On December 3, 1997 I had major surgery to repair discs in my cervical spine. I have degenerated discs with resultant pressure on nerves which was giving me some very unpleasant effects (pain, loss of feeling in some fingers, twitching of fingers). For the anatomically challenged, a review picture of the spine is shown below.

spineThe cervical region of the spine has 6 or 7 vertebra -- mine has 7. The surgical proceedure rebuilt the discs between c3-c4, c4-c5, and c5-c6 with bone from the bone bank. The neurosurgeon also removed some bone spurs and then bolted a metal plate into my vertebra to hold the entire area together. Now my system is putting blood vessels into the new bone with the result (in six months to two years) that the entire region will become a unit (called fusion). The surgical approach to my cervical spine was anterior (through the front of my neck). I have had very little pain from the incision, but I have had trouble swallowing -- they had to move the windpipe and esophagus out of the way for the surgery so they were bruised. The voice box is also right where they had to go in, but my voice seems fine. I have had some trouble recovering from the anesthesia and I have some pain. The surgery was five hours followed by two hours in the recovery room. I lost one unit of blood but they did not do a transfusion for my system recovered. When you think about all that they had to go around to get to the spine, it is amazing. I was supposed to be in the hospital for five days, but I came home on Friday morning after the surgery on Wednesday. I was told that I would be out of work for seven weeks, but I was back full time in five weeks. My recovery is, I think, a testimony to staying in rather good physical condition, and a testimony to the Healer. I also highly recommend my neurosurgeon, Dr. Suzie Tindall of Emory University.

Thanks for asking. Now for the bad news {:-|>

It is now September 1,2002 and I have considerable pain in my neck. My spinal stenosis, degerative disc disease, and spinal arthritis extends throughout my spine. I also have a bulging disc in my lumbar, so I have some pain there. However most of the pain is in my neck, extending up my skull and down the left shoulder. I have tried every possible method for reducing the pain, but nothing has helped. I am now taking percocet to control the pain and that does give me some relief, but then there are problems with taking the percocet. I will go back to a neurosurgeon (Dr. Tindall has retired) at Emory and obtain an updated analysis of my situation. My last visit with him was in November of 2001 and he was not optimistic that further surgery would be worth the risk of paralysis.

Well, it is now January 16, 2004 and more has happened since the last posting. I have been through two more neurosurgeons and two "pain doctors" (anesthesiologists specializing in pain relief) who have done some treatments on me. The last treatment was done August 8, 2003 when Dr. Hurd used a technique to burn some nerves in the C2-C3 area. This was one of the first attempts that acutally gave me considerable relief from the pain, although I still had to keep taking medication to keep the pain level at around 3-4. I have been using a Duragesic patch (releases a set amount of pain medicine over a three-day time interval) for awhile now that helps and a fentanyl "sucker" for breakthrough pain. But now the original hard pain is returning and I will have to see another specialist to see if we repeat the "burning" technique (RF lesioning).

I went to my pain doctor at Emory today and she is very concerned about some of my symptoms. She has ordered a MRI for Friday, January 23 and then will schedule a meeting for me with another neurosurgeon. My condition is degenerative, but I was hoping for a bit longer time before more major developments.

God is still sovereign! I trust Him and do each day the best that I can. I can still go to work most every day and I am thankful for that.

Well, now it is September of 2004. My latest neurosurgeon is Dr. Gerald Rodts who is chief of neurosurgery at Emory. I like him very much and he found out that I have severe lumbar stenosis, a ruptured disc at T6-7 pressing on the spinal cord, and considerable degeneration of my cervical spine above and below the fusion area. I have much pain in my feet and calves as different symptoms. The thorasic surgery would involve very serious surgery of opening my chest and involving both him and a cardio-thorasic surgeon. The cervical surgery would be rather involved also because of the significant nerve involvement in the area. He recommended the lumbar laminectomy as the simplest surgery and also one that had a 80% or so chance of helping my foot and leg pain. So on June 30, I had the lumbar surgery. It is now about 2.5 months after the surgery and it does not seem that my foot and calf pain has been helped. I still have considerable pain in the surgery area (L2-T1) and went to a PT who did a very thorough neurological exam and found that I have significant clonus in my left ankle and some in the right ankle. It seemed that the stretching done by the PT caused me to hurt more so I stopped that. September 7 I had a MRI of the brain (with and without contrast) to see if possibly there was some brain involvement in the clonus. Perhaps I will hear from this procedure by September 10. Meanwhile I continue to trust God and thank Him for showing me that we could handle this condition.

