06 May 2011

My Upcoming Spine Surgery

The Past – August-September 1997

Tuesday, 26 August 1997 – A typically selfish American driver decided, as usual, that her time was more important than anyone else's safety. She pulled her little red car past the point where there is now a stop sign before checking for traffic so my bike slammed into car before either of us could really see the other (I only remember seeing a flash of red to my left just before impact) and I sailed over it and landed on my helmeted head. I finally came to a stop about 30 feet away.

The force of the impact was enough to shatter my fourth thoracic vertebra. In order to keep my spine in shape while it healed and thus keep me from developing a hump, it was decided to fuse my first six thoracic vertebrae together by screwing two metal rods into them. The surgery took place on Tuesday, 4 September, exactly nine days after the accident.

Life went back mostly to usual for the first couple of years but I started to decline quickly when I went back to work in November of '99. During the BSU Spring Break Mission Trip to Chicago, Illinois in March 2000, we got to spend Thursday being tourists instead of working. My then-girlfriend (and now wife of more than eight years) and I wander around checking out museums (we're both history geeks) and generally having a great time. But being on my feet for most of the day made my pain levels sky rocket and they haven't gone down since.

In the fall of 2006, after being forced to shut down our game store because I could no longer physically do the job and because our savings had long since run dry, I took a job answering phones at ClientLogic (now known as Sitel). It was a fun job that I did fairly well. I really enjoyed helping people. But even talking to people via a phone headset while using a computer to answer their questions proved to be too much for me and I finally had to quit in October, before I even finished training. It was then that I decided that I finally needed to file for Disability.

The Present – April-May 2011

I've been living with those rods for nearly fourteen years now and the pain has become so excruciating that I can barely function. A couple of months ago I started asking around to see if Medicare/Medicaid would pay to have my rods removed and was told that, as long as the surgery was medically necessary and likely to help, Medicare would cover most of it and Medicaid the rest.

So, a few weeks ago, I told my nurse practitioner all of that and he referred me to Carolina Spine and Neurosurgery. They were very prompt – very. Since then I've met with the surgeon twice, had a CT scan, and am scheduled for surgery at 07:30 on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 at Mission Hospital in Asheville. That's right; in six days.

Any surgery, of course, poses risks ranging from unsightly scars to death from a stroke caused by a blood clot but this surgery has some other issues of its own. From the CT scan, Dr. Gooch is fairly certain that the fusion is in good shape but he can't know for certain until he actually looks at my spine. He cautioned me that if he does find a problem with the fusion then he'll have to put in new rods after removing the old ones but that the new ones will be smaller because they'll need to correct a smaller section of spine.

Because the vertebrae will have grown around the pedicle screws, he'll have to carve out the bone in order to extract the screws. Depending on how much bone he needs to remove, he may need to graft some marrow out of my hip.

Even if absolutely nothing goes wrong, there is still the chance that the surgery won't actually help and my pain will continue on as it has for the past thirteen years.

With all of that in mind, I'm still holding out hope that I'll be back to my old self in only a few months and might even reclaim my old job at Sitel. Your prayers will be greatly appreciated both for me and for Lura and everyone else who will be helping me during my recovery.

I'm also quite fond of greeting cards and still have all of the ones I was sent during the three months of my last convalescence. I probably won't know my room number until I get there on Wednesday but you can always send them to our home or pass them on to anyone in my family. Those of you who know me from Hillside Games can probably leave them there but I'll have to check with Nate and Amanda to make sure it's okay first.