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Comments 16

Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion… and Phlegmy, Phlegmy Mucus

Copy of ser-en-dip-it-y (n) (2)

That’s an ominous title, isn’t it? BUCKLE UP, BUCKAROOS!


My first surgery wasn’t quite the success for which I’d hoped. I tried not to hope for this one, because I didn’t want to get my feelings hurt. Well, boys and girls, this one worked. It’s like the first time they dug around in my neck, they only pulled out half a rotting tooth before stitching me back up. The second surgery removed the rest of that festering, pulsating monstrosity and cleaned it out entirely. So, was it worth it? Heck yes. 



Ms. Kain, welcome back. Your frequent flier membership card has been updated, and you’ve won a free blender for your customer loyalty!

I am now a bit more than one week post-anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. I had the same procedure as I did two years ago (ACDF, levels C4-C5 as opposed to the earlier C5-C6). It was the same hospital, even the same surgeon, and yet so many things were different. Round I was March 27, 2014. I remember four things vividly:

  • the feeling of funny juice speeding through my body right before they wheeled me into the operating room;
  • mouthing “I love you” to my husband as they wheeled me past him;
  • the difficulty of waking up from anesthesia, the nurse pressing a wet sponge to my cracked lips, my eyelids at different levels as I kept trying and trying to swim up from the clinging darkness; and
  • one of the technicians saying, “She’s still wearing a thong, is that okay?” right before I passed out. When they tell you to get into the hospital gown and “take everything off,” I kind of just… didn’t. Seventy-eight percent of my underwear would make a stripper’s mother cry. The odds were not in my favor.

This time around, they beat me to it with delightful “one-size-fits-all” gray granny panties to wear with my hair net, bland gown, and traction socks.


I viewed my head decoration options as being one of two choices: 1) I could not get a haircut before surgery, let it grow out awkwardly for three months (you know… that stage), and look like a 12-year-old Dutch boy. Instead, I opted for 2) buzzing my hair.


It turned out to be just that length, actually.

It was that or a mohawk, but I’ve always had a hankering to look like Imperator Furiosa. It gave me an innate feeling of kick-ass. My intensely awesome hair dresser, Lorilee, always seems to schedule a drastic hair change at the same time as I do. She’d shaved her head as well. After she let me see what a mohawk would look like, I chose the buzz. I was the Bride, I was Hit Girl, I was Storm at whatever point in the comic series it was when she shaved her head. I could destroy anything in my path. By the time I’m due for a haircut again, it’ll have grown into a lovely pixie. Meanwhile, I won’t have to shampoo/dry/style it and hurt my neck. Everybody wins! I went into surgery fully prepared. I was scared, yes, because we’d been here before. The last surgery already made promises it’d failed to keep. But I was going to go in fully prepared, despite that first disappointment. My haircut would accompany me through the valley of C4-C5.


Husband stayed with me right up until the doors closed. I was already grumpy because I hadn’t eaten since midnight for a 1:30 pm surgery (Nurse: “If the person in front of you cancels, you still need to be prepared”… like that would literally EVER HAPPEN), and then it got pushed to 4 pm. Strangely, I wasn’t hungry the entire day. I paced the waiting room, tried to read, stared at the small aquarium, stretched out on the floor (“Oh, God, no, honey, don’t do that! Think of where you are!” a passing nurse called. I got up immediately). When they finally called me back into the holding pen, I got a television with access to four Spanish soap operas, three religious channels, and Jerry Springer. Naturally it was an episode about twerking’s predecessor, “the booty shake-off.” One of the girls was so bad at twerking that she decided to fail all over the stripper pole instead. Meanwhile, St. Elizabeth‘s is a decidedly Catholic hospital that my insurance network prefers.


This image is needed after the link to the booty shake-off.

Side Note: I love St. Elizabeth’s. The doctors are extremely nice, and the staff is very skilled. One of the nursing staff even just held my hand before going in for surgery. And she held on tightly, for a long time, and made me feel welcomed and calm. 

