One of those days... good news/bad news!
Got my performance evaluation at work this week - glowing reports from all my co-workers, program managers - pretty much the best evaluation I've ever received.
But - yesterday, I got bad news. I've been having some odd sensations on my leg and back - numbness, and a feeling of warmth. Occasionally, when I lean my head back, I'd get some tingling in my right had in the ring and little finger. I'd seen my doctor, who'd referred me to a neurologist after getting a cranial MRI. The neurologist didn't see anything in the MRI, and after a cursory examination, proclaimed me healthy. He ordered a cervical and thoracic MRI just to be safe. I had a follow-up appointment a few weeks later, and he very solemnly told me I should see a neurosurgeon - and expect to be told that I needed surgery. The guy he referred me to was described as a "real gem", who wouldn't recommend surgery unless it was absolutely necessary.
I got the news from the neurosurgeon that I'm going to need spinal surgery. Apparently, at the ripe old age of 48, my cervical vertebrae and disks are flaking out, two of the discs are extruding and causing bony bits to grow over the extrusion. The end result of this is my spinal cord is getting squished, and it's beginning to suffer damage, which may or may not be reversible.
Right now the damage is limited to the phantom sensations, weakness and tingling in my hand, but it'll get worse as time goes on. The surgeon initially recommended fusing three vertebrae together, but I wasn't too keen on that.
The FDA just approved artificial cervical disks last week (!), but for single disk repair only. In Europe they're doing multiple disk repairs (there's actually a double layer study going on in Bend), and fusion takes any chance of that away. I haven't heard a lot of patients saying how happy they are about the results of fusion. And, almost a quarter of fusion patients need another joint fused within 10 years (the rigid joints put more stress on the adjacent joints). Of course, if you don't have any alternatives, you go with what you've got.
The surgeon was pretty good at listening to my concerns, and suggested an alternate procedure called a laminaplasty where they enlarge the "cage" that the back of the vertebrae form with the main body, giving the spinal cord more room. Should be good for another 5 years or so, then maybe the FDA will approve two-layer ADR (Artificial Disk Replacement).
In any case, I should get something done in the next several months. The longer I wait, the more damage done, maybe permanently.
I'm pretty freaked out about this. At first, I thought I might have MS (the symptoms were pretty similar), but the shock of being told you need major surgery was huge. I couldn't stop shivering for a week, and could hardly eat (a very quick way to lose weight!). I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around all this.