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Patient Stories - Shirley Widdop Part 2

Some answers and some treatment

I underwent MRI scanning of my head and neck in January 2012 at my local hospital, so already it was 9 months since the initial symptoms started. The MRI was a noisy, hot, claustrophobic machine. Fortunately, I was aware of what to expect from the MRI scan, so I didn’t feel too intimidated or anxious about being scanned. I was able to listen to a favourite CD during the procedure & the time passed by relatively quickly.

February arrived & I returned to see the neurologist for my results. 

The news was that I had a significant spinal cord compression due to a large prolapsed intervertebral disc, particularly on the left at the C6/C7 level. My radiculopathy was due to the nerve root that supplied my arm & thumb side of my hand was being squashed, hence the pain & weird sensations I was experiencing. The neurologist informed me that I needed referring to the Spinal Care Team at the nearest regional neurosurgical unit.We have included links to patient information sheets of common operations with further details, including potential side effects and potential complications.

representative image from Wikipedia

In the meantime, I was signed off work by my GP and was advised to watch out for any sudden changes of walking, bladder or bowel habit, which might indicate a neurological medical emergency. I was prescribed Amitriptyline for neurogenic pain in my arm which helped a little.

I kept going as best as I could, but it became more & more difficult. I felt stiff, clumsy and permanently tired. I walked with a wide, stiff-legged gait. I was in increasing discomfort. I was frightened of falling lest it caused further damage or even paralysis.

June arrived and I was seen by one of the Neurosurgeons at the Neurosurgical Unit. I was shown my MRI scan and was given a diagnosis of Classical Cervical Myelopathy, because the prolapsed disc had severely compressed and compromised my spinal cord. I was offered an ACDF the very next day due to a cancellation, but because I had to put my home affairs in order and because the deadline for my final paper on my degree module was imminent, I had to decline.

I was advised that if I did not have the operation, I would progressively become more paralysed. I was also advised that if I fell, due to the severity of the compression, that it would be “curtains” for me. I was also advised that the surgery itself could possibly result in further paralysis, but as far as I was concerned it was a risk worth taking, given that if I didn’t have the operation, neurologically, I would continue to deteriorate

 Because of the waiting list, I was not listed for surgery until September 2012. The wait was agony as I was constantly frightened of falling. On attending preoperative assessment, I was diagnosed with hypertension & was obliged to commence antihypertensive medication as prescribed by my GP before undergoing the operation.
I underwent a C6/C7 ACDF on 12th September 2012 – one year, four months after the start of my symptoms. I was an inpatient on the neurosurgical ward overnight. I had a small scar approximately 2 inches long at the right side of my neck in the lower crease, so it was neatly done. The wound had been closed via a continuous soluble stich, overdressed with steristrips and I had a small drain exiting from the wound. I was bruised and I was sore. My voice was hoarse and croaky & swallowing liquids and solids hurt initially, but this soon passed. 

What was immediately evident is that the radiculopathy pain in my left arm had improved dramatically. I was over the moon. Apart from some intravenous tramadol that I had had in post-op recovery because my shoulder was painful, I didn’t require any other opiate analgesia at all during my stay. The drain was removed the day after the operation. I had a post-operative check X-ray performed to ensure the cage & plate used in the ACDF were still in place and once I had been assessed by the ward physiotherapists, I was discharged home with a sheet of post-op neck exercises, advised to remove the steristrips on my neck after a week, told not to drive or lift anything heavier than a kettle or a pint of milk for 6 weeks after the operation.