July 25, 2016

The Recovery Process

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 ssmtheblog@gmail.com!

June 9, 2016

In Sickness and In Health

This is a big month for Will and I. Not only are we celebrating our first year of marriage, but I'm also undergoing "ACDF" surgery next Monday. The actual name of the surgery is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion, but I can honestly never remember that so I'll stick with the acronym. Over the past weeks, I've had a friends and family ask my about the surgery, why I'm getting it done and what's going to happen afterwards so I thought it would be easiest to write a blog post on the topic. This is also a way for me to document the "trials and tribulations" that have come as a result of having degenerative disc disease as well as a way to talk about my excitement for overcoming years of setbacks and pain!

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is when discs (for me in my neck) naturally wear out overtime resulting in bone spurs and inflamed joints. The "injured" discs start to slowly dry out and shrink, causing them to lose their flexibility and cushioning. Also bear in mind that "DDD" is not an actual disease!

How did you get it?There is no way to tell when or if someone is going to get degenerative disc disease. There are however several factors that can lead to DDD which include: hereditary/genes, age, injuries, and drying of the disc area. One thing I learned over the past few years is that unlike other tissues in the body, there is little blood supply that goes to the discs, so once a disc is injured, it can not repair itself so the disc starts to deteriorate. For me, DDD happens to be hereditary and a past injury caused it to show up sooner rather then later.
 
How has it impacted your life?
The impact DDD has on you is different for every individual. For me, this condition has effected certain nerve functions and has caused pain in my neck almost daily. One days when it's been really bad, I've lost feeling in my right hand, experienced tingling and numbing sensations throughout my neck and arm area and had the inability to sit for extended periods of time (car rides were the worst) or even do simple workouts like yoga. Every day is different but the pain is almost always the same.

How is ACDF surgery performed?
First, the surgeon reaches the damaged disc from the front (anterior) of the spine through the throat area. They do this by making an incision on the front of the throat and move the neck muscles, trachea, and esophagus, to the side so that the disc and bony vertebrae are exposed. Gross I know!
 
After the disc is located, it's then removed and the space between the bony vertebrae is now empty. To prevent the vertebrae from collapsing and rubbing together, a bone graft is put in to fill the open disc space. The bone graft serves as a bridge between the two vertebrae to create a spinal fusion. The bone graft and vertebrae are fixed in place with metal plates and screws. After surgery, my body should begin its natural healing process and new bone cells should grow around the graft. After 3 to 6 months, the bone graft should join the two vertebrae and form one solid piece of bone.

Why are they conducting surgery through the front of your neck and not the back?
Surgery from the front of the neck is more accessible than from the back (posterior) because the disc can be reached without disturbing the spinal cord, spinal nerves, or the strong neck muscles. The recovery process can also be much longer when conducted posterior.
 
Are you nervous?
I think it's natural to be nervous about any type of surgery; big or small. But I'm more excited then anything else. I can't wait for the day when I wake up with little to no pain. I'm excited to be able to go back to the gym and to workout. I'm excited not to have so much medication to take on a daily basic. I trust the Doctors who will be working on  me and have put all of my faith and trust in God's hands. That's all I can do at this point!
 
What does life after surgery look like?
This is a question that I won't be able to answer fully until after surgery but right now I know that I won't be able to drive for two to four weeks. Depending on how fast I heal, I can drive when I feel I'm able to hold my neck up without any pain and/or able to move my neck from side to side with no problem. I can never drive while wearing the neck brace that I'll be given to wear everyday for the first few weeks. I'm also told that I can not lift anything over 10 pounds until my six week post-opp appointment. After that, I can work my way up to lifting 15-20 pounds. I'll have a better answer to this question once we know how the surgery goes!
 
If feels good to open up and share a really personal thing I'm going through in my life. Follow me over on Instagram (mmackvick) for updates on how my surgery goes over the next week or two and keep me in your prayers for a full and speedy recovery!
 
