neck surgery diary

Dealing with My numb hands Timeline :

January 2017  aware of numbness and tingling/pins and needles in both hands. 

Visit doctor : perhaps we should get a specialist to have a look. This in parallel with the blood tests for rheumatoid issues. Such a medical wreck I am becoming as I enter retirement!

An appointment with the hand specialist comes up in May : electric charge tests to both hands and wrists – ‘nothing interesting’ 

Back to GP – no point in referring to another hand specialist so best neck/neurologist.

Next Appointment with neurologist : February 2018 – 6 months away.

February 2018 : appointment with neurology. Cancelled.

March 2018 Neuro appointment at QE recommends MRI as problems point to neck/disc source. Also ‘wobbly’ after the shut eyes and poke test.

Receive letter of appointment for scan – attend IMAGING Department.


MRI : May 2018 IT WAS VERY SCARY. I had never had a MRI (mechanical Resonance          Imaging) I expected a 5 min Session similar to an X-ray.  Unlike most hospital treatments I had not received an explanatory booklet, or sheet preparing the patient for the experience. I would have welcomed one on this occasion. Walking into the room dominated by a large ‘machine that I recognised from tv documentaries, the nurse  explained what I should do : ‘lie down on the machine bed. Stay still. We’ll do your head first’ and proceeded to lock me in. She didn’t tell me how long the scan would take. Once in place,  secured and holding the cut off switch she left the room.  So concerned that I was ‘locked in place’ I think she asked if I was ok from  the intercom connected from her control room to my cell enclosure.

The whirring machine began as the ‘big magnets’ spun around my encapsulated head making a loud noise – all in all scary. I am not usually paranoid or scared of enclosed spaces, but this felt like being in a lift that had stopped half way between floors with a massive alarm going off to seek help, ie for my own good, but adding to an already anxiety filled situation. 

The noise went on and on, louder and louder anxiety increased – how long was this going to take?  ?I was very tempted to push the switch on a number of occasions ??. But I’d waited 15 months for this moment. I am an adult. The medics know what they are doing. When will it end? 

I was scared, with only one get out. 

I managed not to end the service. 

The nurse came and, unlocked and opened the casing and encouraged me to sit up. ‘Okay?’ I asked how long it was? 20 minutes. Golly that was scary. I think she had told me at the beginning of the session, but it had clearly not registered. My fault I know, but perhaps if I’d had more preparation I would have been less anxious during the first scan.

Now for the neck!  How long this time – the same. Are you ok? No but I will do it. This time the casing was lower and I could imagine it revolving around my neck which I thought, at first would be less scary, but it built up.  I began to count, 1 elephant, 2 elephant, ………… this gave me something to focus upon even though I regularly lost track of which hundred I was in. 

I can imagine that mri scans of the lower body would be less anxiety creating as the patient’s head is not enclosed and can see what is happening to them. But being enclosed and having the magnets spinning round the head with the noise and inability to move creates anxiety.

I hadn’t moved, the scan was complete, I was ushered out and the next victim was called.?

September 2018 : appointment with neuro surgeon Mr Metcalf at QE 

Review the MRI together with partner. It’s clear that there is a pinching of the spinal cord at C3 and C4. This is causing the problems. Two approaches do nothing and wait and if it gets worse or surgery to take away the growth Spurs and prevent further deterioration. I plumb for the later, knowing that it will be painful, disruptive and may not get me back to pain free life. But will stop it getting worse. I trust the surgeons. When might this happen? “2 months I’d have thought.” 

That afternoon the secretary rang to offer me the 3rd October – 3 weeks away. Incredible

 Subjective drawings of the MRI scans of my normal and damaged vertebrae 

October 2018 : I have had an operation on my neck to remove three and four vertebrae. This followed experiencing numbing tingling pains in my hands and eventually my arms through my shoulders. Look consultant Advised an M R I scan to assess the condition of my neck. This showed that vertebrae three and four had encroached upon my spinal-cord. 

