Sorry I have been away so long.
The truth is I’ve been dreading and putting off writing this column for a while now…
Stubbornness, vanity, being a “control freak”, whatever it is, I just hate not being at my best.
Two months ago or so, I started waking up with really sharp neck pain. At first I only felt it in the mornings, so I figured it had something to do with the position I was sleeping in or my pillows. Then the pain began lasting longer and longer, and returning in the afternoon, then at night. It kept getting worse and worse. Pretty soon it was severe and constant enough that I was taking about 8 to 12 Advil a day, as well as a handful of Bayer Back & Body.
Clearly, something was very wrong.
After first checking my carotid arteries, they gave me an MRI and it revealed I had 3 or 4 discs in my neck that had degenerated so badly they were pinching off my spinal fluid. Even to my non-doctor eyes, it was pretty ugly. It did not look good. I’m told it was not the result of one injury but just the long-term effect of arthritis over many decades. It hasn’t yet caused any nerve paralysis in my arms or legs, but it poses a serious risk to my spine if I were to fall or make it worse in any way. Most of all, the pain can be absolutely excruciating – getting up from sitting is the worst part – and has made even everyday activity (including doing my design work) extremely difficult, worn me down and left me pretty fragile.
It is déjà vu all over again! If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it’s very similar to my shoulder problem last year. And just like then, I need surgery.
(Not sure how many of you are familiar with Nora Ephron’s hilarious book I Feel Bad About My Neck, but it is a favorite of mine. Do check it out!)
Not the most attractive option at my age, but after physical therapy and massage only left me hurting more, I don’t have any choice. So my surgery is scheduled for this Tuesday (September 25). Luckily I have the best neurosurgeon in Colorado, Dr. Steven Shogan, who has done literally thousands of these operations over a long career. He will fuse together at least 3 if not all 4 of the discs (the most they can do in one procedure). The operation will take about 3 ½ hours. It’s fascinating – they actually go in through the front of the neck, move everything aside to get to the spine. It can temporarily affect swallowing and the sound of my voice (no problem there: I’ve always hated my little-girl voice) and I have to wear a neck brace for a full six weeks afterwards! But otherwise, it is relatively painless and should be a much easier recovery than my shoulder replacement.
My son has been taking good care of me and my niece Pam is taking time away from her work and family to come out to Denver for a few days and give him a break.
Just wanted to share this little bump-in-the-road with all of you who are nice enough to read my blog and have always given me such warm support…
The weird thing is my latest physical had very good results other than this literal pain in the neck, which was a big relief. But I guess the big lesson here is never brag about your health! Ha ha. Even, or especially, at 82! Maybe think it, thank god for it, but don’t say it out loud. Definitely don’t blog about it! Cuz something can and, let’s face it, always will be coming around the corner eventually for all of us. Getting sick is not a character defect, as I so often tend to feel, it is just proof we’re human – and a reminder of how lucky most of us are to be able-bodied and pain-free most of the time. I can’t wait to be there again. Whew.
Finally, it’s also an invitation to keep things in perspective…
I have three friends who are at this moment undergoing chemotherapy as treatment for their cancer. Their resilience and matter-of-fact strength pushing through every day, just doing what they have to do, leaves me in complete awe.
I can handle this.
As Burt always said, “No one ever said it was gonna’ be easy!”
I’ll be back to tell you more.