CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “Erie PA”

Fusion. NOT the nuclear kind.

Ok, now this has been an experience.

My neck has been a sore spot with me for years.  Literally.  It got to the point that maybe twelve years or so ago, I decided to go to a Chiropractor for a consultation and adjustment.  For me that was a big step.  I always was a bit snotty about Chiropractic, but boy was I wrong!  One of the guys I worked with really talked up Dr. John Cassara (Erie, PA), so I made an appointment, and went to see him.  He first took a motion x-ray of my neck, and showed me exactly where the problem was.  He then described what he could do for me, and I decided to go for it.  My first adjustment was about as scary as anything I have ever done.  Here’s this huge guy (John is a body builder and formerly excelled at the  shot put in college) bending over me and messing with my neck.  He got me loosened up, and let me know he was about to do the adjustment, and CRACK!  My neck sounded like a stick breaking.  I remember a minor explosion of air shooting out of my mouth, and as unobtrusively as I could, I wiggled my toes and moved my hands around a little.  Ok, I guess all is well.  Whew!  But as I drove back down Peach Street, I realized that the lateral range of motion in my neck had just increased about thirty percent.  I drove down Peach Street just moving my head side to side saying, “Look at that!  Hey, look at that!”  I hadn’t been able to move my neck that well in a long time.  Well done, John.  My Chiropractor has become my friend as well, and our mutually beneficial sessions were regularly scheduled.  I have no idea how the past decade or so would have been bearable if I hadn’t had my neck adjusted as much as I have.

Further, when Chiropractic couldn’t do it on its own, I went to see Dr. Joseph Thomas, also in Erie.  Doc Thomas specializes in pain management, and I received steroid shots for the past several years.  They also have been helping control the pain.  However, a couple of years ago, Doc Thomas advised me that my neck was getting to the point that I would need more.  “Need more” is code for surgery, and he referred me to Dr. James Kang in Pittsburgh.

Beth and I travelled down to Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, and met with Dr. Kang.  He went over my x-rays, and explained what the root problem was.  I had two discs, C-4 and C-6 that were degenerative.  Basically, they were slowly melting.  This is what he does for a living, and he was pretty matter of fact about the whole thing, which I found reassuring.  What he explained was that at the time, I was in a gray area.  At some point, surgery was going to become mandatory.  I wasn’t at that point yet, but I was well within the range of “it could be done, no question.”  I opted to wait, which he supported.

This changed late last year, when I went to get a shot from Dr. Thomas again.  He realized I had not had a series of x-rays in some time, and so we x-rayed my neck.  I’ll not soon forget the appointment when he looked at the x-rays with me.

Thomas is an interesting guy, profane and funny.  But this day, he was all serious.  He looked at the x-rays, looked at me like I had just sprouted a second head, looked back at the x-rays, and then back to me.  In a totally serious voice, he said, “Do you want something for the pain?”  I answered that no, I was ok.  He said, “Are you sure?”  When I again answered in the negative, he just looked at me like I had suddenly changed form into a mutant.  Apparently, my neck had degenerated to the point that he believed I should be in major pain, or perhaps not even mobile.  I told him that no, I was in pain, pretty much always, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  Doc Thomas immediately set up a new appointment with Dr. Kang, and Beth and I went down again to Pittsburgh.  We looked over the x-rays, and although Dr. Kang felt it was no emergency, we agreed that the surgery could take place now.  Beth and I returned home, having set up a tentative date for surgery for the end of summer 2012.

It seems the timing was very good on the surgery.  I have written about my new V-Star, and how much fun it has been to ride.  But about a month and a half ago I could feel that my left hand was not gripping as well as I thought it should.  Further, when I qualified two weeks ago, we had to set up the range.  I grabbed two 4×8 sheets of fiberboard to take down range (we use these to tack the targets on).  I easily picked up one using my right hand alone,  but not so my left. I couldn’t pick it up at all.  Further, I have noticed a bit of tingling in my left arm, and my left hand has had a minor case of “the shakes” starting up as well.

My degenerative vertebrae have their genesis back to when I was a teenager, maybe 16 or 17.  My family went to Kinzua Bridge with another family, just to look around and have a nice time.  The other family had a son, Dale Shatto, that I had become good friends with; his family and mine camped in the same location for several summers.  We had gotten close, Dale called my folks “Mom and Dad,” and I did the same with his.

Well, on this day, Dale and I were ahead of the old people, and went out on the observation rock to look at the bridge.

