By: Matt Cavallo
I had one goal for after my anterior cervical fusion surgery: work as hard as I could to return to normal so I could be the dad I always wanted to be. This was not going to be easy. I had a serious neck injury with bone fragments cutting and flattening my spine with every movement. The pain I experienced was intense. Electric shocks shot up and down my body, freezing me in place whenever I tried to move. Instinctively, I held my shoulders tight together when I moved in order to take the pressure off of my spine, but it also made me look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
This was no way to live. My sons were only three and one year old, respectively at the time, and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to be the active, involved dad that I always wanted to be. In my deepest, darkest moments, I was afraid that I would become quadriplegic. Unfortunately, my doctors agreed with my fears and recommended immediate surgery. They said my neck problem was related to an earlier MS exacerbation I experienced of Transverse Myelitis and that even picking up my babies the wrong way could leave me damaged for life.
I was scared. I didn’t want surgery, but I also didn’t want the alternative. In September of 2010, I went under the knife. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was also working for a rehabilitation hospital at the time and received a lot of good advice prior to surgery. When I woke up from that surgery, I followed that advice.
First, I had an evaluation with a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). While many people know that SLPs can work on cognitive and language deficits associated with multiple sclerosis, many don’t know that SLPs can also help with swallowing issues. My SLP coached me how to adapt my swallowing techniques while wearing a hard neck brace. These strategies helped me adapt during my recovery. My SLP also set expectations about what it would feel like to swallow with the titanium artifact in my neck. Without these compensatory strategies learned from my SLP, my recovery would have been much more uncomfortable and I probably wouldn’t have received the proper nutrition. As a side note, I did consult a Registered Dietician about liquid nutrition options before switching to regular food when I was first out of surgery.
Next, I had an Occupational Therapy (OT) evaluation. Learning to adapt with a hard collar wrapped tightly around your neck is difficult. Trying to dress or clean yourself up after going to the bathroom was impossible for me. My OT worked on activities of daily living (ADLs) including dressing and toileting. These strategies allowed me to remain independent with my ADLs post-surgery. Feeling independent with grooming, toileting and dressing helped my confidence. My wife was already having to dress and change my kids’ diapers. I didn’t want her to have to do the same to me. My wife did really step up and help me when I needed her the most, but my OT gave me the strategies to be as independent as possible during my recovery.
Finally, I had a Physical Therapy (PT) evaluation. First, my PT worked on my neck range of motion, turning from side to side, and rotating my shoulders back into place after all the atrophy associated with being hunchbacked. Then, my PT worked on strengthening my shoulders and neck to ensure that my range of motion and shoulders remained intact after therapy. My PT also gave me home exercises designed to keep the area strong and maintain the progress I made from the therapeutic interventions.
It has now been four years since surgery, and I am happy to report that I have achieved my goal. My quality of life is better now than it was prior to the surgery. I believe that I would not have experienced as much success without the help of my therapists. My PT, OT, and SLP each contributed, not only to my recovery, but also, to the strategies that I learned through therapy which I continue to use today. Most importantly, I am able to be the dad that I always wanted to be. I appreciate every day that I can go out and play with my boys.
*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/