Cervical Spinal Surgery Saves Grandpa

by Jason

Cervical spinal surgery saves my Grandpa's life.


If you saw my previous post you know my Grandpa suffered a fall at the nursing home and was transported to the hospital complaining of neck pain.

The doctors took several imaging studies but were not able to take the image that would have been more conclusive due to his defibrillator which is a contraindication. But the neurosurgeon did mention from the studies he took that he was fairly certain there was spinal cord compression.

This would explain why my Grandpa had been considered practically a quadriplegic because he could no longer move his upper extremities, feel his hands or move his left leg but had the capacity to move his big toe in his right foot.

Since this was my grandfather's condition and he was in a tremendous amount of pain and didn't have a good outlook he decided that despite what the neurosurgeon and cardiologists were saying about the risks that he was going to have the cervical spinal surgery.

What's remarkable is the talks I had with the neurosurgeon because I am my grandpa's durable power of attorney (DPOA) meaning I can make medical decisions on his behalf. Plus, the fact I'm a second year medical student means my family relies on me for my knowledge and convey in simple terms what the neurosurgeon and doctors are saying.

In my conversations the neurosurgeon said the surgery was extremely risky and if it were him he would not have the surgery. The concern was from a cardiovascular point and everyone was afraid Grandpa's heart wouldn't survive the operation. There were concerns that while anesthesia was administered to begin the surgery his heart could fail or at any point during the cervical spinal surgery his heart would give out. Lastly, just trying to awake him from the surgery and remove the anesthesia could potentially give him a heart attack and he dies.

The risk of not doing the cervical spinal surgery would be that grandpa would still have a broken neck. Even if placed in a halo, there could be the risk of the neck still being unstable and completely compressing the spinal cord.

Ultimately, the patient has the final say in what they want.

My Grandpa was lucid, alert and had full mental capacity where with despite all the risks of the surgery as relayed to him by the neurosurgeon he believed the operation was his best chance at life.

I made it to the hospital the morning of Grandpa's surgery along with all of his children and extended family. To be honest the surprise of seeing everyone at his bedside before his operation really perked him up and gave him extra motivation to survive the operation.

Before the operation there were a number of forms which needed to be signed and as a DPOA I signed documents attesting to the fact we understood the risk of the operation. I was actually amazed at how often the medical staff pointed out this is a very risky operation and they wanted us to be aware of the consequences including that of death.

We knew this is what Grandpa wanted so being Christians were prayerful God would see him through his cervical spinal surgery.

The anesthesiologist arrived and she wanted to do a special procedure before the operation. Since Grandpa's heart was weak she was going to insert an ART line directly into an artery in his forearm that would allow them to more accurately monitor his heart status throughout the operation.

I asked to be present for this pre-op procedure but the anesthesiologist denied me saying, "Family are not allowed to observe procedures." Even, mentioning that I was a second year medical student would not have her budge. My identical twin brother who is a lawyer and formerly worked at University of Chicago Hospital stated it was a blanket policy and an issue of liability so that's why the hospital didn't want family members observing procedures.

The neurosurgeon came down and this was my first time meeting him although we had extensive conversations on the phone. Even from our phone calls I could tell he was very genuine and a good guy all around.

He decided that since I'm a medical student that we'd go to the computer and pull up several images and he would explain the steps he was going to take while performing the cervical spinal surgery.

My brother is a jokster and was asking the neurosurgeon, "Did you get enough sleep last night? How are you feeling?" I was slightly taken aback but I guess it helps to lighten the mood before a major operation.

The doctor stated it would take about 3-4 hours to complete. He stated before even getting started positioning my Grandpa on the operating table would take some time. He stated the nurse would call down with updates as the operation progressed. And then he was off and we said a few parting words with Grandpa.

First call arrived from the operating and it was nearly two hours later because the operation was supposed to start at 12 noon but they said it had taken until 2pm to get my Grandpa positioned for the surgery.

It was around 5pm and more updates came from the OR that Grandpa's heart was doing very well and the procedure was going much better than expected. Shortly, thereafter a call came stated they were beginning to close and would have an update.

As 7pm approached my Mom (Grandpa's daughter) was getting concerned because it had been two hours since they were closing on the cervical spinal surgery and no word from the OR. I tried to help her remain calm and say it was a complex surgery so it would take time and we would be notified and also that I wasn't too concerned.

And finally, the neurosurgeon arrived with a radiographical imaging study showing all the screws and rods he used for the operation and that my Grandfather was in recovery. They were still trying to wake him up fully but everything went very well. They were now concerned about if he would regain function in his extremities.

This would be the true test if function would be regained. But these things take time and would not happen immediately.

All in all the surgery proved to be very successful and my entire family is grateful to the staff and medical professionals who are taking care of my Grandpa and we are excited about his recovery...albeit it will be a long process.

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