Kinzua Bridge, near Kinzua Dam in PA,  is an old railroad bridge spanning (you guessed it) the Kinzua River.  At one time it was the world’s highest, longest wooden railroad bridge, and the view is amazing.  The railroad had largely abandoned it, and it had been renovated into a tourist attraction.  One could walk across it, and look up and down the valley.  Especially in fall when the leaves turn color, the view is stunning.  Unfortunately, a tornado has claimed half the bridge, and I have no idea what its condition is at this time.

In any event, there was a large rock that kind of hung over the valley.  The Park Service had cleared brush from in front of it, and it offered a great view of the bridge.  Along the trail, and on the top of the rock was a fence, designed to keep people from falling over the edge.  Being teenagers, we were clearly smarter than the Park Service, so Dale and I jumped the fence and stood on the edge, looking out, looking down.  We couldn’t actually see the bottom, so I have no idea how high we were.  Dale had the genius idea to stand on the edge with our hands on the top, and wait for the parents to come down the trail.  He told me later he meant to go to the top beside the rock and walk down to the point where we could reach up and put our hands on top, but he didn’t say that at the time.  Thanks, Dale.  Your great idea led to my stupid decision, so naturally I’m blaming you. 🙂  Down about six feet, I saw a little ledge, probably three or four inches deep and a foot wide.  I figured I could easily get down on it, so with Dale’s suggestion still clearly ringing in my head (Thanks, Dale), I sat down, aimed for the ledge, and launched.  Well, I hit the ledge alright.  With my heels.  And I slowly, slowly toppled forward and fell off the rock.  Now a lot of people would say this explains a great deal, but I remember doing a pile driver, and landing squarely on my head, as straight as if I had planned it.  I think I blacked out for a minute, but I remember Dale screaming for the parents, that I had fallen off the rock.  I yelled up that I was ok, and climbed up beside the rock (where Dale had actually meant for us to stand), and back onto the trail.  In those days, people didn’t just dart to the Doctor, and this was no exception.  My Dad basically just called me a Dumb Ass, and told me to get in the car.  Well, I was, and I did.  In retrospect, I’m fairly certain I cracked a couple of vertebrae, as I couldn’t rotate my neck for about a year.  It finally loosened up, and all was well (not).  And then I fell on my head a second time, but we don’t need to go into that.

So here I am, fifty-five years old, needing surgery, and scheduled for it.  I got all the advance preparations done, and once again, down to Pittsburgh we went on August 6, with the surgery scheduled for August 7.  I wasn’t really worried, I knew the surgery needed done, and the pain and necessity came from the sins of my youth, so what can I say?  I was concerned, as there is always a chance of “something bad happening,”  but I trusted my surgeon, and knew I needed the procedure, so let’s get ‘er done.

The technical name for my procedure is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF).  I went into the prep room, and when they were ready, I was wheeled into the Operating Room.  I already had an IV in, and some blood drawn, so when we went into the OR, we were pretty much ready to get the show started.  The anesthesiologist gave me a shot, and said that it would take effect soon.  They then put the oxygen mask on, and I remember saying, “Whoh!  There it is,” and that’s it.  Gone.  Lights out.  My next memory is…I don’t remember what my next memory is!  Boy, that stuff did it’s job.  However, while I was unconscious, Dr. Kang opened up my neck from the front, laterally on the left side.  After I was intubated, they then moved my trachea to the side, and exposed my vertebrae.  They then removed the spongy bone in vertebrae C-4 and C-6.  He also removed a couple of bone spurs that had conveniently decided to grow into my spinal column, and were causing pain.  He then fused C-4 to C-5, and C-5 to C-6.  Many surgeons use cadaver bone, or even artificial joints, but Dr. Kang uses bone from the patient’s hip.  It is inserted into the spot where the old spongy bone used to be, and held in place.  I now have a titanium plate in my neck that I had not had before.  Kind of like Wolverine, but without all the cool stuff that goes with it.  And from what I understand, this is what the fuss was about.  Fusing on two levels is geometrically more difficult that fusing one vertebra.  So.

The next day was kind of pain filled.  Hip, neck, upper back, shoulders.  Dr. Kang came in and explained that the discs had degenerated so badly that he had to build them back up to where they should have been.  In order to do this, they (in essence) had to push down on my shoulders and pull on my head.  I am now about a half-inch taller than I was a week ago.  Dr. Kang said this explains the pain in the muscles in the back of my neck.  They are basically confused, and spazzing, trying to get back where they think they should be.  Honestly, that was the worst of the pain.  My hip hurt, my neck hurt, but no big deal.  But the back of my neck!  Wow!!  I was more than happy for the pain meds for my neck.  I had one of those push button happy shot things that I could use to self-medicate.  I used it more for the muscles in the back of my neck than anything.

