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PROPER TIME AND CARE... [more]
I flew to San Jose in northern California on Monday morning, saw the surgeon on Monday afternoon, had surgery on Tuesday afternoon, was released from the surgical center Tuesday evening, and flew home to Southern California last night. The surgeon was Dr. Stan Schiffer, who specializes in endoscopic spinal surgery. I am doing just great. Anyone who wants the whole long story, keeping reading.
I was very, very anxious beforehand. Dr. Schiffer was very low-key, supportive, and spent a lot of time with me, both evaluating and just talking to me. He showed me ALL of my MRI films and explained ALL of the problems shown on the films. He listened to me, asked me questions, and took my concerns seriously. My biggest fear was undergoing the procedure itself. I had a horrible hospital experience twenty-one years ago in which I underwent an emergency C-section due to pre-eclamsia and I got a blood infection during the surgery. I had spent ten days in the hospital, seven in intensive care, with two IV’s which kept collapsing and numerous blood tests. At one point, they did a blood test every hour for forty-eight hours and I had no veins left. To this day I have IV scars on my hands and I am in fear of needles. As luck would have it, I have tiny veins which make it hard to insert an IV. Dr. Schiffer was very kind and assured me he and his staff would do everything they could to keep me as comfortable as possible and said the surgery itself would not be painful. He answered all of my questions, both about the surgery and the expected outcome.
This has not been my experience in the past. My doctors in the LA area have slapped up one film on the lights, hastily pointed to C6-7 (the worst) and said things like, “This HAS to be dealt with.” Many times the majority of the exam has been done by an assistant and I spent one or two minutes with the doctor himself. In contrast, Dr. Schiffer was very patient and was not watching the clock.
After looking at my MRI films with the doctor, I agreed to have all three of the bad discs done: C6/7, C5/6, and C4/5. For the first time, I could really see that the student who had collided with me at my shoulder had really whacked me at C6-7 and a little higher, but that my other discs showed no sign of degenerative disc disease.
Monday night I slept all night and felt calm. Tuesday I began to get anxious again. It rained all the way to the surgical center and I thought it was not a good omen. When I arrived, there were several errors in the surgical center’s paperwork (such as someone else’s SSN on my forms) and I again thought of omens. I was turned over to a nurse who took my blood pressure, which was 150/90--high, but not unusual before surgery. I was told to produce a urine sample. I was given two gowns, non-slip socks, and allowed to keep my underwear on. The nurse settled me in a recliner, with a thin cotton blanket underneath me and a thin cotton blanket on top of me. She turned on a television and let Paul, my significant other, come sit with me. She looked at my hands and said I was too cold. She put an inflatable blanket under the top blanket and hooked a hair dryer type hose to it. She turned it on and the blanket began to fill up with warm air. After I was warm, she tried to insert and IV. She first used Lidocaine to numb my hand a little. She was not able to start an IV and said the Anestiologist would. He did and it hurt only slightly. He asked me a lot of questions and told me he would keep me as sedated as possible. An antibiotic was started through the IV and I was also given Versed. I began to feel much calmer and started talking more. The nurse checked on me and talked to me every few minutes. She was a kind, reassuring person.
I was wheeled into surgery still sitting on the recliner. Then I had to climb up on the surgical gurney. I was lying face up and my gowns (front and back for a little more privacy) were rolled down, leaving my shoulders bare, strapless style. Something like iodine was put all over the shoulder and neck area. A type of strap was put below my chin. I was given a pep talk and then I was put under. I felt nothing for some time. Then I was woken up a little and asked to move my toes. Dr. Schiffer began to apply pressure on my esophagus and it was uncomfortable, but not painful in any way. I began to try and swallow and he asked me not to. I was put under again. At some point, someone began to push my shoulders down and someone else began to pull on the chin strap. Neither movement hurt. It was explained to me that the doctor couldn’t see well on the fluoroscope because I had a short neck and high shoulders and my shoulders were casting a shadow over C6-7. I was put under again.
The operation took two hours. Nothing actually hurt. If you push on your esophagus, and someone pushes down on your shoulders, you will feel exactly what I felt. On a scale of 1-1-10, with ten being the worst, the whole experience, including the IV, was a one and a half. If you eliminate my problems with the IV, it was a one.
I was asked to walk a little and was then settled back into the recliner. Paul came and joined me again. He told me Dr. Schiffer had talked to him right after the surgery, when I was still out, and had been reassured that I was fine. My vitals were taken. Dr. Schiffer came and talked to me and explained again about the problem in accessing C6-7. He spent time with me and made sure I was OK. He asked me what painkiller I had used before and I told him Vicodin. He wrote a prescription for that and Parafon, a muscle relaxant. The nurse called in the prescription and Paul went to get it. Big band aids and a soft collar were put on me. I was instructed to wear the collar constantly for forty-eight hours and then while a passenger in a car for the next month. Paul was asked to sign a release and was warned not to let me drive, especially while under the influence of Vicodin. I was given some jello. I asked to use the bathroom and got dressed at the same time. After an hour or so, I was released.
The drive was only very slightly bothersome. I felt speed bumps and dips but not much. Since I had had nothing but jello for the last twenty-two hours, I was hungry. We went to a restaurant and had dinner. I felt woozy and strange, but not in pain.
I slept for a few hours, but was uncomfortable in the collar and didn’t sleep well. I was not in pain, but the right side of my throat felt like I was almost beginning to get a cold. If I swallowed, I could tell that it wasn’t a cold, but that my throat was irritated deeper inside, where the surgery had taken place. My left arm and hand had no symptoms at all, no pain or tingling. My right hand had some tingling, but much less than before. My shoulder blades and the muscles between them still felt sore, but to much less an extent. My neck did not hurt, except for the part deep inside my throat.
Wednesday afternoon, I went back and saw Dr. Schiffer. He said the collar was too high for me and turned it around backwards so that it fit better. It felt more comfortable. He did an exam and talked to me for a while. He felt the right hand tingling would disappear over the next month or so. He asked to take a picture with me and we did that. He told me to write or call him next week and let him know how I was doing. He said if I needed anything to feel free to call anytime.
I cannot believe how nervous I was or how long I waited. I should have done this a long time ago. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I feel almost normal. I have not taken any pain medication for twelve hours now and I am not in pain. I am hoping that my right hand tingling continues to diminish.
Thanks for all the help and support many of you have provided. I am more than willing to answer any questions through this forum or e-mail for anyone considering this procedure. My e-mail address is email@example.com.