I feel like a doctor right now because this dictation method is how they write their letters to their patients and their general practitioners. I received the consultants letter and his observations on my brain and neck M R I and the advice to be referred to Mr Metcalf in neurosurgery in order that he can decide what procedure would be best to prevent my pain is getting worse. Mr Metcalf met my wife and I and  pointed out the encroachment upon the vertebrae and suggested two ways forward: do nothing and see if it gets worse or better. Alternatively he could perform an operation to remove the two backs of the vertebrae to allow the spinal-cord to expand back into position and indeed all-w the nerves connected to the spinal-cord to Operate correctly and without paying however he could not say whether the pains would be removed or reduced, however it could be prevented from getting worse.I opted for the operation. 

I would put my self in Mr Metcalf’s Hands. This is a serious decision to make; to put one’s body in the hands of another to incise, remove and repair the neck bones that supports one’s head. Having had heart operations in this hospital I am fairly convinced of the professional medics abilities and most comfortable to consent to their operating on my neck. I of course hope that the pains in my hands and arms and shoulders will disappear, as well the pain In my neck however I  did note that this is a preventative operation rather curative.

Marian’s Brother is a long serving boiler man at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and he kindly allowed us to park a car in front of the boiler room which is immediately opposite the shortstay operation theatres. This is very convenient arrangement. I attended at 7 AM on Wednesday the third and registered with hospital staff leading to the spinal unit. My name Edward Turpie was written into bed 5 in the corner. 

 Once registered by Raj and settled down to bed I was visited by the anaesthetist who confirmed I understood the procedure I was in hospital for.  I passed that test and he confirmed the detail of the general anaesthetic.  As we concluded I was introduced to a young smiling Asian guy in blue: Dr Imran, the doctor that was to carry out my Posterior Decompression operation on vertebrae 3 and 4. It’s an interesting quirk of medical titles that the surgery trainees are ‘doctors’ and the fully qualified neurosurgical consultants addressed as ‘Mr’.  Dr Imran (his forename) had a very open, caring and informed bedside manner. He reviewed my decision to consent to the operation with us and answered all questions. He was the first person to mention that the growth of the bone was arthritic and age was a factor. He also said he carries out 4 of these operations a week. Like Mr Metcalf he presented an objective view of the condition and how it could be treated.  He did not pass any judgement how the condition had occurred.  Mr Metcalf had said : its bad luck. 

I asked Imran how I might follow up mr Metcalf’s advice that I could order a copy of my MRI scan as it might be something I could base some artwork on.  ‘Contact radiology when you are done.’ ‘Okay Edward We’ll see you in a few hours”.  I always have this issue when in formal situations that require registration with my forename, everyone calls me Edward, a name that has not been used since I was christened. I’ve always been known as John, Jonathan or for the last 45 years as Jonnie.

My Day nurse Raj told us the operation would probably take place around 12-1 PM so with a smile said I could get into your gown and paper pants and make yourself comfortable.  It’s always A concern to patients to know when their operation is to be in order they can plan, however it’s a little frustrating when one has to wait for our five hours having risen early.  But this is a first world problem. Most of the next 4 hours are spent mostly in bed. Because one is in hospital and have been allocated a bed this is where you stay. Nurses, volunteers, doctors, partners, assistants all come to your bedside and would be surprised if you were not there. Blood pressure, temperature with electronic sensor into the ear happen regularly along with water and cups of tea from care staff. 

When the time comes the care staff morph into porters and you and your bed are escorted to the ‘operating theatre’. I am introduced to two engaging men and a woman who proceed to put drips into the back of my hand and say there will be a couple of pin marks on the side of my head to ensure it stays still. The nurse makes a final check on all my details : Edward Turpie, 2/5/54. From my horizontal position I confirm I am he. She asks: ‘and what do you like being called?” After a pause I say Jonnie. They all stop and look at me as if I might a tad mad. Ok, if you like jonnie, jonnie it is. Suddenly above me appears Mr Metcalfe with smiling eyes behind a face mask: “good to see you, we got here. All ok? Yep. Ok we’ll see you later” at which point one of the atheistists brings a transparent blue mask over my face and tells me “you are getting oxygen now. I will slowly introduce the anaesthetic into the flow and you will loose consciousness.”

