I am going to make an embarrassing admission. I had breast reduction surgery about 15 years ago.
For years, I had been having pain and discomfort in my neck, back and shoulders. Each time I saw my neurosurgeon, I mentioned it. His answer was always the same: Nothing to worry about.
I accepted it and let it go. Each appointment was a repeat of the last. Nothing to worry about.
Finally, it was too much. Because I was “top heavy” I thought a breast reduction might be the answer. A plastic surgeon agreed and I had the operation.
I looked better, but, son of a gun, I still had neck, back and shoulder pain.
Something was not right. In fact, the pain and discomfort were getting worse. Merely holding up my head was exhausting.
At the next doctor’s appointment I pressed the issue, “Something has got to be wrong.”
He sent me for x-rays. My mouth fell open as I heard and saw the results. I was told that another neurosurgeon, who had operated on me in the past, “has been worried about your neck for years” because it was “falling down.”
No one had said anything to me, but suddenly it was being treated as somewhat of an emergency.
“I want you to go see an orthopedic surgeon, right now,” he said.
An hour later that doctor was looking at my x-rays. “Your neck is literally falling down. You must have surgery. You could be paralyzed just walking down the street,” he told me.
Three surgeons would be required for the operation; with one doctor to open my neck, another to get to the vertebrae, and the third to put in 2 metal clamps and 12 pins to hold up my neck.
It took a month to get the three of them together in the operating room. Then things turned for the worst. Something went wrong, so they could put in only one clamp. That made my neck even more unstable.
“If you sit or stand up you will become paralyzed and you will die,” I was told.
Three weeks later they put in the second clamp, which stabilized my neck. I still have some pain because the metal contracts and expands with the weather, along with some muscle pain.
Why am I telling you this?
Because it was a gigantic lesson to me.
I complained, but let it go when the doctor dismissed my complaint. Even as the pain got worse and I could see my neck was literally getting shorter, I let it go.
I had no idea that my neck was essentially breaking down. On the x-ray, the vertebrae in my neck were not in a straight line. They had fallen into a “V” position.
In a follow-up appointment the doctor turned to a resident and said, “This is the kind of x-ray that when you see it you want to leave the room and vomit.”
The doctors knew I was having problems and one had been worried about it for years. Yet no one said anything to me.
I learned growing up, and from some doctors as well, that you listen to authority figures. Say it once and then let it go, especially if they do.
I should have persevered. “I’m not sure you understand. I have bad neck pain.”
It was not just the neurosurgeon. The plastic surgeon never even considered the pain might not have been caused by the heaviness of my chest.
When we have a problem we have to be our own best advocates and be annoyingly repetitive if necessary.
It is our body and our life. If we don’t cheerlead for ourselves, if we don’t make noise and push forward for what we need, then we will not get it. Or by the time we do it may have turned into something much worse.
Please, use me as your cautionary tale.
And SPEAK UP!
Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” Carol was accredited to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where she helped get chronic pain recognized as a disease.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.