i am scared

over the past 6 months I have had worsening neurological symptoms (drop foot, altered gait, poor balance, etc.) which I attributed to a possible herniaated disc or rupture at L5. I had been treated for a ruptured disc at the same level 6 yers ago with some of the same symptoms, most notably the dropped foot. I was not overly worried though, as the pain was far less severe, although the gait and balance issues were far more pronounced. I work in sales with healthcare professionals, many of whom treat the specific spine issues I have (degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, arthritis, and previous fusion at C4-C6 10 years ago). Despite having significant knowledge regarding my disease state and working with providers on a daily basis, I kicked the can down the road for several months before discussing it with a neurologist over coffee about 3 weeks ago. Given my symptoms and history, he sent me to a common friend and colleague who specializes in pain management (the spine surgeon who had performed my previous surgery and lumbar injections was no longer practicing). As expected, an MRI was performed of my entire spine, and sure enough, L5 was an issue. Unfortunately, it became immediately clear that it was a minor concern relative to the other findings in my MRI report. 2 days later when I arrived to schedule my appointment, the doctor - a man I’ve known professionally and socially for 16 years (our daughters play volleyball for rival club teams so we see each other virtually every other weekend between January and May) - sees me at the front desk and immediately ushers me back into his office. I could tell something was very wrong by the look on his face and his demeanor. The first words out of his mouth were “I’m surprised you’re walking...” With that he started going over the report and the imaging, at which point my knowledge and professional experience (I’ve looked at images and worked in pain management for 2 decades) kicked in and I realized that this train wreck wasn’t in a textbook or a power point presentation at some medical conference, but it was MY SPINE. And it was about as bad as I’d ever seen in an ambulatory patient.  While multiple levels will require attention at some point, the most critical is the failure of my prior fusion at C4-C6 accompanied by the impingement of the adjacent disc and spurs at C7, which have compressed and flattened the cord to the right of the midline. Severe stenosis with cord myelomalacia and atrophy are noted in the report, and the image is truly frightening, knowing the impact of damage to my cord at this level. In addition, my spine is impinged and compressed at several other levels, most notably at T11-12 and L5-S1, which will most likely require surgical intervention as well, but the initial impression from my pain doctor, as well as the physiatrist I followed up with for a disability pre-op assessment, is the the cervical issue is the most dire.

Coincidentally, the PA for the physiatrist made the same comment as my friend (the pain doc) upon entering the exam room (“I’m surprised you’re walking”...).  I think I’m beginning to notice a pattern. The concern of the physiatrist was that my surgical consult was too far out given what he felt was the urgency of my condition, and a call from my pain doc (and a text of a cervical image) helped move up my consult by nearly a month. I have an EMG coming up (unpleasant but necessary) and hopefully after the consult I will have a much clearer view of the timeline I’m looking at for my procedure, recovery, and unfortunately, follow-on procedures to decompress my spine and maintain as much function as possible.  My goals are to (1) maintain my ability to walk - preferably unassisted-and use my arms, (2) to provide for my wife and two teenage children (thankfully I have good health and disability insurance), and (3) continue working as long as I can without jeopardizing my health.  I travel extensively in my present role, and while that may have to change, I still want to have a purpose and a reason to get out of bed each day. I will turn 56 in a few weeks, and I have worked my entire life, starting out as a paperboy at 11 and working my way through high school and college with a 6 year stint on active duty in the military prior to joining my current employer nearly 30 years ago. I want to go on with the life I had planned but I am scared to death that I might not achieve all - or even any - of the goals I listed. At the moment I feel extremely vulnerable, knowing one bad fall or a simple rear-end accident out in my sales territory could result in quadriplegia. And even when I get to the OR, I know my case will be fairly complex given the existing hardware from my prior fusion and the general worsening condition of my cervical spine. I know this recovery and rehab will be far longer and difficult (being 10 years older doesn’t help either), but knowing I will be undergoing further procedures is undoubtedly going to weigh on my mind and I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever get cleared to come back to work, and if so at what capacity? Will they even keep me on the payroll or just keep me on long-term disability? I have had a conversation with the corporate ombudsman (confidential resource for colleagues) but will need to have another prior to speaking with HR about my status as I initiate short-term disability (when I go under the knife).

It is so much to get my head around.  While I’ve had spine issues and sought treatment for the better part of 2 decades, I never envisioned it being this bad at my age. I had big dreams and plans of an active and financially secure retirement, and now I just don’t know. I have always been a working man, a provider, a leader, and the rock that my family depends on.  I don’t want to be a burden and I don’t want to be pitied. I just want my life to resemble what I’ve been working 40+ years to achieve, and I’m scared to death that it is all about to slip through my fingers. I don’t know, maybe I am over reacting. Maybe it will all work out, my surgeries and rehab will go well, and the health and disability insurers will pay out my claims. But it’s this foreboding sense of doom and the sense that I have little to no control over what is about to transpire that just grips me with fear.  I was in combat in the military as a young man and yet I was never this scared. I know no one can assure me that it’ll be alright, but if anyone has had a history of multiple procedures on their spine with successful outcomes, I could sure use the pep talk right now. I’m not looking to do adventure sports or dance like John Travolta (circa 1977), I just want to walk my daughter down the aisle some day, to walk up and congratulate my son when he graduates college, to slow dance with my wife on our anniversary, to finish my career on my terms and have some healthy years in retirement.  I know my case is specific to me, but has anyone come out the other side of something like this “whole”? Anybody?



  • The unknown future regarding your spine is scary for sure but they need to get the EMG, Neurologist, surgeon referral. I say take it one day at a time. Get a care plan what you should be doing from the surgeon and follow his advice. second opinion even. Take care.