It’s happening and then nothing. 

The next thing I am aware of is being back in bed no 5. Two drips in my wrist and a blood container hung off the bedside rail. It is a drain from the wound in the back of my neck, that I cannot see, but feel a dull pain emanating from. New shift nurses and staff are around me. Marian, my daughter and son come into the space. I don’t feel well or in control, but that I have been through something major. I had not considered this moment and did not cope well. Confused and many hours longer than expected.  My left arm, wrist and hand felt cold and pained. Hungry.  Marian stroked my arm to warm it up. Tea was brought. Bourbon biscuits was my choice of accompaniment. It was good to taste. I was so grateful for Maisie, Louie and Marian being there to help me through this trauma. I was not so happy they had to witness me in this state, but perhaps this will mean more to us all at a later date. 

Further pain relief administered. Louie asked if there was anything I would like from the vending machine? For some reason the idea of eating a Mars bar seemed right and louie kindly went off to locate the image of sweet comfort. I ate the bourbons with tea and more arrived. Maisie had to return to London. I think and hope I thanked her as much as I felt I wanted to. Marian comforted me realising I was ok, but suffering the effects of a major surgery like nothing she had witnessed before. Louie returned with Mars bar. 

The new night nurse introduced herself and requested she do my ‘observations’. She asked how I was and that if I needed anything through the night to press the orange button. 

Marian and Louie had to leave as I had to sleep. Sleep in a multi bed busy ward is not easy. No matter how good the staff are, the patients are disoriented, demand attention and make noises that further disorietate fellow patients. Awake continually, in pain, horizontal in the dark I pressed the buzzer and was relieved to see the nurse. I asked for pain killers. I didn’t know if I was in increased pain, but surely another pain killer would make this night go better. My phone was my companion. It would log the hours passing in the night – I longed for sleep or morning. 02.05; 02.44; 03;46; 04.18; . …….. 06;30 the lights came up and the kind Afro Caribbean guy in the green jacket said good morning as he replenished my water jug.

The lights come up. The nurse came with the BP trolley: “Morning Jonnie, can I take your blood pressure and temperature? How are you? Not so good, little sleep and pain in neck, hands and arms.” Another dose of pain killers. The doctor will be round soon. The German designed mobile Kart comes round with our choice of breakfast tea: rice crispies, toast. 

9;30 Dr Imran comes to my bed side – how are you? Not great, but I suspect that is to be expected. He explained the surgery had gone very well. The only issue had been the blood. There was much more than expected, perhaps as you have been taking blood thinning aspirin for a long time stopping for 7 days pre operation was not enough. Operation time was extended by an extra half hour. That’s why we put the drip in. You may not get back home today as we will give you an additional injection in your stomach to ensure you blood is correct before we let you go. Kim the day nurse will take your drain out. I wasn’t compus mentus enough to ask what had he actually done!

The physiotherapist attended to me in his army fatigues. Walked me up and down the ward in front of my co patients who gave the thumbs up. This is the male side of the ward and it takes a while for conversations to blossom, but thumbs up or waves of recognition of our predicaments are shared as we walk back and forth to the toilets. Raj came through from the women’s section where she was working today. She just came to see how I was. How touching was that. She like everyone now calls me jonnie. Word travels quickly in closed wards. The day passes without any further developments. 

Louie and marian visited and let me know I looked a bit better – more colour and less complaints of pain. Louie had brought me a sleeping mask and ear plugs to help me through the night. The lights were dimmed at 10;30 after supper, tea and pain killlers from Kelly who said I would get home tomorrow as I was up and about today.  Ear plugs in. It wasn’t long before I woke up. Opening my eyes I couldn’t quite orientate myself to the view. Was that reflections or the nurses desk. Am I in the same bed I went to sleep in?  The curtains did not reach the floor and shadows passed through the dim light reflections. Checked phone:  11:47 – Jesus it’s not even midnight. Turn over again.  11:57 some guy is being escorted into the bed next to me by Kelly and her colleague. They talk to him compassionately, but I had not a clue what was going on and it didn’t sound good for him. Perhaps brought in from A&E. Plugs in and I tried to get off to sleep again. 