The surgery was on Tuesday, and I came home Wednesday.  The pain was manageable, and the physical therapist was satisfied that I could navigate walking and stairs as needed.  I think several people were surprised that I got out of there as quickly as I did, but I attribute this to two things.  First, I was on the City of Erie’s SWAT team for a long time, and one of the things I learned was to fight through the pain.  Too many people, I think, get all whiney about pain, but really, it’s no big thing.  The human body is capable of so much more than any single person believes.  Just gotta keep going.  And second (and most importantly), I had so many people praying for me.  Friends and family in church, on Facebook, and over the country have been lifting me up in prayer, and it shows.  My recovery is still slower than I would like, but it has been so much faster than most who have this surgery.  Many people are in the hospital for days.  Many are on huge doses of painkillers for a week or longer.  Me, I got out of the hospital the next day, and my use of painkillers even now is judicious.  I pop ’em when I really need ’em.  And that’s not so much.

Right now, Beth has taken off work to be with me for the week, and her care has been both amazing and appreciated.  I will be off work until the August 28, which is my followup appointment with Dr. Kang.  My hugest worry now is that I do nothing that will hinder the bone grafting to the vertebrae, and fusing as it should.  I do not want them to have to go back in.  I am wearing the collar as they required.  I am walking every day.  I’m taking all prescriptions as directed, and behaving as much as possible.

Already I feel better.  I think the procedure did what it was supposed to, and I am hopeful for a complete recovery.  It’s kind of exciting to think of my neck being pain-free for the first time in (twenty?  thirty?) years.  My range of motion may be somewhat limited nodding up and down, but I couldn’t touch my chest with my chin before the surgery anyhow.  I don’t wanna look at my toes, so what’s the big deal with that?  I know my scuba season is done for the year, as likely is my motorcycling, but I am hopeful that I will be up and ready to go for next season.  I am grateful to all my doctors, and to God for His benevolence.  I am grateful to friends and family, for their thoughts, prayers and support.  And I cannot tell you how grateful I am to Beth for her attention, hovering, and reminders to behave.  She’s the best.  Now I just gotta be patient for the next few weeks.  And that could be a problem…

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I want to go diving!!!!!! (part two)

(Somehow WordPress decided to post this before I was ready, so several people got this post in email form before I was quite finished.  This is the finished version.  Sorry…)

My scuba diving career started about four years ago when our daughter decided on a destination wedding on Grand Cayman.  I have always been fascinated with the idea of scuba, but could not justify it until then.  I took lessons, got certified, and did my first ocean dive off the south shore of Grand Cayman.  It was truly an experience I will never forget.  I was pretty much instantly hooked, and very much wanted to share this amazing sport with my wife.

Like many people, Beth was reluctant to try scuba, and for a number of reasons.  She almost drowned when she was about ten, so she has some water issues;  she is claustrophobic; and she has vision, uh, issues (we used to spend a lot of money on optometrists until I figured out we could do the same thing by cutting the bottoms off of coke bottles.  We save a lot of money that way.  Kidding, Dear).  I guess I was pushing a bit too hard, which I figured out when Beth put her index finger about an inch off my nose and gently said, “Stop pushing me!!!!!!”  Yeah, gently.  I hate living in fear…

But we did go snorkeling every day we were there, and Beth had just as much fun as I did.  After the vacation, we were talked about how cool the snorkeling was, and we got to talking about scuba.  Unprompted by me (see, I can learn) she said, “Well, maybe I could try it.”  I responded with a non-committal, “Yeah, ok.  Whatever you want, Babe.”  Inside I was doing my own version of the Cherokee Victory Dance, but I didn’t see the need to share that with her then.  Plus, I figured I would remain much healthier that way.

Beth started lessons, and I remember the evenings of her first three lessons .  She would call me as she was driving on the way home, crying, and not sure she could “do this.”

