, wild rides whose structures gleam!
        Now it just seems tawdry, tarnished echoes of a tattered dream.

      • I was challenged to write one (and teach the form!) in an online workshop I used to run, so here’s my grousing about it (the requestor’s name was Dale):

        Oh, I have scribbled a mile of ink over hill and Dale to hell
        Embracing rhymes that have no reason, when meter’s out of season
        As mockingly I mutter, “Why not teach the Villanelle?”

        Elusive metaphor and simile, the meaning’s lost, as well
        But still I scritch and scratch in vain to pen a verse that’s pleasin’
        Oh, I have scribbled a mile of ink over hill and Dale to hell

        It’s fine good sport, and this I know to call my poems doggerel –
        “You know I’m grateful for critique; of course I know you’re teasin’!”
        As mockingly I mutter, “Why not teach the Villanelle?”

        It’s easier to write a Little Willie, Little Nell,
        Than to dig the soul for deeper meaning, and the mind for reason
        Oh, I have scribbled a mile of ink over hill and Dale to hell

        I should’ve stopped, I was ahead – why didn’t I heed the warning bell?
        You artistes go right ahead – just scoff and call it treason
        As mockingly I mutter, “Why not teach the Villanelle?”

        I’m laughing just to think of April, that you can surely tell –
        As from this useless verse, the last drop of rhyme I’m squeezin’
        Oh, I have scribbled a mile of ink over hill and Dale to hell
        As mockingly I mutter, “Why not teach the Villanelle?”

      • Anklebuster says:

        Too funny! And you got the point across, too!



      • Oh, yes I did. As I recall, Dale was pleased – and well roasted.

      • Wow. I just realized those were both written in 2002. It’s been 15 years since I wrote one!

  3. Anklebuster says:

    Oh My! That is beautiful poetry, Holly!!! I wish I could give THIS ten stars.

    You rock.

    Create On,


  4. Both of y’all are freaking my mind out! lol When I was reading the story I was missing the challenge stuff. I still don’t get it; now my head hurts.

    As for the doctor thing, I actually get this one easily enough. In this day and age of so much information online and the cost of health care, most people believe they can diagnose their issues and research all these pharmaceuticals. I’m certainly among those folks. and I’ve found it helpful to discuss certain medications with doctors, especially as it concerns my mother. It seems that on one occasion the physician disagreed with me but a center specifically for seniors said I was spot on. There you go!

    • You know my friend Dr. Taher? We met on He’s a pediatrician (Mumbai, Saudi Arabia, now in the UK) and I ran our family doc’s diagnosis and prescription by him when my son was 5 and got shingles. Our family doc had never seen shingles in a child so young, and seemed unsure of the dosage of antiviral meds to give him. Dr. Taher surprised me by saying he needed the full adult dose – not an age or weight dependent dose – and that the anti-itch cream prescribed probably wouldn’t work and might cause liver damage in a child that age (probably wouldn’t, but if it wasn’t likely to help, either, why bother?) Now, picture the conversation I had after that with the family doc – on a weekend. Fortunately, he was a humble and intelligent man who double checked to satisfy himself that that was correct and safe, and upped the dosage on the antiviral. It helped pretty quickly, and no cream was ever needed. 🙂 This is why I like doctors who are both confident AND humble enough to consider questions and new information to do what’s best for their patients. It’s not about being right all the time – it’s about getting to the BEST answer.

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