Aargh, ug, yurk, ARRGH, YURK, UGG shouts from the new patient beyond the curtain I am staring at – is he hurt bad? Is he psychotic? What’s going on? 2:05. The nurses go down the curtains between us to sort whatever out: ‘I was dreaming, I got shot when I woke up.’ Well you are scaring the patients. ‘Oh I’m sorry about that’. ‘You will have to be quiet. Patients are ill in the ward.’  I’m sure he has his own story, but this was making any recovery aided by sleep impossible. I believe in the NHS, but this part of the service was not working for the benefit of the patients or staff. Getting though the nights have become the overriding memory of my 2/3 day stay, rather than the wonderful medical and care delivered across the staff teams.  

The (Friday) morning lights went up and the water jug changed, my bloods and temperature taken. There seemed to be an urgency to get beds freed up as more patients were coming on to the ward for treatment. Some will be treated quickly, some will have to wait. I now know the routine. I had hoped to see Dr Imran do get his final diagnosis of the surgery and next steps, but available spinal team doctors were being called in to streamline the exit of successful surgery patients. The dr explained that my surgery had been successful and I could follow the Physio’s directions at home and I would be discharged by the nursing team, and yes the cannulas in your hand can be taken out   

The Doctor got the discharge process underway and it would be finalised by nurse seers. I pulled the curtains, dressed and an apprentice nurse offered to remove the cannulas and take my final ‘obs’. As I returned from the toilet  I passed a patient dressed and ready to go. We exchanged stories: he had a  frontal operation to replace 2 vertebrae with metal cages. He had to have such a serious operation because he lost all feeling in his forefingers to the point that at work he hit it with a hammer and did not notice. There but for the grace of God. I wished him a speedy recovery. As I walked back to my bed I caught the eye of the partner of a new patient waiting for the operation: ‘you do get out’ she smiled.

14:30 Back home – my own bed, sleep with my cardboard sick bowl and glass of water.

17:00 Wake as if about to be sick, but luckily caught it in time. Managed to raise myself from the bed to with both hands behind me and push my way up. Shuffle, straight necked up to the breakfast room where Marian, louie and neighbour Elena are sitting in anticipation of what has returned home.  I don’t make a pretty site, but they agree I should return to bed and rest. M and L have to go to the long time arranged 90th birthday family celebrations in west wales, Elena will keep an eye on me until Sunday. I sleep, wake, sleep, wake, sleep and get up for my first morning at home only to hear a drip, drip, drip outside. Strange never heard it before. So regular. Can’t see any drips from the living room, but still hear it. Hey maybe be able to go outside and check later. Turn tv on, Japanese Grand Prix qualifying is on at 6am. Would normally watch recording, but since I’m awake and on my own I’ll watch live. Lewis is such a cool star and Mercedes always introduce new upgrades under mr toto wolf’s direction. 

Louie has made a chef’s selection of Sandwich’s for me.  Elana visits, active family what’s app, pain killers, exercises, blues win at home, manu 0-2 down after 14 mins. I tell Elana they have left ice cream or us in the fridge. Lets have some as totally unusual to have this treat! Elana : ‘I’ll prepare with some fruit’ and heads off to the kitchen while I sit with upright back and neck watching the Mouriniho soap opera unfold. Elena returns with the ice cream box and opens it to reveal ………. more sandwiches. Elana:  ‘Shall I get some from the store?’ We enjoy salted caramel ice cream and fresh fruit while watching the final two episodes of Killing Eve. Thankful on so many fronts I Got through day 1. Tired, time for bed – might as well check on any side effects from the large dose of codine and paracetamol I am taking and the fact that I still have not been for a ‘poo’. Constipation is a definite effect of these pain killers and undergoing a general anaesthetic. Prunes in juice and ibrubrofen as an alternative can be tried to loosen the stools. As I settle down I hear the drips again. How can this be? I put ‘hearing side effects of neck surgery’ into google. Pulsation tinnintus comes up. Hearing the blood pulsating through the neck past the ear is a side effect! No drips, it’s my blood in the quite environment of the bedroom. Not outside, but in my head, blimey! 

