First off, let me say that I have been dealing with this back pain for over a decade. I was working in NYC when I started treatment on my back. I have been in and out of physical therapy, had a few epidurals, and many x-rays and MRIs over the years. The pain in my back specifically and has been pretty constant since 2014 and my limited range of motion since 2007.
Since being in TX, I was referred to one orthopedic doctor who said I had three options: 1. Physical Therapy 2. Epidurals 3. Surgery. He said it was up to me. I went the PT route and never returned to him, since he offered no advice. Then, I went to a different orthopedic surgeon who set me up with a pain doctor for epidurals, since PT was not helpful. Last year this orthopedic surgeon said I needed ACDF surgery. I was hesitant because he suggested the same to a friend who was told her disc issues were very minor by another doctor. So, I met with a different neurosurgeon at the time that recommended traction over surgery, since, at the time, my arm and hand pain were the biggest issues. Also, my PCP at that time suggested I get an EMG to see if my arm pain stemmed elsewhere before committing to ACDF surgery. That is when it was discovered that I had severe compression of my ulnar nerve at my elbow. I had ulnar nerve transposition surgery last August and “forgot” about my back.
Currently, the past couple of months, arm pain has returned, along with the ever-present neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain and mid-back pain (all due to my C5-C7 discs). I went back to the surgeon who performed my arm surgery. She said that what I described was most likely due to the my neck issues. I went back to the pain doctor, set up two epidurals and a referral to a neurosurgeon who she highly recommended and was conservative in his approach.
The new neurosurgeon was very straight forward. He said, at this point, physical therapy or epidurals will not help. They may help some of the symptoms but will not make the underlying issue better. He tested my reflexes and did some sort of flicker test on my fingers. My middle finger on my left hand twitched. He said this was definitely indicated that surgery is necessary. He recommends ACDF surgery on 2 levels (as the orthopedic doctor suggested). He said the level above is having some slippage but, since he is conservative, would not work on that level unless the new x-rays he ordered show more slippage from the x-rays of 2015. He said surgery was not urgent but needed to be done. Our perception (my husband and I) thought that meant that we would discuss in a year, maybe five. Thankfully my husband asked for a specific time frame. The neurosurgeon said 2-3 weeks. Um, we would define that as an “urgent” time frame. He retorted that in the medical field “urgent” meant surgery needed to be done within a 48 hour time frame.
I have a follow-up appointment in two weeks where the new x-rays will be discussed, as well as the plan for surgery. I did tell him I could not have surgery so quickly. I have a colonoscopy in May and we have been planning a very nice summer vacation for the end of June. I will be in a neck brace for 3 months post-surgery. I cannot drive in a neck brace and we are driving to Denver. He did not like me waiting so long — but I’ve been waiting for a year with all the last minute attempts at another round of physical therapy, epidurals, and ulnar nerve transposition surgery. He said to avoid anything jarring: running, jarring exercises, riding a horse, being on a boat, and not to fall when on the mountains!
I guess I need to get back in touch with HR tomorrow and find out what short-term disability I can get since I had surgery not so long ago…What a fun Wednesday!