 

June 7, 2016

Things To-Do In and Around Charleston, SC

Charleston has become one of my favorite places to visit. It was "love at first site" when Will and I went for the first time a few years ago and I'll never get enough of this beautiful city filled with cobblestone streets, gas lanterns, plantation homes, and the best waterfront views. Recently, I went back and spent time at Folly Beach for my friend Allison's bachelorette getaway. I had never been to Folly before and had such a great time so I thought it would be fun, and also helpful, to make a list of some of my favorite spots and recommendations in Charleston, Folly Beach, and Isle of Palms (where I celebrated my bachelorette that you can see here and here)!
Charleston:
Places to Stay: Historic Renaissance Hotel for it's top-notch southern hospitality, The Mills House, Planters Inn, The Restoration, Zero George for a great for a romantic getaway, or even the Holiday Inn which is good for a short or last minute stay.

Shopping: King Street is a MUST! V2V, Sassy Shortcake, Copper Penny (I found the most amazing smelling candles here), Luna, and Carolina Girls are a few worth checking out. I honestly haven't done much shopping in Charleston, minus picking up souvenirs for family and friends because I'm always snapping photos and wandering the streets which is probably a good thing since the shopping is endless!

Food: Virginia's On King, Poogan's Porch (they have really cute t-shirts you can purchase here) Toast, Blossom, High Cotton, King Street Grill (get the mac & cheese egg rolls), and Peninsula Grill at Planters Inn (ask to sit in the courtyard if it's available and order the coconut cake for dessert!).
Drinks & Nightlife: The Rooftop at The Vendue has tasty appetizers, amazing views and was my favorite in overall atmosphere. The Gin Joint, Pavilion Rooftop Bar, Prohibition, and Stars Rooftop Bar are a few others. Stars comes in second place for best atmosphere in my opinion.

Activities: Stroll down Rainbow Row (make sure to take a photo), snag one of the wooden swings and watch the sunset at Waterfront Park, take a sunset cocktail cruise with Adventure Harbor Tours (by far my favorite activity we did for my friends bachelorette getaway and will be doing this again), visit the Charleston Aquarium, and ride a horse-drawn carriage to tour the city.
Isle of Palms:

Places to Stay: Wild Dunes Resort, or you can easily find something that will fit your needs by checking out VRBO or Airbnb. 

Food: The Boathouse, Coconut Joe's Beach Bar, Island Joe's (perfect place for when you have a sweet tooth), Sea Biscuit Cafe, Coda Del Pesce, The Windjammer, and Banana Cabana.

Drinks & Nightlife: Coconut Joe's, The Windjammer and Banana Cabana all have live music at night with laid-back atmospheres.

Activities: This one isn't exactly IN Isle of Palms but it is close by and if you like live music then it's worth checking out Party At The Point which my girls took me to on my bachelorette!
Folly Beach:

Food: Lost Dog Cafe, Rita's (have gone here for breakfast and lunch and both were good), The Grill and Island Bar, Taco Boy, BLU, Black Magic Cafe, and Locklears.
Drinks & Nightlife: Snapper Jacks, Surf Bar, Loggerhead's, and the Sand Dollar (cash only).

Activities: Walk the Folly Beach Fishing Pier, visit Morris Island Lighthouse or rent kayaks.
 

June 6, 2016

June Goals

Happy Monday friends! I'm sorry I've been MIA. I feel like I say that a LOT but I really have missed you guys and this sweet space of mine. These past few months have been a blur and I so much has occurred since I wrote my last review and goals post. To say I'm excited to catch y'all up would be an understatement. So I'll waste no time and cut to the chase.

April + May Recap
- Traveled to and played tourist in Chicago with Will. You can read my recap of our trip here.
 
- Updated my passport and have ALL of my documents updated with my new last name. If you are getting married, I used this resource to help guide me through the post-wedding name changing process!
 
