I was diagnosed in 2010 and I had decompression surgery in 2012. I live in Southern California and I had my surgery in Newport Beach. My neurosurgeon was Dr. Duma at Hoag Hospital. I was suffering from painful pressure blackouts, chronic sinus problems, TMJ, numbness and tingling in my ears, hands and feet…etc. I also have a C1 vertebrae fused to the base of my skull, and my C2 and C3 are fused. So I have a few things going on back there. My surgery included removal of a golfball size of bone and tissue that was removed. There was also a ‘bovine dural replacement’ inserted to help replace the tissue that was removed. Basically, cow dura mater (skull cartilage for lack of a better term). The surgery was routine. And I was back home recovering about 1 week later. Although there was the expected amount of pain involved with such an invasive procedure, I started having some unusual symptoms such as high fever, off-the-chart pain, vomiting and convulsions. I obviously went back to the hospital where they determined that I had cerebral meningitis with a staphylococcus aureus infection. They immediately put me on the strongest intravenous antibiotics available and called my doctor in for emergency surgery. They removed the bovine dura replacement and flushed out the infection. I was in ICU for about three days and then in a regular hospital room for another 1 1/2 weeks. The second surgery seems to have been more painful. I was on a fentanyl drip for the pain. The scariest part was waiting for the epidemiologist to tell me if the staph was a non-resistant strain or not. If it had turned out to be a resistant strain, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this. I was sent home with ‘picc line’ in my arm and I.V. hardware so that I could self administer antibiotics for about 3 months to ensure that the staph infection was completely eradicated. In the meantime, I developed an allergic reaction to the antibiotics, so we had to change to something else. Also, I was now on the strongest Fentanyl patch. The anitbiotics worked (obviously) and the picc line was removed. This was a few years before the word was out with regard to all the news about Fentanyl and the Opioid epidemic. Regardless, I informed my pain specialist that I wanted to come up with a plan to reduce and eventually end taking all pain medication. Astoundingly, the pain specialist asked me why I would want to do that! I guess they were used to people just being on pain killers forever. So I came up with my own plan of scaling back the dosages month by month, week by week, day by day… 11 1/2 months after the first surgery, I took my last Oxycodone. I went through about 1 1/2 weeks of withdrawals, legs shaking, sleeplessness, phantom pain and general horribleness, but came out the other side addiction / dependence free. The pain was 95% gone with occasional twinge if there was accidental or inadvertent pressure applied to the area. Now, 8 years later, I have no pain. The surgeon explained to me that the bovine dura was never really necessary, but that it is often used as a way to fill the ‘hole’ while the body’s normal process replaces the tissue. The bovine dura is very likely where the staph infection came from. Even though it was processed and sterilized, somehow it wasn’t completely clean. Dr. Duma of course felt horrible and explained that in all his years as neuro surgeon who had performed far more complicated procedures, he had never, ever had a patient develop an infection, let alone a staph infection.
What should your take-away be from my story? Please DO NOT to be even more nervous than you already are. What happened to me was extremely rare and uncommon. My experience took down the law of averages of it happening to someone else! Would I do it again? Absolutely! I would definitely do it again. Because even though I went through hell, the symptoms I was suffering from were unlivable. If I had blacked out while I was driving with my son in the car, who knows what could have happened? And who knows how much worse the pain would have gotten as I got older?
Be cautious, conscious, curious, inquisitive, informed and aware. Try to be your healthiest before surgery. Eat well, meditate, breathe and exercise. Don’t be afraid to ask any question you want answered. Be prepared to go through some pain. Have a plan in mind and demand help getting off the pain meds. But don’t be afraid to use them sensibly as needed. Communicate everything that’s going on with your loved ones and care-takers. Accept help when you need it and lean on them. But do your best to regain your independence and start enjoying and appreciating your symptom free life! I hope this helps! Go for it!