person with kyphosis bent over with the leaning tower of pisa leaning on their back

Kyphosis and My Spinal Surgery: Part 1

I have kyphosis. I have known of this since last spring. I know you are probably asking what kyphosis is. I asked that question last spring. I had never heard of it and when I was referred to a specialty surgeon, I was worried.

A bend in my spine

Kyphosis is an unnatural bend in my spine. In my case, it is in my upper spine and it causes me to bend forever forward. But of course, if it were just forward, that would be bad, but maybe not terrible.  As we know about the back, it is rarely that easy.

It's painful

In my case, the forward lean has taken on more and more painful consequences. Over time I am leaning forward far more each year, to the point where walking, sitting, or lying down go from impossible to darn that really hurts. It is simply too painful to do most things and even if the pain is OK, it still causes balance issues.

Severity is an important distinction

Most people have some amount of kyphosis. In fact, it is a natural part of aging. But in my case the condition is a little more severe. To understand and get an idea of the severity, you should know that I was at one point 6’4”. 

Today I hover around 6’0”. While it is natural for most people to lose height as they age, I have not lost all four inches in vertical length.  Instead, I am leaning forward and extending my back parallel to the ground. So I am not shrinking at an unprecedented rate, rather like the leaning tower of Pisa. I am tilting, and like that famous tower, it may be possible to preserve me by taking some corrective action.

I'm scared, but stuck

While all this seems like a fairly reasonable thing to do, it is scary. It is scary not to do anything; it is scary to think of doing this surgery or series of operations to correct the forward bend. The surgeon and back specialists have told us that at the present rate, I may need to be wheelchair-bound at some point in the future. 

As I lean more and more, it will be more challenging to keep my head elevated as I walk, and that may make it difficult not to use an assistive mobility device. For me, the fear is losing the ability to ride a bicycle; I cannot contemplate that outcome.

But doing something is just as bad.  If the rods are placed incorrectly, or the wound does not heal or the RA or AS does not cooperate, I could end up with a real mess.

What will be important to ask the surgeon

The surgeon tells us that most of these cases are corrected in childhood, not at age 62. That in and of itself causes me pause. In youth, the spine is far more flexible and recovery more certain. The surgeon who might be doing the procedure calls it a no brainer if I were 15.  Unfortunately, I am not 15 and that presents issues — more on that in future posts, as I write about this journey while it unfolds.

Sheryl (my wife) has compiled this list of items to discuss with the doctor.

  1.     Have you done this before?
  2.     Prognosis
  3.     Recovery time
  4.     Can I drive
  5.     What will be the post-operative exercise and physical therapy plan?
  6.     How long will I  be hospitalized post-surgery?
  7.     How long will the surgery last?

I also have a list to speak with the surgeon about.  This is my list,

  1.     When will the surgery occur?
  2.     How long do I have to stop eating and drinking before surgery?
  3.     Do I have to stop medications, and for how long?
  4.    Can the doctor play the Pink Floyd song "Comfortably Numb" as I am being anesthetized?

I guess you can see we have different priorities. 😊

What are your thoughts?

Have you ever heard of kyphosis? If so, have you ever known someone who has had it corrected and at what age? Do you have any alternative song suggestions for surgery? I may be willing to change it up if I have a good suggestion. I think it is important to have the best song playing while conscious in the operating room.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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