It has now been about six weeks since my spinal cord surgery, and I am happy to say that my neck is mending very well. It’s still a little sore, but I workout my upper body every day with weights and VitaGlide in order to strengthen the muscles surrounding my neck.
So here’s the story of the surgery, with some unusual illustrations courtesy of one of my physical therapists who routinely photographs and videos major surgical procedures in Kunming.
I remember being put in the hospital gown the morning of the surgery and rolling into an ultra modern operating theater that had been designed for Tongren Hospital by Australians. My anesthesiologist, Professor Wu, who is the recently-retired chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at Kunming Medical University, taught most of the anesthesiologists at the Peoples Liberation Army Hospital as well as in other major hospitals in Southern China.
Dr. Wu spoke flawless English, and I attempted to have a conversation with him, but I think his mind was focused on other things as he quickly put a mask over my face, and then I was out like a light.
The following photographs were taken by Niu Fang, the physical therapist I mentioned above.
The surgical team getting ready for surgery
This diagram illustrates the numerous layers surrounding the spinal cord. Dr. Liu had to drill away the bone of three vertebral lamina (C-5 through C-7) to gain wide “barn door” access to my spinal cord. Then in order to secure my spinal column at the end of the surgery, Dr. Liu used part of the vertebrae he had cut away, crushed up to make a sort of mortar, to reinforce positioning of the three titanium rods and six screws he used to stabilize my spinal column.
On a side note, my brother Mattias had the nerve to ask Dr. Liu if he could please save a small piece of my vertebrae as a keepsake!
Yes, that is how much I love my brother … how many many sisters would offer a piece of their spinal column as a gift? 🙂
Before the dura mater is opened … this is the scene
First a small puncture of the dura mater … and then a CSF gusher!
The dura mater is now wide open, exposing the pia mater in order to gain access to the arachnoid cyst on the anterior side of the pia mater, and also revealing 2 small syrinx cysts just inside of the pia mater that were successfully drained.
My surgical team deep in concentration
Sleeping peacefully on a lot of drugs right after the surgery 🙂
I have to admit that at first I was hesitant to look at these photos or watch the videos because I thought they might make me a little queasy. However, I actually found these photo records very informative and wanted to share them with my regular readers. I doubt many of you have ever before seen the inside of a spinal cord, so here you can have a peek at mine! (If you’ve any questions about all this please feel free to e-mail me.)
Finally, there were two videos taken during my surgery. I have decided to post these on YouTube because they serve to illustrate a very important outcome of the surgery that could not be seen in a still photograph.
In the first video, note carefully that my spinal cord is not moving at all, being literally stuck in place by scar tissue and wedged in tightly by the big (3.5 cm) cyst.
Also worth observing is the absence of blood. Dr. Liu is one of the very top neurosurgeons in the world, and his mantra is “no blood” when working on an open spinal cord. On top of the pia mater you can actually see the tiny, delicate blood vessels that supply the spinal cord, and none of these have been nicked. I lost virtually no blood during the entire surgery.
In the second video, after the team have surgically drained the big cyst and cleared out the scar tissue, you can actually see that my spinal cord has started beating again in rhythm with my heartbeat. I learned that your spinal cord is supposed to pulse naturally with your heartbeat and breathing, but mine had unfortunately been frozen in place for over two years. 😦
It is incredible how Niu Fang captured all this on film … see for yourself!
Video 1: No movement of the spinal cord: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2soHLDNiWY&feature=youtu.be
Video 2: Spinal cord is again pulsing with the beat of my heart: http://youtu.be/KW2s-eOMcD0