When fusion bombs

I have just returned from my G.P. pro tem, with news from my various tests and things. My cholesterol is high and my thyroid is low, both of which are treatable with common sense and a bit of Synthroid. My neck troubles are more serious: in fact, probably incurable. It seems that somehow two of my cervical vertebrae have fused together, probably by the improper healing of a slight fracture sustained when I fell down the stairs a couple of years ago. So I can expect my limited range of neck movement, and my recurring pains, to go on for the rest of my days; unless someone comes up with a treatment for cracking the bones apart and rebuilding the joint between (without damaging the spinal cord in the process).

No Sir, no Ma’am, spinal fusion is not what the kids till recently called ‘the bomb’; especially when done, not by a surgeon, but by a flight of ice-covered concrete stairs. At least I shall be able to bore people, when all other boring topics fail, with boring stories about my broken neck.


  1. You have lots of vertebrae. Unless doing so would sever your spine at an inconvenient moment (any), gentle yoga and stretching could slowly increase your range of motion AND reduce the pain.

    I had a surgical spinal fusion (wish I had never let him touch me) 7 years ago, and have used yoga and gentle stretching quite successfully to get rid of pain and remove most of the ROM limitations. I took years – and patience – and some good PT in there, but most of it was stuff I figured out and did myself (other than the yoga – had to learn that – there are good books and simple beginner classes).

    It is not a death or immobility sentence unless you let it be (or see second sentence above). Isometric exercises, gently done, to strengthen the muscles around (and especially because isometrics seemed to help the pains that wouldn’t go away in odd spots I couldn’t reach) you spine.

    Take better care of yourself, sir. But much of it IS lifestyle change, a tiny bit at a time.

    • I do thank you for the encouragement. The advice, alas, may not be so easy to follow.

      I don’t have the money to take yoga classes, and moreover, it appears that a lot of the places around here that offer such classes are for women only. I have tried various stretching exercises recommended by my doctors, but they only produce muscle strain and inflammation; so that on one occasion last summer, I actually had to go to the hospital with an acute case of torticollis. Of course, this was before the doctors knew that my vertebrae had fused together. Perhaps a skilled physiotherapist could prescribe a program of exercise that would be suitable to my condition – but physiotherapy, here in Alberta, is not covered by public health care (at least for people aged 18 to 64), and I cannot afford private insurance any more than yoga lessons.

      But I suspect the real problem is that a spinal fusion that happens all by itself is a lot more damaging than one done deliberately by a trained surgeon. Just lying in bed for a few hours is enough to make my neck muscles go into spasm, compensating for something. Figuring out what that something is, and how to mitigate it, is liable to be a long and expensive process. And the recovery will never be 100%. Already, in the time since my accident, I have regained a good deal of mobility in my neck, but it is physically impossible to force it to move as freely as it used. If I turn my head to the left or right far enough, I can hear a grinding noise as the remaining joints are extended beyond their proper range.

      • I am so sorry your problems are so difficult – it is frustrating to have our bodies not do what we wish they would do.

        I doubt ANY recover from spinal problems is 100% – it’s a delicate system, and doesn’t take kindly to be interfered with. I share your frustration.

        Now that you mention it, our yoga classes (around 30 of us) had ONE guy a couple of times – that was it. In India, the yogis are usually men. There are books. I have Yoga for Arthritis and The New Yoga for Healthy Aging on my shelf – you get a fair portion of it from the books.

        I am at least a decade older than you, I believe, and didn’t start yoga until I was almost 60, so it can be done. I started with books, then found a beginners class. If classes are out of the question, you might peruse yoga books for older learners on Amazon IF you are at all interested – you can usually read a sample.

        In any case, you will find way to make each day maybe a little easier – those little bits can really add up – if you want to and your body will let you. If not, then lowering expectations is the only option – I’ve done my share of that.

        I thought the Canadian health system was better than ours, but it doesn’t sound like it.

        Hope the Synthroid is what you need for part of what ails you.

        • The chief advantage of the Canadian health system, as of anything conceived under the ideals of socialism, is not that it reduces suffering, but that it spreads it more evenly. The American system still produces superior results if you can get into it for treatment; our system is easier to get into but flatly refuses to provide many of the things that are needed. (Prescription drugs, dentistry, optometry, and ambulance service are just four of the things not covered by our ‘universal’ system, at least here in Alberta; regulations and omissions vary by province.) Europe does it better: they have a Canadian-style system to provide the essentials to the poor, and a parallel, American-style private sector to provide better treatment for those willing and able to pay. But that is anathema here: it is called ‘two-tier medicine’ and it is instant career suicide for any politician to advocate it.

          But enough about that. I thank you for suggesting the ingenious idea of getting yoga out of books. That, at any rate, is something that I can try, though of course I should like to consult my doctor first to see if any particular kinds of exercise and movement are out of bounds for me. Perhaps you could do me the favour of suggesting a book or two that could be good to begin with?

  2. One cannot read this post without several involuntary exclamations (“OUCH!”). As usual Mr. Simon, you remain in my prayers for healing and the grace to carry on in your pain.

  3. Good luck.

    I had good results from increasing the fiber in my diet to deal with high cholesterol, even though I had to resort to a supplement to get it high enough. (And it took me a month to get up to three doses of supplement a day, and I should have taken six weeks to adjust better.)

    • That’s an idea I could look into.

      Frankly, though, I think the main reason for my elevated cholesterol is that I don’t get enough exercise, and that isn’t going to be fixed until I get a better handle on how to manage this neck problem. I don’t want to get into an exercise program that might inflict further damage.

      Even walking, at this time of year, is dangerous for me. On my way back from the doctor’s office, I was walking in fresh wet snow over frozen sidewalks, and it was so slippery that I was frequently in some danger of falling. The hill I live on is so steep, in places, that when the pavements are glazed with wet ice, my feet slide downhill even when I try to stand still.

      I wish I still had a car.

  4. I’m praying for your intentions, sir.

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