Introduction: Coping With Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) Surgery.
Way back in August 1999, a heavy steel door rusted off its hinges and fell on my hard hat on a job site. I immediately saw stars in my vision but being a young trainee engineer at the job, I shrugged off the incident and did the job successfully. Too bad back then they was no such thing as workmen compensation in my country.
Throughout the years I always had painful neck and shoulders spasms, some lasting up to a fortnight. At one point early in 2006, the right half of my body was numb the other half was in mega pain. I however plodded on with life like a fool and didn't check a doctor.
In late November 2017 I got an intense flare up of this old injury that necessitated my first ever MRI. My wife made an appointment with a neurosurgeon and the when he saw those scans the first thing the man said after was, "You don't need to be a brain surgeon to see there is a problem here." Since I couldn't use my left arm and I had trouble walking, surgery was scheduled immediately. On December 29 2017 at 1pm I had my first ever surgery, ACDF on vertebrae C5 to 7.
Here is my experience having the surgery and my recuperation since. Hopefully this instructable can help others planning to face this type of major surgery.
Step 1: The Surgery.
I was mandated to stop ingestion of food/liquids midnight before the surgery. I made sure to eat and drink lots of water up till that time. It is very important to follow the anesthesiologist instructions pre op. To stave off feelings of thirst I rinsed my mouth with water and spit all of it out.
During the "starvation" period, you should refrain from much conversation even if you feel nervous. I was extremely nervous but I preferred to conserve my internal liquids.
You must not succumb to temptation and eat/drink anything prior to the surgery!
I'm not a smoker and nicotine prohibits bone fusion. All smokers must stop that habit a few weeks before and months after the surgery. If you want a successful fusion then follow the surgeon's orders.
My surgery lasted almost 3 hours for the 2 level fusion required. Bone spurs were removed since I developed early arthritis in my cervical spine. Titanium plating and screws were inserted.
I woke up in a private room we payed for at the private clinic and the incision pain was the only sensation I felt. I readily admit I was scared that my neck would slide off and I could not move my head much due to fear. First time I have ever been high in my life and I readily pressed that morphine dispenser button.
My neurosurgeon did not want me wearing any cervical collars. I would have felt safer with one but I had to follow the orders of the expert.
Step 2: 1 Month Post Op.
The first 2 days post op my throat was sore but that rapidly faded. I however was really hungry and I did eat as normal. It is important to get high quality protein and calcium in the diet for rapid bone fusion. When the throat soreness passed completely I ate even more often.
The 3rd to 7th days post op I got terrible coughing that really hurt my neck and incision. Also I endured sore neck, shoulders and lower back. The 8th day the pain in my lower back was worse along with a bad headache but they passed with the help of non NSAIDs pain relievers. No steroid type pain medicine can be taken up to a year post op else the bone fusion can be compromised.
No showering is recommended for 4 days to avoid the bandage getting wet. I took a shower with the help of the wife. I had no issues keeping my balance however I was prohibited from raising my arms or lifting anything over 5lbs. If you have balance issues, you will need regular assistance in the shower or use of a walker while bathing.
I made sure to get up from bed and walk around the bedroom every hour or so. It was very painful with the incision to lay down and worst yet to get back up from the bed. I was advised to lay horizontally without a pillow. This is how I normally sleep so it is nothing weird for me. For you who may need to do the surgery, a recliner pillow may prove invaluable.
I actually took very little pain medicine since I felt great compared to pre op. I couldn't look at the floor that first week so I did a sort of shuffle walk to avoid tripping. You do not want to fall during this sensitive stage! I did get some tingling and numbness during sleep and especially when waking on mornings.
A fortnight after the surgery, my suture was removed. My progress was very good. I have always been into physically fitness and it is my daily hobby. This I believe is the key for my accelerated healing. If you have poor diet, low fitness levels and are a smoker, making lifestyle changes prior to the surgery and maintaining such after the operation is a very good thing.
Physiotherapy I started 4 weeks post op and this was extremely tiring for such simple exercises. I did those exercises every other day and they knocked me.out completely. I had to sleep off most of the day and I admit it was shameful. Thankfully my family understood and supported me thoroughly.
Step 3: 6 Months+ Post Op.
6 weeks post up I was cleared for normal work duties that didn't include lifting objects. This was all well and good but 3 weeks into my surgical leave I was fired from my job due to my former injury (a new hr manager replaced the former manager and threw out the verbal promise I received for safeguarding my job). Also I was allowed to resume light exercises (swimming, walking, push-ups, body weight squats). I can never again do squats with the bar on my shoulders, heavy lifts like deadlifts or shoulder presses.
2 months post op I completed my physiotherapy. I was very glad it ended but it allowed greater movement of my neck and reduced daily tingling sensations.
3 months post op I was allowed to lift up to objects 20lbs in mass. Lifting above my head was allowed but for light stuff.
6 months post op and I am going ahead with my life. I'm excited to be exercising regularly even though my energy levels are much lower. I don't have the range of movement with my neck as before but it sure beats being partially paralyzed or worse.
I highly recommend doing this surgery if you have cervical damage. Only a neurosurgeon can guide you on this but if the surgery is recommended, you should do it. It takes only a minor car accident or a slip on a wet tile to make the existing problems worse a hundred fold. This is major surgery and requires complete commitment to guarantee success post op. For me choosing the ability to be mobile and capable has no price!
I hope the summary of my surgery can be useful to you folks.