The Spinal Fusion Option
The neurosurgeon looked at my wife and me and folded his hands on his lap. “Do you have any questions?” he said.
A cloud of head-spinning words hung in the air. Options. Titanium. Stenosis. Spondylolisthesis. Fusion.
My wife has been enduring a sharp pain in her lower back for the past several years. Turns out that it wasn’t all just me.
Time happens to everybody. There is only one alternative to getting older which is to live hard, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. My wife and I have failed to do any of those things, so we now have to deal with our aging selves.
We are fortunate to be living in a time and a place where many health issues can be successfully addressed. We aren’t being instructed to sing a chant, spin three times, sacrifice a goat, and inhale the fumes from a smoldering sprig of witch-hazel.
Spend any amount of time in the waiting room of a doctor who is an orthopedic or a neurosurgeon and you will witness a parade of misery. There are folks who have braces and bandages, patients who must use walkers or wheelchairs. People who are decades younger than you and are obviously dealing with a lifetime of pain and disability. You thank your lucky stars that you can stroll out of the place without any assistance and in relative comfort.
I once chatted with a farmer who told me how his dad’s knees had been destroyed by arthritis. This happened decades before joint replacement technology became available, so his father was advised to find a comfy chair and park himself in it for the rest of his days. He was told to take aspirin for the pain.
My wife and I have much too much living to do, so when her spondylolisthesis diagnosis was handed down, there was never any doubt that we would choose the fusion option.
She has tried all the alternatives. Chiropractic and massages, heat and cold, physical therapy and stretching exercises. There isn’t a vitamin, supplement, or bone-building mineral that she hasn’t consumed. Her discomfort is impervious to pain meds. My wife reports that holding and petting our cat, Sparkles, does as much good as any of the concoctions the pharmaceutical industry has to offer. We should get a patent for the resonant palliative properties of Sparkles’ purring.
It appears that after exhausting a vast array of options, the cure for my wife’s condition might involve such things as hammers and power grinders.
The internet is a wondrous font of information. It’s also a wondrous place to acquire a dread of things that you hadn’t even known existed.
Almost any medical procedure you could imagine can be instantly beamed into your eyeballs via the internet. I have YouTubed several spinal fusion operations. I wish I hadn’t.
The procedure looks more like carpentry than surgery. There are various types of armatures and hardware and sextants and power tools. “Using the Flaubertium technique, I am now mating the stabilizing grommet to the peripheral ferrule,” intones the surgeon. “The torque-limiting driver will affix the final assembly to the distal occluding surface with seven-gauge self-tapping titanium alloy screws.”
My wife is the nicest person in the world. I’m not saying that just because she’s married to me; everyone who knows her will tell you that she’s a sweetheart. She doesn’t deserve to endure this unending pain. We hope that the surgery will make it possible for her to sleep through the night and enjoy life once again.
About six months ago, my wife’s brother had a similar fusion surgery that was also performed by our neurosurgeon. We thus have an eyewitness who can give us some guidance.
My wife’s brother is now pain-free. He has resumed working fulltime and is off his painkillers. We hope for a similar outcome at our house.
It seems that I will soon be playing postsurgical nursemaid for my wife. This is what I signed up for when we stood at the altar and vowed, “In sickness and in health.”
Besides, I owe her. Not just for nursing me through the everyday maladies of life such as an epically sprained toe or a paper cut that could very well have been terminal.
I also owe her for caring for me during the aftermath of my near-fatal manure pit accident. It will take a long time to make that up to her.
It’s probably not a good idea to put me in charge of housework, but I’ll do my best. My “kick the room clean” system may come into play. And I’ll tell Sparkles to tune up her purr motor.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.