Sunday took ibrubrofen rather than codine. Ate fish.  Walked round garden with Elana and felt better for it. Had hard poo. Marian and Louie return and we eat together. And plan for a busy week ahead.

Monday more ibrubrofen – small hard poo. Took codine and paracetamol at lunchtime and evening. More fish. Exercises. Shower. Bed at 11pm. Neck pain, but no worse. Hands still the same. Off to bed tired again. Great sleep. Only woke once. 5am Glass of orange. Back to bed, awake for hour, but back to sleep through till 9am!     Tuesday still numbness in hands and legs. Knotting of neck muscle on left. Queasy, numbness in right leg when sitting down for a period. Dressed all day and walking in garden. Talked on phone and in person to couple of people. Neck pretty sore. 

While putting the finishing touches to supper I reflect that there will be a new group of patients going through the continuing process of being treated successfully and cared for in the QE spinal unit.

2 weeks in.

Regular Neck exercise 

As a test I replaced codamol/paracetamol with ibrubrofen and surprise surprise I was able to go to the toilet for the first time since the operation,

Since then I have been Reducing pain killers down to an ibrubrofen in the morning and evening. Codamol if taking on a physical challenge.

Walking round the garden and have had 3 extended walks in city and gardens. 

Had one meeting and visit to the library. Driven there and back by son. Enjoyed engaging with the new Dean of art and design and media faculty. I was aŵare of my condition and tried not to get to excited/engaged as I might ‘pop’. 

The pain in my neck is not PAINFUL, it is nagging as if not right yet. After the first week My Bandage was now flapping and replaced by practice nurse. Healing well. Requested flu jab and blood pressure. 133/72.  

The piecing pains in my shoulder, neck and lower back are hardly there anymore! Fingers crossed this is the sign of pain free things to come.

Outstanding pains: Hip top of right leg which stretches down the led.

Both hands have traces of tingling and numbness.  Particularly in the thumbs, and in particular the left hand.

Sharp piercing pains at top of the spine on left and right. These come and go.

From time to time breathless borne of anxiety, about nothing particular, just a state of anxiety that rises up.

Marian encouraging me to plan extended exercise as we enter week 3 which is good as I’m getting into a lethargic groove as I am not 100% better! And I need to keep my full body active and functioning. 

I am reading and drawing tho’.  Reading Susan Sontag ‘on Style’ that I got from the library and my bed time was allowing focus.

Each week I put a drawing of fruit on instargram.

I submit writing on art and my PhD research. 

Made a good drawing of Yemeni gentleman and the doctors’ surgery. Louie impressed as he saw mr abdullah with me and felt that my drawing looked like him in the moment he came out of the consultation.

Took bandage off and had a regular shower after all this time of having to avoid the wound.

Drawn to do work! But it does take it out of me and I end up returning to bed and dozing.

Autumn sunshine mornings are encouraging. 

Family walk to lunch in damascena. Steps. Made there and back. Son enquiries whether I feel comfortable and stable on my feet as I Walk? Not 100% i reply, I’m concentrating on supporting my head and keeping it vertical. Legs and hips feel tired.”  He replies you look like you are drunk!”

The head is very heavy!

Managed to do my shirt buttons up, inc the Oh so challenging cuffs. Rang the access to records dept at the hospital to enquire whether they had received my request for my mri and xrays via email. 


Into week 4. Still in recovery mode at home. Managed to take an Uber to the city with my daughter as escort. We visited the art school and shared my ‘neck story’ with master printmaker  Justin. Maisie loved seeing inside the art school and watching Justin make 20×20 screen prints while talking with us. I can’t wait to get back to printing, but it will be another two weeks. Justin kindly offered to assist. 

I visited the art school library to borrow vitamin d2 – contemporary drawing and on the shelf below were the anatomy books.  Neck illustrations!  Together they will make for further insights into my change in body. We met marian and son louie for an early Italian meal. First meal out. Next day I took a call from the access to records dept to confirm that I wanted the mri and neck xrays. Good to get the call and for the officer to confirm she would get on to doing them for me. 