I think I should explain at this point how the lessons work.  The certification classes last approximately six weeks, one evening a week.  There is a couple of hours of classroom, followed by an hour or so of pool time.  For the pool session on the first evening, the Instructor and his Trainer Assistant or Divemaster help the students gear up, explain how the equipment works, and get them under water for a bit.  Each session after that builds on the knowledge from the week before.  The way the classes are designed, the students “get wet” from the beginning; there isn’t a theory portion and then a practical portion.  You get both each class.  And another plug for Diver’s World of Erie, PA.  The Instructors are phenomenal, the Divemasters outstanding, and the Trainer Assistants dedicated (disclaimer: I am one of the TA’s).  But if you want quality scuba instruction, you cannot do better than Diver’s World.

So Beth had to deal with her issues from the start, and it wasn’t easy.  Each time she called crying, I would talk with her, and pretty much encourage her to continue, that she should keep going with the lessons, and if she got through the lessons and couldn’t do it, so be it; she had given it her best shot.

I’m not sure which week it was, I think maybe week four, she came home, and looking thoughtful, said, “You know, I had fun tonight.”  Another non-committal, “Good for you” from me.  Another internal Victory Dance.  She toughed it out, and got certified.  I often tell people that she is the poster child for scuba.  There should be a poster with Beth’s photo on it, with the caption that says, “If I can do it, so can you!”  Honestly.  I have been a cop for over thirty years, twenty in the City of Erie.  I was on the SWAT team for thirteen.  I have seen acts of courage and bravery that would make one weep.  But Beth, having no training or background it that kind of thing, gutted out those lessons and got certified.  And that’s the bravest thing I have ever seen in my entire life.  She says that she did it for me, because she knew how much it meant to me.  But it was her effort and determination that got her through.  She is one tough and amazing lady.

And not only did we get certified, we have continued with our scuba education.  We both have our Advanced Certifications, both are Deep Certified, Computer Certified, Rescue Certified, and are both Master Divers, all through NAUI schools.  I am particularly proud of Beth for the Rescue Diver cert.  That is one tough mama of a course, and she did it.  I went a bit further, getting Ice Certified and my Trainer Assistant Cert as well.  I am thinking Beth will get her TA this year maybe, and I am at some point looking at Divemaster and/or Instructor.  Time will tell.

And we found our “together” activity.  Beth and I have had a chance to dive in some truly amazing locations.  Three times in the Caribbean country of Bonaire, the Florida Keys (the Vandenberg is a really cool wreck), the Gulf of Mexico, lakes and quarries all over the place.  And we dive as partners (“buddies” in scuba parlance).

I think it is probably typical for a husband to be protective of his wife, and worry about her in situations like that, and I am no different.  I tended to hover nearby, worried to death for Beth.  Until our second trip to Bonaire.

We were on a typical dive in paradise, enjoying the warm, clear water, seeing really spectacular stuff.  I saw something I wanted to show her, and turned to get her attention.  Only she wasn’t there.  Where is that woman!?  I did a 360 circle, looking all over, up, down, and then I saw her about ten feet above me, streaking like an arrow toward our divemaster.  I thought, “Oh, this isn’t good,” and saw her make contact with him.  He kind of fussed at her buoyancy compensator (BC for short), and I admit to a bit of jealousy for him touching her, but after a minute they turned and slowly started toward the boat.  At that point I caught up with them, and she showed me her inflator hose.

The inflator hose is the part of the BC that one uses to add or release air to the BC from the attached scuba tank.  In that way the diver can adjust their buoyancy, to be as neutrally buoyant in the water as possible.  Using the inflator hose, there are two ways to dump air.  A button on the end lets a bit of air out at a time, and is useful for most needed adjustments.  The second way to release air is to just kind of tug on the hose itself.  There is a larger dump valve on the shoulder of the BC at the point where the inflator hose connects to the BC itself.  In Beth’s case, she had tugged on the inflator hose a bit too strenuously, and the entire inflator hose came disconnected from the BC, making it useless for her.  That’s when she did an underwater sprint to the divemaster.  Needless to say, Beth was a bit nervy over the incident, but at the instant I saw what the situation was, I ceased worrying about her.  I remember thinking, “She’s a diver!”  When we got on the boat, she was a bit shaky, but I asked her if she knew what she had done.  She did not, and I told her that she had done exactly what she should have done.  We are trained that panic will kill a diver, so do not panic.  Stop and take a breath, analyze the situation, and take appropriate action.  Which is exactly what she did.  Upon analysis, she knew that her husband didn’t have the knowledge to help, so she went to the person that could.  Just a year earlier, she would have probably bolted for the surface, risking the bends or other um, undesirable possibilities.  But that is not what she did.  She did exactly what a diver should do, and I can honestly say that I haven’t felt the need to hover over her since.

…more to come,,,

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