- Backed up all files, documents and photos on my computer and got rid of a bunch of stuff that was no longer relevant or needed. I love all things related to organization to simplifying and checking this off my list was a relief.
 
- Visited Caitlin in Winston-Salem and had a much needed girls day together! We went to lunch at the cutest place called the Silo, did some window shopping, treated ourselves to ice cream and had our nails done. It was the perfect day and made me really like Winston-Salem. It's a small city but really cute and I can't wait to visit again and explore more places Cait finds! 
 
- Spent an afternoon at the Whitewater Center with the hubs and our pup, Miller. We walked the blue (intermediate) trail, then had lunch on the patio at the River's Edge Bar & Grill which overlooks the river. Good food + great views = a win/win in my book.
 
- I got a new car! Long story short, while we were in Chicago, my car (which was parked on the street like everyone else who lives on our street) was hit by someone who backed into the front of it and tore off the driver side headlight and ruined the radiator. After a few weeks with a rental, it was determined that the cost for all of the repairs was more then the value of my car so they gave us what my car was worth and viola. I honestly can't complain one bit. Was it bad timing? Yes! But I'm thankful that no one was hurt, that my neighbor saw it happened and called us right away. He even took care of the police report for us. Nationwide was also really easy to work with and I can't say enough about my husband who has been supportive through the whole process!
 
 - Tried a new restaurant in Charlotte called Seoul Food (Korean inspired southern BBQ). If you live in the area you need to check this place out. Make sure you order the sweet potato birds nest and the bao buns! You'll thank me later I promise. 
 
- Went to Charleston and Folly Beach to celebrate my friend Allison's bachelorette getaway. Tomorrow I'll review some of the places we went and places I highly recommend.
June 
 
- Printing photos from our honeymoon was one goal I had for April but sadly never got around to doing. It won't likely be a priority of mine for June so I'll save this for another month!
 
- At the beginning of the year, I made it a goal to read six new books over the course of the year. To date, I've already finished six books and I'm halfway through reading You and Me Forever by Francis Chan and (Un)Qualified by Steven Furtick. This brings me to a total of eight books which means I've not only met my goal but I've surpassed it! Just because you meet a goal, does NOT mean you can't revamp it later. There is still a handful of months left to 2016 so I'm going to keep reading and next on the list is A Praying Life by David Powlison. What other books should I read? I'm looking for a fun summer read. If you have any recommendations please leave a comment!
 
- Join a bible study. Y'all I'm so excited about this one! Right at the end of last month, I reached out to a girl who leads an E-Group at Elevation Church and she was not only quick to respond but genuinely excited for me to check out her group. Meeting new people is not always easy, even when your an extrovert like me but something about her excitement made me excited and all my nerves melted away. I went to my first bible study, which led to me going to the next one, which has already led to new friendships being made. Y'all...Kenna is the REAL DEAL! She is the leader of a bible study (or E-Group as they all them at Elevation), the owner and hairstylist of New Steele Studio at Sola Salon, a photographer, does makeup, AND teaches classes for SkillPop in her free time. Can you say superwoman? She also has the sweetest soul and can make you laugh without even trying. I mean, #girlboss am I right?
 
- There are so many places in Charlotte we have yet to try and since Seoul Food was such a hit when we went, Will and I have decided to keep finding and trying out other restaurants. On the list is The Summit Room and Kid Cashew. We actually went to The Summit Room over the weekend and my friend and I split the burger, mac and cheese, and maple bruleed brussels. My mouth waters just thinking about that meal. Another must if you have the chance to check it out.
 
- In my last review and goals post, I opened up about having degenerative disc disease and how I went to Duke to get a second opinion from a Neurosurgeon there. Well, the appointment went great and I was given a lot of insight into my current condition and have decided to go through with surgery. Like really soon. Next Monday to be exact. A few friends have asked me about my condition, the surgery and what the outcome will be like so I've decided to write a post that will go live Thursday if your interested in learning more about this personal topic and decision. Prayers for a peace of mind would be so appreciated as the days leading up to the surgery draw near! 
 
