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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Not enough cake...

I made the appointment to get a local surgeon's opinion about the state of my now 10-year-old spinal surgery. So when I went to the office just over a month ago, the alert PA, testing me for baseline abilities, noticed a slight left bicep weakness and some imbalance walking. She guessed "cervical stenosis." "Stenosis" means narrowing of the space in your spinal column in which the cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) cushions the central nerve-bundle. The surgeon reviewed my x-rays and pronounced my lumbar fusion stable. Then he had the PA order an MRI, which I had a couple of weeks ago.

Last week I read her assessment. I've been worried since. This morning conversation with the surgeon confirmed cervical stenosis revealed by the MRI: long-standing arthritis has reached the point that I have no CSF from C-3 to C-5. [We have seven "cervical"--neck--vertebrae and 12 "thoracic" or main spinal vertebrae.] Worse, the C-5 vertebral-bone has shifted slightly. The prognosis is progressive impairment--balance, neuropathy, etc.--over perhaps a year.

The imminent threat, though, is that movement of less than a millimeter at that arthritis-damaged C-5--say a fall or other injury--could inflict paraplegia or even quadriplegia: partial to complete paralysis. Surgery is risky, of course, but paralysis is worse.

So I'm scheduled for ACDF--anterior cervical discectomy and fusion--in 12 weeks, followed by 12 weeks off the road bike. The procedure involves opening the spinal sheath from the right front of my throat, inserting three disc-replacement "cages" to restore the alignment of the vertebrae, and screwing a pair of flanges to retain the repair as it heals.

I find myself feeling much more vulnerable now. And sad. I won't be riding weekly with club and group members I've been cycling among since moving to Tucson. These have been some of the best years of my cycling life. I'm grateful for the friendships I've made. Not to mention the racing.

And joking. For example: A guy goes to his urologist. "You've got to stop masturbating," the doctor says. "Why," the guy asks. "Because I'm trying to examine you."

Well, I still think it's funny. 

I'll still be cycling, but alone. Supposing I can remain healthy and uninjured--and the surgery is successful--the immediate risk of paralysis will be over and I'll be back on the road next year. Maybe I'll see you out there...