The neurosurgeon explained to me my options in the rapid fire, emotionless, monotone voice of a guy who came here from China to be a neurosurgeon and really doesn't have time to deal with bullshit like my feelings.
He points out the MRI results and goes over them with me. The view of the MRI is as if you were staring down through my body from above, so we're looking at a cross-section of spine and, well, me.
"That was gross. And kind of weirdly intimate," Kat told me later, "I...I saw your meat."
"Baby you're the only one I'd show my inner meat."
The neurosurgeon explained my situation:
As seen in this example of some poor asshole with the worst spine in history, your backbone has these little disks supporting it which, I swear to god the doctor said this to me, "are like little jelly donuts." Sometimes you can mush one of them out of shape. That's a bulging disk, and if you take the time to stop stressing the disk and do a little rehab your body will eventually tuck that little donut back into place. But what I had was a herniated disk; the jelly inside the donut had splooshed out and was now wrapping around my nerves and spinal cord.
Nerves don't like being touched, so that caused them to send all sorts of signals to my brain that something terrible was going on, which was leading to all my pain and numbness. The super awesome part is that nerves are total pussies, and if you touch them for too long they just sort of die. Or they become so traumatized that they never turn off, even after they're no longer being touched, and can still tell your brain they're hurting or numb even after surgery. That's why it's important to treat them quickly.
So what the neurosurgeon proposed was cutting through my back (In the picture above, the person is facing to your left. The part with all the lumpy, spiky looking parts is the back side.) and actually removing part of my vertebra since they have to cut through my lumpy, spiky bone, scraping out all the jelly that ruptured out of my donut, and relieving the pressure on the nerve. He smiled while he said all this.
I kind of glazed over. I could feel a cold flop sweat on my face at the mention of "surgery" while Kat reassuringly rubbed my back and patted my hands. Luckily I didn't have to get surgery. I had options!
- Tough it out.
- Spend the rest of my life unable to stand or lie down with my left leg constantly feeling either pins and needles or a hot electric knife twisting in the muscles.
- Upside: probably won't take very long for me to go insane and kill myself to stop the pain.
- Downside: that whole "constant torturous pain" thing.
- Get an epidural.
- Have someone inject a cocktail of steroids and pain killers into the tissue around my spine to try and relieve the swelling on my nerve.
- Upside: may relieve my symptoms and let me avoid the scalpel.
- Downside: temporary at best. Possibly won't have any affect at all. The injury is not able to heal itself without surgery.
- The neurosurgeon explained in excruciating detail how he would carve me like a ham and cut out all the gunk hurting me.
- Upside: Could really alleviate all my symptoms and give me a new lease on life!
- Downside: death from anesthetic, nerve damage might already be permanent, death by post-op infection, accident during surgery that nicks one of my nerves and fucks me up worse or punctures the molecule-thick membrane around my spine and causes me to leak cerebral-spinal fluid like a '67 Dart with an oil spot under it. No guarantee it will work at all.
Always one to take the path of least cutting into my skin, I opted for the epidural. The surgeon looked disappointed.
"Okay, come with me and we'll set it up."
"Oh, we can do it right here?" I perked up at the thought of getting some relief.
"Ha ha, no. I cut, I don't inject," he laughed as he passed me off to one of his office staff and sped off towards his next opportunity to slice someone open.
We scheduled the epidural with a friendly girl who seemed to be about 16 years old and headed home to wait for the epidural guy's office to call and confirm. And I got to thinking about how I was taking a chance on a procedure that at best would delay the inevitable and might not help at all. Why go through THIS stuff if I'm still likely to have to do surgery at a later date? I talked it over with Kat and decided to cancel the shot and go for the slicing.
About 10 days later I'm back in the neurosurgeon's office, alone this time since Kat had to work, while he goes over the procedure. He explained the whole bone cutting and disk scraping thing again, and assured me that it's a very routine procedure, one that he does several times a day, and he anticipated no complications.
But, of course, he had to tell me the complications. Just in case. So I couldn't sue later if I wake up crippled and claim he never warned me of the risk.
And oh, what risks! Death! Disability! Brain damage! Nerve damage! Meningitis! The list went on and on and on.
"I know you guys have to tell me this," I joked as I signed some waiver saying my estate wouldn't sue them if they turned me into a vegetable, "but it sucks to have to listen to it."
"Well just think of how you'd feel if we didn't warn you and something happened!" he offered.
"I'll be honest. If I wake up brain dead or maimed or something I'm gonna be pretty upset regardless of the warnings."
With the waivers signed and the surgery scheduled (I had to push the date back to work around Kat's vacation to Japan and my own sketch comedy shows), I got a folder full of junk to read, a handful of post-it notes with dates on which I had to come back and submit to more testing before the big day, and a constant, gnawing fear that I had just made a terrible decision that would lead to my untimely death.
"Alright Mr. Cleveland," the neurosurgeon shook my hand, "we'll talk more soon." He stood up to leave.
And as he walked through the door, he being the neurosurgeon who would be cutting into my spine, his stethoscope caught on the door handle and jerked him backward. He flailed for a solid 12 seconds before he backed up, untangled the tube from the handle, and exited swiftly without making eye contact.