Next April will be ten years since that fateful night I was rendered a quadriplegic man. For five years prior, I had been experiencing weird numbness symptoms on both sides of my body felt mostly in my sides and legs. My wife and I went to the specialists and the obligatory trip to Mayo with no explanations. The medical consensus was they were TIAs, or in layman’s terms, mini strokes. So I was loaded up with three blood thinners including Plavix permitting me to bruise like an overripe peach. There were to be many emergency room visits and CAT scans but no explanations.
At some point at about the five year mark I believe, I noticed when I tapped my right foot there was a weird sensation in my neck. My PCP ordered a full spinal CAT scan, my first, and they discovered a small 1cm wide growth between the C2 -C4 vertebra. Yes, after five years of medical tests and specialists, I uncovered it myself. Overjoyed, my wife and I tromped over to the referred neurosurgeon the next morning to get it removed. He said “Mr Muir, the growth on the scan is an AVM which is a mass of arteries and veins which has formed into a 1 cm ball. I believe you’ve had this since birth and it has grown over time to 1cm wide. I believe we have a six month window to remove it. Incredulously, he made no immediate plans for surgery. We learn there are three types of AVMs. Most common are those on the outside of the brain which are easily removed. The second are on the outside of the spinal chord another easy removal depending on the case. Mine, however was on the inside of the spinal chord. A very complicated surgery as you can imagine.
We had come too far not to move forward right away. My brother Andrew is on the faculty at Duke and also on the faculty is a neurosurgeon with experience in this area. So we made plans to go to Duke and the first step was to begin to draw down on the blood thinners to prepare for surgery. We went into that weekend full of hope and imagining what life would be like without hospitals and ER trips.
Sunday night, after dinner the whole family went to Diary Queen. Jackson, then four, and Colin at eighteen months had a typical warm Spring evening. Somewhere in the middle of the evening, I awoke to a pain more intense than I could have ever imagined. I began to run around the bed screaming uncontrollably for what seemed to last forever. Once, again we went through the familiar routine of calling a friend to stay with the boys and off to the ER. I was in no pain at this point. As we pulled up to the ER main door , I opened the car door and tried to get about and to my horror my legs would not move. After being assessed in the ER, I was rushed into surgery which was to last over twelve hours with many family and friends waiting at the hospital with my wife and mother. We heard afterwards, on the three blood thinners my blood was so thin multiple nurses were working at suctioning blood off so the surgeon could see what he was doing. Since he had to dig into the core of the spinal chord, there were many risks. I am grateful I have a fully working right arm. However the left arm is protracted and the fingers are turned up and of no working use to me. It looks pretty pathetic actually. While one could be bitter at the surgeon for his delayed lack of action, rather I credit him for my functioning arm.
Part Two will focus on the beginning of my life as a quadriplegic.