My love for horses all began when I was six. My mother signed me up for ballet lessons but I wanted to be a horse. I cantered to school and, when no one was around, whinnied. The ballet didn't go all that well. Neither did the horse thing. My father was in the Foreign Service and we moved around a lot, so there was no equine for me.
Fast forward five decades. I became an artist and painted lots of things--including horses. I began to get headaches whenever I took up paint and brushes, or did anything else that involved looking down or to the side. The headaches spread to the night and I would wake up with my head pounding. I went to a lot of doctors and soon recognized that "oh Lord, here comes another older woman with a headache" look. I had lots of tests, and was given lots of pills even though I kept insisting there was something wrong with my neck. After about seven years my physician assistant referred me to Virginia Spine Institute.
My experience with all the other wonderful people at Virginia Spine Institute was remarkable. We talked about my concerns and made a sensible program for the improvement of my pain. I had previously found some relief with physical therapy and we decided to try this again with an anti-inflammatory medicine. My neck pain was manageable but my headaches became more unbearable. I kept a headache diary. These headaches were in fact coming from my neck, called occipital neuralgia headaches and can come from arthritis in the neck. We decided to try steroid injection in my facet joints. I was very nervous about having an injection and thankfully had a good experience. Dr. Nguyen was marvelously gentle, soothing, kind and was clearly an expert. By the second day after the injection all my pain was gone and also my nighttime headaches! I couldn’t believe it. Being an artist, I celebrated by painting like a mad thing, perhaps overdoing it. I had two more sets of injections. Although they provided miraculous relief, they didn't last very long.
When my headaches returned at 5/7 days and nights a week I said I was ready for an operation. I was also starting to drop things and lose my balance, a sign that my spinal cord was being affected. I had several levels of significant degenerative disc disease in my neck and symptomatic spinal stenosis. We discussed treatment options with me and decided a three level fusion was best for my condition. This is called an ACDF or Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion. I had a DEXA scan to check my bone strength for the surgery. Since "operation" sounded so serious, I decided that if all went well I would fulfill a lifetime dream and finally get that perfect equine. Over the years I learned that mules are smarter than horses and that they bond with their owners much like a dog does, so a mule it would be.
My operation was a wonderful success; I have no more headaches. I can paint as much as I like AND I can ride on my marvelous Miss Kitty. She has been mine for a month now, and I am very happy and most grateful to Virginia Spine Institute!