My 40s were challenging. As a father of five children under the age of 10, I was navigating the development of my practice and allowed a bit too much stress in my life. I wasn’t feeling so well in my later 40s, so I did a complete overhaul. Since I turned 50, I’ve been aggressive at optimizing my health. And when I went for a physical in July, the doctor said I was the healthiest person he had ever seen.
I work hard, but I love my practice and career. I work out three days a week. I have a wonderful family and social life. I have great peace with God. Everything looked and felt great.
But like I’ve said many times, “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.” The fact is, we don’t have as much control over our lives as we would like.
Around Labor Day, I started to develop intense pain in my right arm and shoulder blade. I can normally do 50 push-ups in a row, but within three weeks of experiencing this pain for the first time, I couldn’t do a single push-up.
The strength and power in my chest and right arm had been almost completely sapped. I could see in the mirror that muscle atrophy had caused my right tricep to shrink. I had lost tone and couldn’t even flex the muscles in my arm.
At this point, I knew I had a neurological impingement because the nerve wasn’t telling the muscle what to do. When I had an MRI, I saw just how bad it was. The nerve was being obliterated because of herniated discs at two levels in my lower cervical spine.
What made my case even worse is a condition called congenital stenosis, which means I was born with a narrow spinal canal. Most people don’t learn they have congenital stenosis until it’s discovered in an MRI, and that was the case for me.
After all, this was the first MRI I’d ever had. I’ve only been seriously ill twice in my life. I had spinal meningitis when I was 23, which was the worst head pain you could possibly imagine, and I had shingles in 2015. I’d never had surgery or even anesthesia.
But this was something completely different. This wasn’t something that we could have fixed with the modalities we use at Natural Healthcare Center. As a chiropractor, I know surgery is required in most cases when I see motor loss and muscle atrophy.
Between the diagnosis of congenital stenosis and disc herniation, along with progressive neurological weakening in my arm and shoulder, I knew the clock was ticking. If I had examined myself, I would have recommended surgery, too.
After receiving multiple opinions that confirmed the diagnosis, I scheduled the earliest surgery possible. It’s called anterior cervical disc fusion. The procedure is performed by a neurosurgeon and takes about four hours. The goal is to decompress the impinged nerves.
Within three to five days, I started to become symptom-free. I stopped taking medication by the seventh day, except for Tylenol. As of this writing, which is day 20, any type of activity can cause pain. I played the guitar for 10 minutes yesterday and felt it. I have to be careful.
I have two reasons for sharing this experience.
First, when you and your healthcare team have objectively assessed your situation and received several qualified opinions, you could very well find that surgery is the best and only option. Emergency and traumatic care in our country are the best in the world. I thank God for the surgeons and technology we have. How our healthcare system handles chronic illness is a different story, but the point here is the system excels in cases like mine. I’m eternally grateful for that.
Second, what happened to me was just another example of this thing called life completely ignoring our best-laid plans. No matter how hard you try to take care of yourself, something will happen.
All we can do is prepare – physically, nutritionally, and psychologically – to put ourselves in a position that reduces risk as much as possible. Fortunately, I was in excellent shape before I started to experience pain. As a result, my recovery will be shorter and the outcome will be maximized. That’s the surgeon talking, not me.
Finally, I’d like to thank my family, friends, and patients for their visits, phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, and anything else they’ve done to support me during this ordeal. In my 25-year career as a chiropractor, the longest I had been out of work was about seven days in a row. I’ll be sidelined for about four to six weeks before returning to full capacity, and there are days when it’s very difficult. As Twain wrote, “Let your vocation be your vacation.” I’ve lived by those words because I adore the work I’ve been blessed to do.
During the initial stages of my recovery, I didn’t realize how much of a difference it makes to be visited by people who care about me during a time like this. The support I received was both humbling and inspiring. I’ll discuss this in more detail in my next blog post.