We Are The Borg…

… resistance is futile.

With my current waiting for surgery to my TMJ (they have 7 out of 12 weeks left) the thought of further surgery isn’t exactly at the forefront of my mind. Flash forward to my latest consultation with my orthopaedic surgeon… and now I’m on the waiting list for having “decompression and stabilisation for spondylotic spondylolisthesis” which is more commonly known as “spinal fusion”.

In very simple terms I have lots of stress fractures in the vertebrae of my spine that has caused the affected vertebrae to slip out of place. Added to this I also have impinged nerves due to disc degeneration – which is causing my right leg numbness and obviously, my spina bifida occulta is in the same area.

The surgery itself will involve a general anaesthetic and then lay me over a special curved bed to lengthen the spine and increase the “working” space between the vertebrae. Once in the optimum position, the surgeon will remove some small parts of the vertebrae which are causing my nerve impingement and setting them aside for now. A “cage” will then be situated to encompass my spine then secured with a few screws. After this he will take the pieces of the spine that were previously removed and set aside and then mush them up into bone grafting material, then this will be smooshed (technical term) into the fractures and to essentially “fuse” the vertebrae together. In theory, after some time the hardware can be removed. In reality, it is unlikely that they will ever be removed unless it breaks or causes other issues.

I’m terrified and excited all at once. Most (not all) of the people I have talked to about this, who have also had the same procedure, has said that the recovery is rough but in the long term, it has changed their lives. They are in less pain and can be more active in life. My main goal is to research in the scientific field (I’m especially interested in virology – specifically oncology) – so I need to be able to do all the lab related things (like standing for hours and hours) and I feel that this procedure would be a stepping stone to reaching this goal and returning to science.

So what are the risks? What could having the surgery change?

Pros

Could reduce pain levels – some people say pain-free! A lessening would be such an increase in my quality of life.

Will allow me to be more active – Less pain and more movement means that I will be able to return to the gym and this would help my mental health as well as my physical health.

Ability to sustain stillness for a long period of time – like standing or sitting in a scientific post.

There is a possibility that I could regain some or all feeling in my leg.

Cons

The obvious one – it could go horribly wrong and I could be paralysed from the level of fusion and below, I could get an infection, and the ultimate risk – I could die.

Long recovery – learning new physicality of my body, I’m very impatient and critical of my progress in all things.

Could only slow down issues not solve them. The adjacent vertebrae and discs are at a higher risk of having the same issues and that would mean a repeat of the surgery in a different location.

Referred pain or new pain due to current bodily compensation for pain and misalignment of the spine. The new position causing other pains for the spine while in the “normal” position.

The surgery could not “go wrong” but just not change the current situation, but still have post surgical recovery on top of the pain, numbness and weakness I have just now.

Decision

I’m going to go for it. I can’t keep going with the current condition my body is in and the possible outcome is worth the risk. asked my surgeon how many times has it ever gone wrong for him and he said that in 20 years of carrying out this procedure he has had only 2 patients have a negative impact – one temporary paralysis and one permanent paralysis. He estimated that he has done this procedure close to 1000 times so those odds are good for me.

So, have you ever had spinal fusion? Did you decide not to have surgery? Are you a scientist? What’s your chosen field?

 

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