Dr. Glazer (best surgeon ever) soon arrived and drew a line on my throat — higher up than last time, on the other side so as to lessen esophageal injury. Then Husband kissed me and they wheeled me into the OR, where a gas mask was put over my nose and mouth. I had been holding a conversation with the anesthesiologist, and then I woke up to a blurry man leaning over me with what looked was either a fu manchu or a very organized series of caterpillars on his face. I could feel the cage of the hard neck brace holding my head still. Toki Wartooth and I started talking — my voice a raspy ruin from the surgeons shoving my esophagus aside to attack C4-C5 and add it to my established fusion. Quickly thereafter my husband was there, sliding my glasses onto my face and bringing the world back into clarity. Husband had even smuggled in Grumpy Cat, who’d descended from the blurry ether two years prior after my first surgery. Toki the fu-manchued nurse kept pushing Dilaudid into my IV, but the pain wasn’t dampened until he gave me some Valium to relax my spasming muscles. They hold you in a strange position for cervical surgery that actually hurts the shoulders more than the neck. Even now, more than a week later, my shoulders are smarting.


I spent the night this time. After the last surgery I left as soon as humanly possible; the sterile air, the smell of the soap, the inflatable leg sleeves to keep blood circulating — it drove me bonkers. This time I was more than content to sleep, and sleep, and sleep. Of course, I was woken up every two hours. They tried to get me to use a bed pan — helllllll to the no. My body assumed the position, but my muscles refused to even knowledge that the situation existed. They let me shuffle to the bathroom after that, clinging to my IV pole. Upon my slow return, more needle sticks, more blood draws, more drugs given. One nurse even gave me a sponge bath; rather, she provided all the implements for me to give myself a sponge bath. Navigating a sponge while on doped on Percocet and attached to an IV, that was fun!

Dr. Glazer swung by to discharge me the following morning, confirming that the disc was actually a very bad disc, something that hadn’t made itself known during the MRI besides its positioning. See, this made me feel great, because I wasn’t sure if I was preempting this surgery, if it really was that bad, if I could’ve waited just a bit longer, etc.


Bad disc! BAD DISC!

My sleeping schedule has been strange since that night. I was up that night after surgery from 3 am to 4 am, trolling and texting whichever friends I thought might be awake. None of them was; I was dismayed. The one time I was up when they would be, and they weren’t up. Now I’m sleeping 12 hours a night, getting up for a few hours, sleeping another three hours, and then still climbing into bed at a normal time with Husband. And I’m still relegated to clear/flu foods. It’s easier to get around on my own this time, though. I’m wearing the hard collar less frequently. I’m even taking short walks already. My amazing mama stayed with me two days, and then my fantastic brother stayed over so that Husband could go to work. They took care of me, which was fabulous. That first weekend was just with Husband, though. We had such a nice adventure that, afterward, when my mother showed up to assume the post of caregiver, Husband admitted how relieved he was to have an adult in the house who was more of an adult than either of us.


So let’s discuss something that is all over Google as an unanswered question when you search for some variation of “Wife post-acdf phlegm mucus throat vomit.” I was put on a clear diet after the surgery, so Jello, broth, popsicles, etc. It’s not a lot of variety. And it made me sad. This is coming from someone who’d eaten a peanut butter sandwich every day at school lunch for 12 years. By choice.

I got home, and I kept eating flavored water, frozen water, hot water, and regular water. My second night home I decided to try yogurt. My discharge instructions hadn’t said to keep up the clear diet, and yogurt’s soft; I also hadn’t had any restrictions after the first surgery. I gave it a whirl and subsequently woke up at 2 am, my throat coated, unable to swallow meds, and then vomiting a semi-solid green flag of mucus. It hurt to breathe, and I just. Kept. Hurling. Inhale — BLARGH –Inhale — BLARGH — Inhale — BLARGH. I honestly thought I’d somehow puke through my stitches.


I basically gagged up Slimer from Ghost Busters.

“I’m taking you to the ER,” Husband said as he stood in the bathroom door. I could only nod in response before heaving up what felt like a number of my internal organs. Vomiting in front of my husband is one of the items of my list of “Things I Never Want My Husband To See.” Other items on this list that he will never see if I have anything to say about it: me pooping in the bathroom — while the door unexpectedly opens as he’s walking by. Me going through childbirth. Me waxing my eyebrows and upper lip. You get the idea.


On the plus side, the local ER at 2 am on a non-holiday weekend (besides my birthday, true story) is very quiet. There was just one sobbing woman down the hall. Otherwise I was in and out in an hour. Apparently mucus buildup is a very real thing after neck surgeries because of the endotracheal tube, which somehow did not bother me so much the first time around and did not seem to be addressed in my discharge instructions.