  • Thanks to both of you for your responses.  On the plus side I know have a clearer picture of what the near term looks like. My NS has referred me to a colleague at a major medical center due to the severity and complexity of my condition. Turns out my cord is down to 1/5 of its normal diameter through the C5-C7 space, with impingement from both anterior and posterior sides (bone spurs protruding from the spines process being a significant factor, along with the failed prior ACDF).  I should hear back from the 2nd surgeon today (pre-cert was a week ago), and my original NS (someone I’ve known professionally for about 7 years) believes they will do a simultaneous anterior corpectomy/posterior fusion with rods. I found a study online from 2018 (fresh data!) that found superior outcomes with a simultaneous procedure as opposed to a staged approach, which certainly appeals to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is reducing my time in the collar. Once the recovery period is over (3-6 months), they will asses my condition and need for additional procedures. One colleague felt the thoracic issues will most likely require surgery but held out hope that the lumbar may respond sufficiently to more conservative therapy (i.e. injections). So provided the new NS doesn’t throw me a curveball, I at least have a better understanding of my condition (cervical spondylitic myelopathy) and a potential plan to treat it.  The tough part is waiting out the pre-operative period in which I’m at substantial risk of a life-altering injury, which leads me to the the down side.

    Yesterday I was driving my daughter and a friend to a volleyball tournament (they play for a 15 & under travel squad) and while stuck in stop and go traffic entering the convention de nter, I was rear-ended by a late model Chevy Suburban.  While I can’t say for sure if I experienced any further injury (the girls were fine and my car appeared relatively undamaged), I was pretty freaked out (still am). I was fortunate that the impact wasn’t any harder, but it made me stop and question why I was on the road at all. Granted, this was a personal choice, but my day-to-day work involves a lot of driving (~1,000/week) in many areas in which driving is fraught with danger from poor drivers and road work. While I didn’t want to go on short-term disability until absolutely necessary (pay is reduced after 13 weeks), I am sitting on a lot of vacation days. I decided I would use whatever I needed to bridge myself over to my surgical admission and then start the STD clock.  With any luck I will be cleared for light work in 3 months and may be able to work remotely on a temporary or even permanent basis. That would certainly relieve Lomé of my financial anxiety and allow me the chance to simply exhale and take a look at my future from a different vantage point - huge shout out to DavidG for your story and guidance.  I have to keep reminding myself that I really am fortunate.  100 years ago I would already be dead.  It isn’t an untreatable form of cancer or a neurodegenerative disorder like ALS or Parkinson’s.  Is it going to suck for awhile? Absolutely. Over coffee with a physiatrist friend last week he answered my question regarding corpectomy pain in a refreshingly - and brutally honest - way.  I know the NS might be less forthcoming as they don’t want to discourage the patient or heighten anxiety but I really do want to know everything - including the unpleasant aspects - about the procedures I’m going to have to undergo if I want to improve my function and my long-term prospects for my retirement and possible next career. My life certainly appears to be deviating from my intended course, but as John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”.  And so it goes. 

    Once again thank you both, and while I can’t say I’m not scared, I am certainly less scared and more hopeful. And I guess that is why a forum like this exists.  Thanks to the folks at are in order as well. 

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  • boo9989bboo9989 Posts: 461
    edited 03/27/2019 - 2:56 PM


        Your post touched me to the core as I've walked in your shoes a couple times and like David said your not alone.

        I injured myself at work back in 2002 I was just 42 years old. At first everyone thought it was just a shoulder injury but after worsening symptoms including weakness in my legs and walking and balance problems after a month and a half a MRI was done of my cervical. I didnt even have to wait for the report as the radiologist pulled me into his office after the scan. I had major cord compression in the area of c5-7.  They did a anterior cervical fusion of c5-7 with a corpectomy to decompress my cord as a emergency surgery. 

      Then in 2003 all heck broke loose my husband was dx with stage 3 metastatic colon cancer. At the time he worked for the Dept of Justice but had to retire on disability. In 2004 his cancer recurred the same time I was told the level above my fusion had collapsed and it too now was compressing the cord. So in May 2004 my husband had a massive surgery at a well know Cancer hospital in Baltimore Maryland  where they totally removed his rectum.  They had to cut from below his chest to his pelvic and from his testicles up to the end of his butt August 2004 I had 2 cervical surgeries done 1 week apart. First a anterior were they removed the hardware from the surgery in 2002 another corpectomy this time at c4 and new plate. Then 1 week later a posterior with laminectomy from c4-7 using my own bone from my hip. So both my husband and me were laid up. Him though I think far worse then me as he also had diabetes which caused major incision problems.which continued till his death in 2007.

       I did fairly well after my surgery in 2004 other then some on going pain till a little over a year ago when I started noticing problem with dropping thing all the time then the pain took till Jan for me to be dx with adjacent level failure in both c3/4 and c7/t1.  Funny last month I was told the same thing I'm 1 car accident away from being paralyzed. Yes its frightening to hear such things. I am now 57

       My point in posting all this will get threw it. Nothing in life can run on a guarantee plan. You can and will adjust to all the curve balls life has thrown at you. When all these future fear play in your head look around you and see all the good in your life..the love of your family and friends..the thing you do have that maybe other cant have the list can go on and on. That what has kept me going all these years threw many many heartaches and problems. Whenever something get me down I push it back as far as I can and focus on all my positives

      Chances are far greater then not that your surgery will go well and over time after recovering you may see how much better your doing then you realized.  Funny sometime we dont realize how sick or how much its affected us till after we have the surgery.  So focus on your recovery and the love of your family..Life you might not beable to get a new car every year..chances are high you will walk your daughter down the aisle.  Funny that was one of my husbands biggest fear...guess what..he walked our daughter down the aisle..

      All of us here wish you the best and please keep us posted


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