Hey everyone! So it's been a little over a month since I had ACDF surgery and I can't believe that much time has already passed. If your new around here, you can read my most recent post to get the back story and learn more. This post is a lengthy one but I wanted to give a quick update on how these past few weeks have been for me while recovering and to let you in on some of the things I've learned along the way! And you may think I'm silly for saying this butttt please bear in mind that the photos below aren't my favorite. I was at the hospital before 6:00 AM and not allowed to wear any makeup so I naturally don't like how I look in them but asked the hubs to help me document my journey so here I am, sharing them despite being self-conscious!
The days leading up to surgery I was pretty calm but had a lengthy list of questions in my head that I had been collecting, even though I had gotten most of them answered already. Truthfully, I really was more excited to finally be in less pain and to go through with the surgery, but I was still anxious. Especially because I had been deemed "a young patient to have to have this type of surgery". But the Lord is good and showed up in an unexpected way. A few days before the big day arrived, I was at a stoplight sitting next to a truck and on that back of it in bright white paint was "JESUS IS MY ROCK". It was a simple reminder that showed up at just the right time. God was present. He knew the thoughts that had been on my heart and eased my worries without me even having to ask.
Bright and early on June 13th (our one year wedding anniversary!), Will and I arrived at the hospital, checked in and filled out paperwork. The whole pre-surgery process went pretty quick and I was called back by a nurse within thirty or so minutes after arriving. After my vitals were checked, I changed into a hospital gown and was taken back to the prep area where they made sure everything they had in the system was accurate. Last minute questions were asked and answered and I was ready to go in no time.
One of the things I remember most and was really touched by was when Dr. Haglund prayed over me before taking me back to the operating room. Honestly, praying with your patients isn't something a lot of doctors do that I'm aware of and it's one of the things Dr. Haglund does with all of his patients. It's a gesture that can be overlooked or forgotten, but it's one I will forever remember and be thankful for.
Success! The surgery lasted somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour which is such a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. After some of the anesthesia wore off and my vitals were checked one last time, I was assigned a room and taken there to stay overnight (about an hour after surgery). Will, my dad and father-in-law were already in the room waiting for me which was a nice site to see. After getting settled, I was able to ask and find out how my procedure went. Will told me that Dr. Haglund stopped by and told them that the ligaments that had been supporting my neck between the damaged vertebrae were frayed pretty badly and were replaced during the procedure. I had also accumulated bone spurs which were cleaned out during the process.
Over the next few hours, I took a handful of naps, chatted with family that came by and even got out of bed once or twice to walk the halls. I can't stress how lucky I am to have married into such a wonderful, and large, family. I can always count on them for free entertainment and lots of laughs which defiantly helped distract me from the discomfort I was feeling in the hospital. Side-note #1: the medication I was on helped a good amount with the pain but being confined to a hard neck brace (which I wore for almost the first full week) was something that took time getting used to. Swallowing and talking normally were also uncomfortable but got better after a few days.
I stayed in the hospital that night and was discharged the following afternoon. I have to say that I thought I wouldn't have a problem sleeping, and was actually looking forward to it since I couldn't remember getting a good night of rest in who knows how long! Sadly, it didn't happen and it was almost impossible to fall asleep if I'm being truthful. Not only did a nurse have to come in to check on me every few hours but poor Will had to sleep in a hard chair and I just felt bad for him! I do remember
asking begging the nurse if she could skip a round so I could attempt at getting some shut eye. Let's just say we were both ready to leave by the time I was discharged ha-ha! Side-note #2: I had surgery in Raleigh so we had to make the trek
back to Charlotte which I was not looking forward to but it ended up being totally fine! We just made sure we stopped every hour so I could get out of the car to stretch which helped a lot.
Fast forward a little over a month and I'm doing well with recovery! It's hard to remember all of the details but here are a couple I wanted to note. Oh and every person is different. Not all ACDF procedures are done the same and each patient is unique. Post-surgery instructions given to one person may be different from someone else, the healing process may not be the same, etc. And I'm no expert! I just want to take you through the journey of what I've personally experienced and done.
- My transition from the hard brace to the soft collar occurred within the first week. It's a given that you are more constricted while wearing the hard brace so it was really nice when I didn't have to wear it 24/7. Side-note #3: I talked to someone who had the same surgery that I did but had to wear a hard brace for over three weeks before switching to the soft collar. At first the soft collar was comfortable, but recently anytime I wear it, I feel agitated. It's kind of hard to explain the sensation I get when I put it on. I think the skin on my neck is just agitated.
- When I first started weaning off both the brace and the collar, I could actually feel the muscles in my neck working to hold my head up. It's as if I was having to help train the muscles how to do it properly! Overtime, it's gotten easier and I can go most days now without having to wear anything. When my neck does start to ache, I just use the soft collar for a few hours and usually that helps.
- For the first two weeks I was prohibited from lifting anything over 10 pounds. Pretty much the weight of a gallon of milk is what I was told. I was also instructed not to do any bending or turning my of head as much as possible. By week four, I could start lifting up to 15 pounds. In August I'll have my post-opp appointment and hope Dr. Haglund clears me from my weight restrictions so that I can get back to the gym and taking classes pronto!
- I was unable to drive for the first five weeks which was really tough. Being stuck at home was not easy and some days I defiantly got cabin fever. Thankfully our neighborhood is near a bunch of of restaurants and a few stores that I walked to when I just needed a chance in scenery.
- I have yet to figure out the best position to sleep in or the best pillow(s) to use without me waking up in the morning or middle of the night in pain. I've tried a bunch of different pillow combinations and can't pinpoint what will work best. It's defiantly not the mattress which was my initial thought so we think that it could be the pillows I'm using, but who knows. Any pillow recommendations or suggestions for waking up feeling "rested" would be great!
- I was recently asked why they went through the front of the neck (anterior) and not through my back and I believe it's 1) the Doctor's preference, 2) it's less invasive, less painful and recovery time is usually quicker when done anterior, and 3) they don't have to cut any muscles or touch the spinal cord which makes this approach safer. Because they went through the front of my neck, I did experience a hard time swallowing and talking normally for the first few days.
- I still have pain in my neck and get headaches but they are nothing like what I used to have! When I get the question "do you feel the surgery has cured you?" I say no, I never expected to be 100% pain free, but I can finally live a more normal life again! I don't have pain that lasts all day and my fingers no longer go numb. Was the surgery worth it? Yes! Every single penny of it.
Whew! If your reading this, thank you for sticking through to the end! I'm sorry this was such a long post, but I couldn't think of any parts I'd want to take out to make this shorter. Hope this gave some insight into everything. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!