They pumped me full of an anti-nausea, Dilaudid, and Benedryl as well as fluids to replace my body’s whole volume of water. Soon I felt as swollen as BayMax from Big Hero 6. After Husband carried my floppy body home and poured me into bed, he stayed up all night making sure that I continued to breathe. Many nights since then, Husband’s slept in the guest room because while I don’t “snore,” I make kind of a snorkeling sound in the back of my throat and become a mouth-breather. Bed to myself!


I was very curious as to how the ER nurses would treat me given the current political pharmaceutical situation in the United States. I’d thrown up two of my precious Percocet, and I’d signed a pain contract stating that those pills could not be replaced for any reason, which — technically speaking — includes everything up from vomiting to post-apocalyptic global breakdown. When I explained this to the nurse and said that it also hurt too much to swallow the pills, she said, “Don’t worry, we’ll give you… What were you taking? Morphine? Dilaudid?”

Um. What?

I’ve been reading stories for months stating how chronic pain patients go to the ER and are turned away like drug addicts. I know I was wearing a cervical collar and had a bandage and was vomiting profusely into a trash bag and they took a pee test and saw I wasn’t high, but still. I know they have training to see who’s real and who’s a drug seeker, but I just still found myself surprised at how readily they helped me. I even offered to show them my prescription bottle and let them account for the pills, but they waved it off. “I can see you just had surgery,” one said. They were pleasant, quick, smart, courteous, and sympathetic. They rehydrated me, gave me a blanket, and got me all of my meds before sending me home, two minutes away.

Also, when Husband and I drove home, we saw three teenagers walking away from town at 3:50ish am. What are these young kids doing these days!? Good Lord. Those are sleepin’ numbers.




I am starting to sleep fewer than, you know, 15 hours a day. Already trying to swap Percocet for Tramadol. It’s definitely healing faster than the last round, but it will still take time. When my brother was here he suggested going to the mall — fewer than five minutes from my house — getting a specific pair of shoes, and leaving immediately. This was just to get me outside. I readily agreed, having napped for three hours. Halfway through our jaunt, I found myself sweaty, pale, and winding down. I’d been up for 15 minutes.

The basic premise of my day revolves around my recliner, the television, and my laptop. Or I’m napping. It’ll be that way for a little while longer, but soon I’ll be walking farther and farther, longer and longer. I’ll get back to exercising. I’ll get back to fixing myself.




  1. swymer says

    Thanks for sharing your story! I hope you can get around to more peanut butter sandwiches soon, which, by the way, are delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m stuck with stupid clear foods until further notice — that and chicken soup. My throat is still being super weird and narrow. But yes, peanut butter IS delicious. 🙂


  2. Pingback: 3 Weeks ACDF Post-Surgery Update | Wear, Tear, & Care

  3. Marla says

    I had my two level c5-6c6-7 in august 2016 and I am just now noticing the phlegm re is a distinct possibility that he has been lingering in my throats on a vacay for the last month and that I have just really noticed him properly, but it is grossing (technical term) me out something fierce. Looks like you had your surgery 5 months prior to mine, are you having any residue residuals in your throat that are very difficult to cough out?
    I get to find out in the the next 10 days if I get to do another fusion, this time on my lumbar spine (it was feeling left out) wonder what wonderful surprises that is going to hold?!
    Ciao for now,
    Bee McGhee

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely still have a mucus monster, even a year later!! Not anywhere near as bad, but my esophagus is so narrow now that I’m constantly clearing my throat like an old man. And if you had both of yours done at once, I can only imagine that yours is pretty intense. I just had another MRI as well, following up on my mid-back from 2004 to see why it’s been so bonkers lately. I guess we both get to see what’s going on! Also I love your name, Bee McGhee. So cute. 😀 Good luck at your appointment! ❤


  4. Glad to know I am not alone. I had two discs replaced with two new ones-no fusion-and it has been a real tough road since. I have been told that a month is nothing. Nevertheless, I have a ton of phlegm, lightheaded, nasal and sinus difficulties, and of course top of the head pain. “All that will go away eventually, and you are way ahead of everyone.” Gee, I would hate to see those who are behind!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah seriously, what’s going to happen to the people behind you!? I would definitely not want to see that. My goodness. It’s also amazing how few people discuss these types of issues online — though I guess it’s kind of embarrassing to talk about. Good thing we have no issues discussing phlegm! 😀 I hope you feel better soon and get ahead of your symptoms!


