Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion – ACDF Surgery & Recovery

If you look at previous posts, my neck and herniated disc have been causing me some pain, tightness, and, numbness down both of my arms and hands.

Pre-Op – July 2022

I recently had ACDF surgery and I am currently 2 weeks post-op, so here is a catch-all post discussing pre-op, surgery, and post-op so far. (If you follow me on social media, you may have seen some of these posts and I may repeat myself a little.)

I was really upset I had to do it, but I was going to need another surgery.

Thankfully, this one wasn’t for my slipping rib syndrome or ribcage – but still disappointing nonetheless. This would be my 16th procedure since 2015.

What started out as random neck pain that would come and go after a few days, with sharp pains and being unable to move my neck much, has now turned into almost constant nerve and neck pain, hand, and finger numbness, with lightheadedness, and dizzy spells.

My neck had been hurting during this current flare for a little over 3 weeks but I’ve been dealing with it for over a year.

I had only one day last week where the pain was tolerable, only for the extreme pain to be back the next day.

I’m on muscle relaxers and lidocaine patches until surgery, which doesn’t really help but I’m trying.

I was seeing a chiropractor last year for my neck – almost 20 days in a row – and each morning, my neck needed adjustments again and again and again. My chiropractor had told me I suffer from a herniated disc on my spinal cord and whip-lash. He also said that my neck has been suffering for so long, that it was going to take surgery to correct.

I had been postponing neck surgery for a long time since my slipping rib surgery took precedence. After my 7th and final rib surgery, my neck and pain had only gotten worse.

So, after I saw my neurosurgery team again, we planned for surgery in 2 weeks for an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) for my C5-C6 section of my neck, the most herniated area.

We knew that I’d be only 10 weeks post-op from my last rib surgery but I had been dealing with this neck for over a year come this August and the pain was only going to get worse if we didn’t get in there to replace my herniated disc.

I was not looking forward to another incision or scar either, especially a scar on my throat, but this neck pain had been absolutely brutal and I needed a break.

I did all of my pre-op stuff, including a new X-ray of my spine, blood labs before surgery, and, an EKG to prepare for surgery on the same day that we scheduled it.

I would have to stay overnight in the hospital for this procedure, which I have never done before. Not sure if I can talk my way out of staying the night for this one as I have in the past. I was sure I would manage but I was still going to try.

Surgery – August 2, 2022

So, here’s an update from surgery (so far).

For the procedure, ACDF – or anterior cervical discectomy & fusion – they removed my herniated disc and replaced it, put in a bone graft from a cadaver, some mesh, some titanium, and 4 screws (I think), and closed me up.

To do this, they have to open you up either in the front or the back of the neck, and in my case, they went through the front right side of my throat. Once they open you up, they move everything inside the neck to the side and out of the way, and they remove the herniated disc.

They replace the old disc with a bone graft that comes from either your hip bone or a cadaver bone – I got cadaver bone.

Funny story about that – My twin had asked if I get murdered and they only find this bone graft and random remains, would they think two people had been murdered? – My twin had texted me that on the morning of surgery while I was in pre-op with my surgeon and anesthesiologist. I asked them and they laughed but had no answer.

I was happy to get the cadaver bone and not deal with a second incision at my hip since I have so many surgery scars already.

After they replace the disc, they use a titanium plate to stabilize the area, put in screws, and close you up.

This area fuses (hence fusion) and becomes one bone, uniting the top and bottom vertebral bones together, with bone where the disc used to be.

They did put needles in my body, or sensors to see what my nerves were doing. I found this out later because I had blood in my hair and a few large lumps on my head and we didn’t know why. I had to ask my nurses to get post-op reports to find out what had happened.

The pain a few hours after surgery was nonexistent other than that new incision feeling. I was feeling so great that I did ask to go home. I was up and walking around the hospital. I had gotten out of surgery around 2 PM and didn’t have pain meds until 9 or 10 that evening.

I did have a hard time swallowing and moving but I felt better than I had felt after each rib surgery and I didn’t have to stay overnight for any of those.

I was too excited to leave the next day that I didn’t get much sleep. I was up past 1 AM and up again at 330, 430, and 530. I just stayed up after that and got the ball moving for discharge.

