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I know, I know, I’ve been gone for quite a while… it’s been hard to get back into the swing of things…. IT’S SPRING DARNIT! There’s things to do in the yard, places to go, rehearsals to attend…. GEESH! So much to do these days,(so many things I wasn’t able to do for so long), and so little time!!! Some days it’s hard to pick what I want to do first! And being ADHD, that can be a real challenge! HAHAHA
The ACDF surgery by far was my toughest one to recover from. This past Friday, March 16th, marked my one year anniversary from my ACDF. I thought I was being a bit of a crybaby and a wimp from having so many issues I thought would resolve themselves much quicker than what they did. But, from all the questions I’ve been getting, I guess there’s some real validity to the issues. In some ways I’m glad you’re writing to me because it lets me know I’m not alone and it validates the issues as real and not just unique to me alone.
That being said, I’ve had my share of ups and downs with trying to gain full strength and use of my neck. I’ve been doubly assaulted because most people didn’t have a second surgery less than 8 weeks after the ACDF having another airway put into their throat and are not singers as I am. Others have had the time to just let it heal on it’s own, as is the prescription of most doctors. My case, of course, was different. Dr. Smith told me I could start doing warm-ups and “light” singing after 5 months. But it wasn’t until almost the 9 month mark before I felt comfortable because my throat felt like something was pressing on my voice-box and I could literally move my voicebox back into place. The inner muscles just weren’t strong enough to do their job. And for all the practical activity I’ve encounter to do exercises to strengthen those inner muscles at the neck that were stretched, the only one I’ve found to be the most effective for me has been to sing.
At first it sounded so bad, like I had a ball of phlegm stuck in my throat that I couldn’t get out. And then there’s this issue of feeling like my Adam’s apple is pushing against my voice-box. Well, as I’m singing more, the rasp is almost gone, I don’t need to push my voice-box into place much any more, though it does still happen and is annoying as all hell, and the only time I feel my Adam’s apple is pushing against my voice-box now is when I try to sleep on my side.
I know that sounds really wierd but for several days now, Candi, my snuggle bunny and I have been spending some quality time together and our favorite activity is to be in bed under the covers. I don’t stay long with her but she’s finally warming up to me since Skittles’ departure. Her favorite spot is snuggling up against my neck laying on my arm while I’m on my side. She’s only four pounds so that’s not the issue, it’s the height ratio to the degree of the angle my neck is tilted while I’m on my side.
I’ll explain it further. I haven’t been able to find the right height pillow that will accommodate the weight of my head and get me to the proper height so my neck is exactly aligned with my spine if I’m on my side. You’d think it would be a no-brainer, just hold a pillow up to your ear and see if the thickness is out to your shoulder so when you’re on your side, it will hold your head in alignment with your spine… NOT! I can’t tell you how many pillows I’ve tried alone and stacked to make this work…. IT AIN’T THAT EASY! AND, I can tell you that my neck is letting me know the combinations aren’t working. My best position for her and I is flat on my back and I do mean FLAT!
I used to have pillows for my head, and then for under my legs to ease the back pain, and one under my arm so I could position my shoulder for the neck pain prior to surgery. Well since the neck pain is gone, I don’t have the arm pillow, and the back pain is gone so I don’t have the leg pillow (except for when I try to lay on my side which then gets put between my knees), and I invested in two different types and thicknesses of “orthopedic” pillows designed for supposedly helping brace your neck, which I found to be most uncomfortable. So, I sleep flat, no pillow. But I do have pillows within reach so if I do attempt to lay on my side I have some handy.
I did a full day of singing yesterday, trying to get rid of the last of the sometimes rasp which only shows up now when I’m fatigued. By singing so much I’m hoping to strengthen those inner muscles to a point where I won’t feel the rasp when I sing. I’m almost there. And about the Adam’s apple thing, well, I guess Candi’s just gonna have to settle for cuddling under my chin while I’m laying flat.
One plus I have noticed, I don’t snore as much as I did before. I think it’s the combination of me strengthening my outer and inner muscles, losing some weight, and not using a pillow. I can’t attribute the no snoring to any one thing because I’ve been doing them all simultaneously and won’t stop long enough to do only one at a time to find out ’cause I am singing at the Cathedral for Easter week, Vigil, and Easter Sunday, not to mention I’m going to be rehearsing in hopes I can get into one of the Philharmonic Choirs here in town. My goal is to sing with Bocelli even if it is only to sing in the backup choir he uses when he’s in town performing every year in November. But, I’m starting now! Who knows, maybe hard work and opportunity will collide and I can scratch my number 1 item off my bucket list!
Many of you have asked the questions about the feeling of your surgical plate hitting your voice-box or Adam’s apple, I hope by explaining my situation you find some answers as this is such an annoying feeling to have. And, I suggest that if you are going to try moving your voice-box as I did, DO IT G E N T L Y! It’s delicate in that region. It took me more than a few tries to find out how much pressure to use, and where to put it back to. In doing so it does relieve a lot of that feeling like the plate is hitting your voice-box because then everything’s back in place for a while until you inadvertently dislodge it again.
Like I said, I’m a full year out from surgery now and I’m still having some latent issues, none that are intolerable, just, I’m ready to get rid of them all for good! I tell Dr. Smith’s patients that, although he can work miracles on that operating table for people to become pain free, he’s still not God, (and he knows that) and it’s up to the patient to then take responsibility for their recovery. YOUR RECOVERY IS ONLY AS GOOD AS WHAT YOU PUT INTO YOUR REHABILITATION! Your doctor can’t be with you 24/7! Remember, he’s busy saving someone else’s life from the same pain and misery you experienced.
OH, and another thing… standard for recovery is at the two year mark post-op, so I theoretically am still healing and recovering for the next year with this ACDF… DON’T GET AHEAD OF YOUR SELF! Everyone wants to get back to life quicker than what their body’s can heal most of the time!
Your second line of defense is to get a really good physical therapist. Dr. Smith said I could chose to not go to PT if I didn’t want to, but I went, and was so happy I did! What I found out and did under the watchful eye of Dr. Amanda Scott Cain from MattSmith Physical Therapy I’ll be able to use forever. She was so caring in making sure I knew all the exercises I could have that would strengthen my neck’s outer muscles. As for the inner ones she was limited to help there, but did give me a few. We openly discussed what I could do to help the inner muscles and she said it was basically all up to me. The more I sang the stronger they would become. So I sing, almost every day now, and it’s delightful! There’s nothing like putting a song in your heart to lift your spirits no matter how bad you feel!
ALL OF THOSE EXERCISES SHE SHARED HAVE BEEN POSTED IN PRIOR POSTS ON THIS WEBSITE. MAKE SURE YOU CHECK WITH YOUR SURGEON BEFORE DOING ANYTHING FIRST… YOUR SITUATION IS AS UNIQUE AS YOU ARE…. DON’T SCREW YOURSELF UP! ASK YOUR SURGEON!!!
I do hope this has been helpful in addressing some of the many searches I’ve seen on my analytics looking for answers to this very topic. I felt compelled to address them once again as an update just so you get a feel as to how long and how intense your recovery will be a year post-op. Please keep in mind every body is different and will react to surgeries differently. Also, your level of commitment to your recovery is crucial to your final outcome… BE YOUR OWN BEST ADVOCATE!
I have to go warm up my voice now to be ready for mass then choir practice afterwards at the Cathedral. Have a great day and I’ll be posting again soon.
In the meantime, you remember what to do, take care of you and yours,