  5. Linda Chambers says

    I had my surgery on 5/31/17. I did great for the first week then the mucus monster reared it’s head. Coughing, gagging and choking are my new normal. I too sound like a geriatric person hocking. I wheeze in my sleep and yet I can barely cough anything up. Although I do fear coughing up screws….Not one warning in the numerous booklets the surgeon and hospital provided. To add insult to injury, I’m allergic to guifenison. (Mucinex)


    • Oh honey!! Wow, that was recent. How are you feeling now? Stay away from dairy products for a while, they cause mucous collection. Even though I can’t eat dairy, I think I had a yogurt or something that night, soy-based, and the consistency was just too much like dairy so it like, coagulated or something. (Aren’t these all fun words? And yeah, you think they’d mention something!) When I talked to my doctor about it, he said that while there is still space in the esophagus, the hardware pressing against it with all the inflammation makes it feel so much smaller than it is — combine that after surgery with a thick food product like yogurt or dairy-based anything, and it all just collects in there, I guess. I tried UltraInflamX (powdered medical food, mango flavor) mixed with fruit juice for a while to make sure I got my nutrients, or chocolate Vega protein powder. Drinking my meals for a while helped, though it was definitely a bummer. Lots of pureeing, lots of soups… Popsicles… etc. Flu food, basically. Please let me know how you are doing! And don’t worry — I haven’t coughed my screws out yet. 🙂


      • Linda Chambers says

        I had a post-op today. Everything is healing great and there isn’t any swelling in the esophagus. What the X-ray did show was a slight bump about ½ way down. Going back and looking at X-rays taken before surgery, it was there only smaller. He believes that there could be a polyp that is inflamed from them moving the esophagus…mucus build up a by-product. Gross. Started antibiotics and at next visit 8/18 if bump is still there, sending for ENT follow up. No more cervical collar!


  6. Christy Ogles-Campbell says

    Was just looking for info or others who have had the acf. My surgery was June 9, 2017. I am never without something to drink with me. C3 to C6 fused. I still feel like things get stuck. I am making a wheezing sound sitting upright and wide awake. Totally bizarre. I am belching loudly and it’s painful. I am snoring as well. From everything I am reading all of this is normal. What I find appalling is that this was not disclosed to me prior. I also think Xanax should be prescribed for anxiety for the J collar. Just throwing that in for anyone who might read the thread. Most of the time I am ok. But sometimes I start to get anxious. I will sit in front of the fan when that happens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christy, you are doing great. For even writing a coherent paragraph this soon after your surgery, you’re doing awesome. I was still sleeping probably 15-20 hours a day that soon after mine! I had the wheezing/belching/snoring problems as well. My husband even had to sleep in the guest room for a few months, once he realized I wasn’t going to choke in my sleep or stop breathing. The “stuck” feeling is all the inflammation — I even had an endoscopy done because I insisted I had something stuck, but I didn’t. Just inflammation and positioning of the hardware. :-/ Things just feel super weird after surgery, it takes a while to get used to. ❤


  7. Bernice says

    After 2 month, now i’m coughing and choking. mucus in my throat. one symptom after another. I guess this is the healing process.


  8. Jennifer, I LOVED your story and your humor. My ACDF surgery was August 21, 2017. All of a sudden yesterday I didn’t have that “esophagus grinding against the hardware” feeling when I swallowed, but all of a sudden today I have the “something gross is stuck in my throat” feeling. It’s probably stuck in the vicinity of the hardware which is why I don’t have the scraping feeling. I’ve been eating dairy products since right after my surgery and 4 weeks post-op – blech! I’m still in my hard collar and cannot drive. I really, REALLY miss driving. My husband or sister have to take me everywhere so I mostly stay home. One bonus for me is that I’ve lost 20 pounds since my neck issues began on July 9, 2017. Due to pain I did not want to swallow at first; no appetite; then I chewed every bit of food until it was liquid and quite frankly, I got tired of chewing and trying not to choke when I swallowed. So, I just did not eat much. I will be purchasing a fitbit and getting my 10,000 steps in per day soon. Someone else can have my lost pounds!


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