 

May 10, 2016

Chicago Travel Guide

Will and I love to travel and Chicago has been a city we have wanted to check out for quite some time now. Last week we had the opportunity to visit and although it was cold and rained the majority of the time, we defiantly enjoyed ourselves and did as much exploring as we could fit into our schedule! Below I've put together a small travel guide of things we did that I find worth noting and highly recommend. Since Chicago is a large city, I know I've likely missed a bunch of other great places, so feel free to leave a comment with any other recommendations!

TO SEE
1. Magnificent Mile - Known for it's dining and retail, this area has it all! We particularly love that it's surrounded by so much architecture and photo-worthy buildings.

2. Navy Pier - It rained most of our trip so we didn't get to check out this hot spot.

3. "The Bean" at Millennium Park - The park as a whole is really nice and the "Bean" is one of the most known Chicago tourist spots. I wish we had come later in the year though so we could have checked out their Summer Film and Music Series at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

4. Chicago Riverwalk - Because well, the views of the waterway are great and the atmosphere surrounding are lively and fun.
TO DO
1. Zanies Comedy Club - This was a spur of the moment idea we decided on and so worth it! It was also our first time going to a standup comedy show and it won't be our last. Before the show began, they had two comedians; Calvin Evans and Denise Ramsden come out to "loosen up the crowd" as they told us before the main performer, Nick Vatterott, came out. He was HILARIOUS!

2. Shopping wasn't high on our list of things to-do but I did read a handful of reviews before our trip that said you can find unique shops for souvenirs and antiques on Oak Street, Armitage Avenue, and State Street.

3. Museum of Science and Industry - We went here on an afternoon when it was raining and probably spent about three or so hours there. Aside from exploring the museum as a whole, we also signed up to see the Coal Mine and U-505 Submarine exhibits. If we had to pick our favorite experience it was hands down the Submarine tour. I mean, who can say they've walked through a submarine? The ONLY German submarine in the United States on exhibit as a matter of fact. It truly was one of the coolest learning experiences. Oh, and the Yesterday's Main Street exhibit was also fun.
TO EAT
1. Kanela Breakfast Club - A Greek-infused American spot we went for brunch before heading back to North Carolina. We went to the Oldtown location and the atmosphere was cozy and the food very filling.

2. Kingsbury Street Cafe - This cafe was a recommendation and within walking distance to the Airbnb we stayed at. The service was quick and the menu options were perfect for what we were looking for. I got the lemon pancakes which were topped with fresh blueberries, creme anglaise and lemon sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

3. Lou Mitchell's - We didn't have the chance to eat here but it's been around since 1923 so it's obviously well established and is an affordable option for breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

4. Pequod's Pizza - We went here for dinner one night and arrived before 6:00 PM and it was already filled with people! The deep dish pizza stole a PIZZA my heart. Sorry had to add a pizza pun!

5. Homeslice - It was between here and Pequod's but if we're ever in Chicago again, and the weather is nice and warm, we will defiantly try to enjoy their fun patio!
 
6. Nando Milano Trattoria - This Italian restaurant is located in the Wicker Park area and had really unique dinner options. For instance, I got the Nido Di Paglia E Fieno Con Gamberi (aka fettuccine) and Will got one of the specials; the wild boar. 

7. Copper Fox - After exploring Magnificent Mile and Michigan Avenue we had walked up an appetite and came across this gastropub. Let me just say that the fried avocado is to die for and the baked gouda mac and cheese is delicious.

8. Sweet Mandy B's - Lord have mercy...this bakery in the heart of Lincoln Park is a MUST! After dinner at Pequod's Pizza we were in the mood for something sweet and our waitress told us about this place and said we had to go. I highly recommend any of their cookies (I had the chocolate chip) or the red velvet cupcake which is what Will got.
Wine Hour at Hotel Palomar Chicago
Wine Hour at Hotel Palomar Chicago
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