UPDATE: The operation was cancelled.
TLDR: I’m having a spine operation in May. Wish me luck.
When I left California in 2012, I thought I would be doing a little traveling over that year, and preparing for a quick return in 2013. Instead, I had a number of health issues that delayed that.
The biggest problem is that I have what they call a spinal stenosis. Stenosis is a fancy doctor word for “narrowing”.
This is from one of my MRIs. You’re looking at a couple of slices of my body, perpendicular to the spine. In the segment on the left, the spine is mostly normal. But a few millimeters away, the backbone is squeezing the spinal cord. Instead of a nice round conveyance for nerves, it looks like a Fig Newton that’s been stepped on.
The doctors are a bit amazed that I have no motor symptoms. Given this kind of damage, a lot of people become inexplicably clumsier and clumsier, lose reflexes, or develop unusual gaits. This often happens to older patients, so they chalk it up to advancing age, until it is too late. But not me.
In response to some injury, at some point - nobody knows - my spine has been trying to heal itself. But like a pearl forming in an oyster, it’s become a runaway process, and now threatens my spinal cord.
I’ve had nerve issues related to this since at least 2004, but I didn’t know it. The initial diagnosis was that I had a radiculopathy, which is a fancy doctor word for “a nerve that’s pinched as it leaves the spine”. I used to be far more physically active, but I had to mostly give that up, since any stress would trigger pain and other wonky nerve symptoms in my arm.
The radiculopathy diagnosis was right - it’s just that the bone was growing in both directions, inward and outward. Only a CT scan or an MRI can see the stenosis. After a particularly bad bout of pain last February, my doctor ordered one, and it was plain to see.
So, I’ve been waiting for this surgery since 2013, and it’s finally going to happen on May 5th, 2014. (This was another great reason to stay in Canada. In the USA, this surgery would have cost a whole year’s salary even if I had a Silicon Valley job, and possibly more. Assuming I could even get coverage for this, as a pre-existing condition.)
I’m not in any pain right now. What we’re doing is stopping this process before it causes irreversible damage to my spine, or partially cuts it off. I am a bit paranoid about running or falling now, because in a way, my entire body is hanging by a slender thread. No doctor has told me this, but I worry about falling over and then not being able to get up, like a marionette whose strings have been cut.
It’s possible that I will never bounce back to 100%, and will always have little funny twinges due to the damage that’s been done already. But, once this is dealt with, I might be able to exercise more.
I’m a ridiculously lucky person - my surgeon, Dr. John Street, is one of the best in all of Canada for this kind of work. This procedure is relatively routine for them; I’m only unusual because I’m younger than the average patient. However, it’s hard to plan for the recovery. I could be flat on my back for a few months, or I could be walking around with a cervical collar in days. Or, in rare cases (less than 2%) the spinal cord itself gets more damaged than it was before. But it’s an easy choice. I’d still take that risk over the certainty of damage later, and to stop the process of the stenosis eventually snipping off my spinal cord.
I have had unflagging support from my amazing girlfriend Melanie, and my parents are also flying out for the week of the operation to help out. (I got them their first AirBnB.)
In any case, no matter what happens, it seems that I will still be here to annoy you on the Internet.