At this point in my life I have been instructed by my orthopedist that I will not fare as good as my Mom did with the arthritis. In my case, if nothing is done it will kill me, and sooner rather than later. The scoliosis in my lower back is bad but not terminal. My neck is another story. Over the years I have graduated from one big chin to many big chins. Of course I realized this is partly because of Pasta and Twinkies, but also because for some reason I was losing height in my neck area.
Remembering Mom’s issues, I thought it was time I had it looked at. Besides, now if I coughed my arms went straight out like they were electrified. If I looked up I would lose feeling in both arms and part of my chest and face. I also had almost constant debilitating headaches. Not good. I have already had two full knee replacements already in an attempt to head off the kind of debilitating arthritis my Mom had.
After having the obligatory MRI after warning them I already had two metal knees (I really didn’t want my knees ripped from my body) my wife and I returned to the doctor. It was a life changing visit. He brought the scan up on a big monitor and pointed to the area from vertebrae C-2 to C-7. The spinal cord canal had narrowed to the point it was closing off at midpoint C-4 and one good fall or abrupt movement could, and probably would, end in quadriplegia or death. While I have tons of respect for Professor Hawking, I didn’t want to fully emulate him. He said my working days were over, and warned me I had better not drive or even be a passenger in a car for even a minor accident could be disastrous. At 59 I was to go home and watch TV, have restless leg, and eat, for the rest of my life. Tripping over the cats was not an option at this point, an activity I normally participated in regularly.
I went through the whole thing: first inconsolable sadness. I had said to myself that unlike my Dad, I was going to enjoy my retirement, not die just before it. I then had lots of anger at my Mom for inflicting this on me. I would scream at her picture when I was alone. My brother, my sister and I now have so much metal in side of us that airplane travel is all but ruled out without someone from TSA calling out a swat team. I then remembered my Aunt Pauline, my uncle Tony, and all the rest of Mom’s lineage with all their arthritis based issues, and now it’s popping its little bastard head in some of my nieces and nephews.
I then got to a point that I started to look for a fix. Most doctors I read of on line said they were not comfortable with fusing six neck vertebrae and wouldn’t advise surgery. I did some more internet searches for a fix and came upon a name. A man who was the head of Orthopedics for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN had recently tired of cold and wet and moved to the Surface of the Sun. He was also ‘in my plan’!!
We saw him, and after he studied my MRI, he turned to my wife and I said the four words I wanted to hear: “I CAN help you”. He explained he had done many and instructed me on what I would be left with as far as movement (not very much). He also said my headaches would in all probability go away. He was going to remove permanently the backs of each vertebrae in something called a Laminectomy. Just the word gives me the frightened turtle. He would then wire the vertebrae together with 2 long steel posts and 12 large screws. (Hello, Home Depot?) He would even attempt to reshape the neck into something remotely resembling what it was “supposed to” look like. Mary and I had a conversation, and agreed to go ahead.
The surgery went great but the recovery, not so much. The doctor said that when he finally freed up the cord, it sprang out of my spine like a jack-in-the-box, spring. He had never seen one so compacted. After two days in the hospital, I was released. I was weak as a kitten and could barely move my arms. I had to be fed. Now I know exactly what being a Tyrannosaurus felt like. Big head, big mouth, big ass, tiny useless little flappy arms. More fun was finding out I was allergic to large amounts of opiate-based painkillers. Something the Discord crew used as a food group at company parties. I found out my own allergies while in a hospital bed with my wife and niece at my side.
You see, I started to hallucinate, bigtime. Look people, I lived through the fucking seventies and that was nothing. My dining room table became a picnic table filled with itinerant field workers from the turn of the century, in black and white. At the foot of my bed a flower arrangement in a vase became the head of a man poking through the floor, with headphones on, in front of some kind of equipment. He had 70s style aviator glasses and hairstyle. He was in full color. The obligatory women in white gown floated around by the front door. And all these people were staring at me, while talking amongst themselves.
Now, this frightened me, and more so my wife. When I pointed out the guy with the headphones, who she couldn’t see, I naturally accused her of being part of some vast conspiracy. She then figured it was time to call for an ambulance and had me re-admitted. I was put in another MRI to see if I had had a stroke. When I came out I was flipping out. Some story I had seen on TV became real and I was convinced I was integrally involved. The MRI became a helicopter I was being removed from and I was also convinced I was no longer in a hospital, but in some fake hospital set up in a warehouse somewhere a la Blacklist. Crawling under the bed to get the spiders was also helpful to the staff. Yeah, fun times. I will at this point have to take the space to thank Mick Zano for his help with texting answers to questions we had while watching the doctors argue about my meds in the middle of the night. That really gave me the warm fuzzies. He may be politically incoherent, but in his forte he has my full respect.
It wasn’t all horrific, though. There were the ants. I saw very big, pink ants, coming out of the corners of the rooms. They were dressed in full 70s disco regalia with afros, leisure suits, aviator glasses and platform shoes. And they danced. It started as I stared into the corner of a room. I would first hear the beginning of the song Love Rollercoaster (Ohio Players 1975) and then the ants would slowly appear along the ceiling, as if they were squeezing out from behind the wall. They would wave at me as they entered. Then they started to dance as they made their way around the room. I implore the readers to go to YouTube and hear this song
While you’re watching, picture what I was seeing. It was wonderful. I would stare at them for hours, they kept me sane while we all waited for the drugs to wear off. To this day from time to time I gaze up at the corners of the room, hoping maybe I would see them again. I really miss the pink dancing disco ants.
It all went better after that. I have very little up or down movement and only about 20 degrees side to side. More importantly I am headache free, except when I read Zano. And that’s easy, I just don’t read Zano. I have built my strength back up and retaught myself to drive with the help of big-assed mirrors. So it’s all good. I just have a block of concrete for a head, but that’s nothing new.
I had an amazing support group. My wife is a nurse, my niece and nephew helped a lot, and my stepson came out for a week to be of great assistance. I could not have done it without all of them.
Oh yea, and ….Thanks Mom.