Was struck by seeing the ‘Human Anatomy for Artists’ type overlaid on the black and white photography of a Male torso and neck.  Began drawing it. 

The beautiful illustrations of neck and connected body provided good insights into the muscle formation as well as spinal bones. Mr Metcalfe had told me that removing the posterior vertebrae would not need replacements as the neck has major muscles around the spine which would push the into the spinal chord and keep it in position.


Courtesy Elliot goldfinger. 

Saturday. Football, the Blues. Brother in law, mike, son louie and friends from Nottingham and Huddersfield and I ventured out into the cold and long road up the hill to the citadel that is St Andrews.  I painkillers before leaving for the game. This is becoming a recurring strategy: Painkiller before venturing out to engagements. 

3:1 to Birmingham City. Blistering equaliser by Connor Mahoney in front of us at the Kop away end.

Neck ok when taking pain killers. Sore nagging pain when not. Doing exercises regularly everyday.

Hands tingling, numb and very cold. Hips in difficulty when walking any length of distance. Feet numb regularly when sitting for a period.

Travelled for 4 hours as a car passenger with one break. My fingers were white with cold. Why?  Is this to do with the operation? Or sitting in one position for a long period? Blood pressure? My feet were fine over the car journey, but these had been unusually cold the night before. This had followed the numb leg and foot that came about after sitting in one position for a period time. Aaaargh- bloody health, bloody body.

4 week anniversary. Being celebrated in west wales.

The arm and shoulder pains are reduced.  Hands still cold and numb with wrist bands of tightness.

Will go for a walk again today. Hope this helps the overall recovery and by making the hips work and preventing them deteriorating further.  

Posture – need to sit up straight, but there is a pain in right buttock stretching down the leg that makes it difficult to be straight up and down! Will keep trying.

New gale beach as the tide Flows out. 2500 steps each way.

While enjoying the morning view of the Welsh autumn leaves going through their colours, the phone rang: Jamie Hogg: “Hello dr hogg how are you?’ Jamie is an out of hours GP and head of health innovation for the nhs in the north east of Scotland.  We have worked together on his innovative patient focussed app : No Delays. 

“More to the point how are you?” Came the reply. Jamie had valuably talked to me about the surgery just before the operation and put my mind at rest about the procedure, and how it had benefitted patients he had referred to neurology. I explained that the op had been a success; the arthritic spur on C3 and 4 had been removed, freeing up the spinal chord and hopefully releasing the nerves from the pressure. I was in week 4 of recovery, the general anaesthetic effects had worn off and although the pains in my arms and shoulders had receded the numb tingling hands were still apparent. 

He confirmed my understanding of the situation was correct, but that nerves often took many months to get back to normal, if they were able to do so, having not been too damaged. At this point my wife shouted: “Jamie. You are an angel, he’s been thinking he can take the car in for repair and drive out of the garage (hospital) and get back to work.” Que laughter all round. Jamie: “that’s you told”

It was very good to talk in a relaxed, but informed way about my situation as it moves into week 5 and I try to come to terms with the slowness and frustration of recovery. 

Now for another gentle walk: 5066 steps round by abermawr  

Now entering week 5. 

Last bandage will come off soon as the wound is now joined on all sides and will benefit from the  air. 

Seal watch 5038 steps. Dinner at Qwtch, St David’s with good Welsh friends Liz and Andrew. Liz was a nurse and had recently broken her wrist. We had to compare notes and I was surprised at the difference in her wrists 2 months on from the break. She is in physio, which I will begin in a couple of weeks. She mentioned that she takes pain killers. ‘It’s important that you do not have pain, as a body in pain creates stress/anxiety which does not assist repair.’  Valuable knowledge.


Back in brum after 4hour as car passenger – neck ok. Right buttock muscle pain after 2.5 hours. Need to keep resetting sitting position. Should have taken pain killers. Good sleeps. Toiletting still irregular. Shower back to normal and giving heat to neck. Exercising regularly. Back brace arrived which straightens back, but left shoulder muscle pain! Nothing simple, but will persevere.  


Enjoying iPad Drawing of the fruit series: 

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