The brain MRI showed no problems, praise the Lord! But on September 29, the neurosurgeon ordered another MRI with and without contrast for my thorasic spine to see if the ruptured disc had moved. I still (Oct 19, 2004) have not heard from him about that MRI. It is now November 8 and I have talked with my neurosurgeon. He said that I have a couple of ruptured thorasic discs, but they do not seem to be causing enough pressure on the spinal cord to be a problem now. The surgery is very complicated and rather dangerous so we will wait on that. He said that my lumbar pictures indicated a normal recovery occuring from the surgery there. I will go back to see him in January of 2005.

It is now February of 2005. Since last reporting I have had a thorasic and lumbar myelogram, which did not show any major problems that required surgical intervention. The two ruptured thorasic discs are not of immediate threat even though one of them is causing a bit of a bow in the spinal column. The neurosurgeon wants me to have emg and ncv studies done to try to pinpoint a particular nerve problem, but I am inclined to wait on any further tests until my smyptoms become worse. My last experience with emg studies (done twice) were extremely painful and I am very tired of being "poked on". The fentanyl patch (75mcg/hr) with a 200 mcg dose for breakthrough pain seems to be managing the pain pretty well without severe side effects so I will just continue in this mode until other motor problems manifest themselves.

2005 is now almost over (12/15) and there is not much more to add. I still remain on the same fentanyl patch and the "sucker" for breakthrough pain three times a day. I have not returned for any more "poking" on my spine or any nerve roots. Stress aggravates the pain. I have changed to a different antidepressant that seems to be helping my general attitude and it seems to help the pain somewhat (Efforor-XR, 75 mg). I will retire from KSU at the end of June, 2006 and perhaps the change away from considerable stress will help my condition.

It is now August 3, 2006 and I have been retired for four weeks. I would like to say that I feel much better but that is not true. I had about a ten day period of time during which I was in intense pain (7-9) during the entire time and I was just about too tired of it. I went to my physician and he injected some trigger points in my upper left back and gave me some sample of Limbrel, a new anti-inflammatory drug that is catagorized as a food product. I felt better and have now had three days of doing much better. I do plan on seeing my neurosurgeon in the next month or so to see what has happened and hopefully no more surgery will be required.

Not very encouraging probably to some of you, but I have three very serious spinal problems (cervical, thorasic, and lumbar) and I do respect my neurosurgeon and personal physician. My wife also keeps a close lookout for other symptoms so sometimes just maintaining status quo is the best that we can do. I still praise the Lord for He is sovereign and I am meant to have these problems. My advice to anyone with similar problems is to trust in the Lord and look for that internal joy and peace that only comes from Him.

It is now May 4, 2007. Wednesday, May 2, I had another treatment recommended by Dr. Rodts to take a look at my entire spine again: CT myelogram of the entire spine. The injection hurt some, of course, but what happened afterwards was not good. The extra pressure of the dye caused some aggrivation of my damaged spine nerves and I had severe trembles when they turned me on my back to head to the CT machine. I was trembling so badly that they could not do the CT scan so I suggested putting me back on my stomach. On my stomach the trembling was much less so that they could get the necessary CT scans done. The neurologist, Dr. Fontain, said that he had not ever seen such a reaction. I like to be first in some things, but not in these ways! Wednesday night and Thursday were pretty bad but I did not have the "myelogram headache". Today I feel stronger but have a good bit of pain in my neck. I will not be able to see my neurosurgeon until May 15, but the waiting will be good for developing my patience.

I highly recommend the site below for much information on the spine.


Web Author: Dr. Leon L. Combs
Copyright 2006 by Dr. Leon L. Combs - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED