I went to see my surgeon today expecting him to tell me when I would be going for my rhizotomy, but he decided to drop a bombshell. The one thing I’ve been trying to avoid is needing to have a repeat operation of the 360 degree spinal fusion. Well I won’t be able to avoid it now.
I now know what I am getting for my birthday in a couple of weeks, a new back, (or as some would say, a new spine).
He is going to go in and remove the metal work and grafts that didn’t fuse correctly and replace the whole lot.
So, fingers crossed, there could be light at the end of the tunnel, though I would really have liked to have avoided a major operation again.
I will also be leaving my present employer on the 20th April, due to redundancy just to top it all off. Luckily, my medical coverage with my insurance will cover me for the operation and any subsequent treatments resulting from it.
And do you know what really pisses me off the most?
I managed to crush the bottom 3 vertebrae when I came off a tube being towed by a speed boat on a lake in Oklahoma, (which was later found out to effectively be a broken back!). I had injured my spine in the same area when playing rugby in the Royal Navy in 1991. We were living in Texas at the time and I was working for the same company having transferred to the US back in 1999. No problem, I had medical insurance as you must do in the US if you want to get so much as a plaster (Band-Aid) stuck to your finger.
In a period of about 18 months, I had a series of 11 Steroid and Painkilling injections, a Rhizotomy and finally a 360 degree fusion. The last of which took over 10 hours and needed a week in hospital and several months off work to recover. And all for what? Absolutely nothing !! (As it turns out now).
Apart from the fact that it nearly bankrupted us. The medical bills for all my back treatment was just under $400,000 and in the US, you have a co-pay on most items of 25%.
There was a limit of $2000 per year on certain out of pocket expenses, but over all it cost me over $30,000. And what is more, It was all for nothing, because none of it worked.
In the UK, I am going to have to spend a grand total of �14, which is just over $7.
My UK surgeon performed one procedure where he injected steroids and painkillers and it worked first time. He is an ex-Royal Navy surgeon, but I reckon he was a gunnery officer, because he hit the mark in his first attempt.
I don’t want to blame the surgeon in the states, I don’t know why it didn’t work as well in the US as it did over here. The eleven injections did piddle me off though, one because of the cost each time, and two, because they never worked. The Rhizotomy in the US was a partial success in that it did reduce the pain, and I believe that my problems of late are due to the nerves growing back and the this could explain the increase in pain levels, (it is about the right time frame for them to grow back).
A further complication with a Rhizotomy for each nerve that is cut, it is not a simple case of it just re-joining when it grows back. Both ends of the severed nerve send out ‘feelers’ looking for the each other. When two ends finally meet, the brain effectively switches on that never path again. Unfortunately, there can be complications because you now have ‘un-terminated’ fingers which can cause ‘ghost’ pain signals being sent to the brain. And as I have already mentioned, a Rhizotomy is not a permanent fix.
The 360 degree fusion is a different story though. You only have to look at the x-rays to see how complicated the procedure was. Its called a 360 degree fusion because both the front and rear of the spine are fused. First they go in through your lower abdomen, move all the bits out of the way and then strap two titanium rods to your spine. Once secured, everything is put back in its place and you are sewn up. The operation is done on a special table that has a Wilson frame. It allows the patient to be rotated whilst on the operating table.
They then went in via the back and removed the 2 damaged vertebrae and replaced them with two metal cages. These are packed with bone taken from the pelvis area. A cage is then attached to the new vertebrae and fixed by a further two titanium rods.
The rods are then fixed to the vertebrae above and below the new cage and fixed by placing yet more bone fragments. These will then fuse the new cage together.
In my case, the internal fusion of the metalwork to replace the damaged discs fused ok, but the external fusion failed. This means that in effect, there is no fusion and the damaged disks are free to move.
My surgeon is going to remove all the external metal work and refit a new cage to the outside, using the existing screw holes to fix a new cage. He will then take a new set of bone material from my pelvis and pack the new cage with this to allow a new graft to form. This should create a ‘fusion’ preventing the discs around the L5-S1 region from moving (which is the source of my pain right now). He will also create a Wallis ligament at L4/L5 to try and prevent failure of the disc above the fusion.
I am really looking forward to this?Not? But I am hoping that it will work and I can return to a near normal life. But, we shall see.