Day 1 Post-Op

I was very sore and it hurt to move my neck or swallow, but I was on a steady course of pain meds to help that. My chest and spine had some tightness but I think they were adjusting to the new correct posture and new disc and plate. I was too ready to get home that morning to worry about anything else.

I had tried to lay on the couch but I couldn’t get myself back up. It was definitely an odd sensation to not be able to lift my head – like my neck wasn’t working and wouldn’t do what I needed. I could lift my chest but my head and neck stayed put in place.

The top of my head still had a few bumps and dried blood from the needle sensors they put in me during surgery. When I could really look at myself, I had quite a few tiny pinpricks on my hands and arms and chest from those, too. One on my inner arm and one on my palm were pretty bruised up, but they weren’t too sore unless I poked em.

I couldn’t shower for 48 hours, so I was feeling pretty yucky. I was happy that I had brought face wipes and things like that to the hospital with me. I even brought my pajamas and a sweater to wear instead of the hospital gown. I freeze at home and usually have a blanket, a house coat, and slippers – so I was freezing to death in the hospital and the saline drip makes it worse.

Day 2 Post-Op

I had been in bed most of that day. I needed sleep. Getting up and down in bed was extremely hard. Showering was difficult since I can’t bend or lean my head back or forward – but it was nice finally getting to shower and wash the hospital off of me either way.

I was making sure to take baby steps and try to rest up and heal – so excuse the hot mess express that is me. 🤣

By day six, my incision was doing okay. I was making sure I was keeping it clean and covered since it had an open corner at one side and it was way too early for the glue to be falling off.

It was less red and puffy and thankfully it was not looking infected – we all know my track history when it comes to post-op infections.

My skin itself was super red and irritated by the adhesives – I’m allergic and it likes to take my skin with it.

By one week post-op, I was only taking meds at bedtime and Tylenol during the day. I was still feeling tightness and soreness with movement and I had a few light-headed moments where my throat was just so tired of feeling pressure and I felt like I needed more air but I’m managing.

I made myself a red velvet cheesecake birthday cake – so I was pretty excited about that. It was my first attempt at making this flavor and it came out beautifully.

I found out the hard way that if I do too much too soon, I will pay for it later.

I celebrated my 34th birthday and went out to dinner and went to a baseball game with friends, and then went to see a friend’s band play one night – and by the end of it, I hurt.

I still had a blast though! 😉 We even caught a few stray balls at the game, too!

So, I’ve done absolutely nothing for the last 5 days except cook dinner.

Thankfully, I have enough pajamas to last me through the plague, so I haven’t had to worry about bending or lifting anything for laundry and I cleaned everything I own before surgery.

By two weeks post-op, my throat soreness has gone away, and swallowing is much easier than it was before – but I’m still on pain medication at night. My incision is still swollen and puffy but the glue is all gone.

I can’t drive just yet but I did attempt to drive to Kroger on day 11 post-op. I hurt so bad and was super scared of someone hitting me (one lady almost ran right into me!) and I’m terrified of ruining my recovery. I’m not scared of myself on the road, it’s the other drivers I worry about.

I even canceled an optometry appointment earlier this week because I still didn’t feel comfortable driving that far just yet.

I can’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk and I can’t lean my head back in the shower, still. And no picking up Bilbo or his toys – it hurts my neck and spine to bend over like that. It’s a whole different feeling and pain than rib surgery, that’s for sure.

I do have to use my arms to kind of walk myself down to lay down at night and I usually just try to roll myself out of bed, feet first.

If I get alarmed and my body jumps, it hurts like Hell. I can’t get startled or try to look over my shoulder or move my neck too fast or else I get some serious pain. I almost have to use my whole torso to turn my head and body where I want to look.

I find myself holding my chest and neck area when I talk or move but I’m trying to heal.

I will see my neurosurgery team this week for my two-week follow-up and I will attempt to drive that day and see how it goes. I’m anxious to see my X-rays and see my new hardware in place. I’ll let y’all know and share those images when I get them.

For me, It Could Be Worse.

Previous Post – Pain in the Neck

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