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I am a 64-year old woman in good health – except for constant tailbone pain. On January 15, 2010 I traveled from my home to Charlotte, NC for a coccygectomy, performed by Dr. Edward Hanley (see Doctors and specialists in the USA, North Carolina). Below is the timeline of my story.
I began to notice that I was very uncomfortable when I had to sit on steel folding chairs. I found myself twisting and turning, trying to get comfortable. I researched tailbone pain on the Internet and visited many websites and found that www.coccyx.org is the most thorough and useful. I cannot trace my coccyx pain to any specific accident or fall; it just began on its own and has affected my entire life. Wherever I go I have to look for chairs or surfaces that I can sit on comfortably. I've learned that I am most uncomfortable when my chair causes me to lean back. Sitting up straight on a firm surface and on my cushion, with my feet flat on the floor, is definitely the best for me. I manage to do all the things I need to do, including my part time job, but it is with much discomfort. The pain increases as the day progresses.
November - December 2008
I went to a chiropractor who told me he might not be able to help me, but he would try. By this time the muscles around my tailbone hurt all the way out to my hips and sometimes down into my upper thighs. I saw the chiropractor once a week for two months, but his adjustments and electrical treatments did not help.
My primary doctor ordered x-rays which did not reveal any problems with my coccyx. She sent me to see an orthopedic doctor who ordered a bone scan. It was negative too. Over the course of the next 9 months he put me on at least 5 different anti-inflammatory medications, but these did not help. He gave me my first cortisone shot and it helped a lot for a couple of months and then the old pain in my tailbone and hips and thighs was back.
During my yearly check up my primary doctor suggested that I might benefit from physical therapy. Though I was skeptical, I agree to try it. After 2 appointments I could see that the therapist's electric stimulation and stretches for my legs and back were not going to help my tailbone pain. The weekly treatments were also very expensive so I told her I would not come again.
I went back to my orthopedic doctor and go my second cortisone shot. As the doctor was feeling to find my sorest place so he could "aim and shoot" the cortisone, he commented "you might be a good candidate for surgical removal." He also said he could send me to the hospital pain clinic where they have equipment to image the insertion of the cortisone. I'd have to have a MRI first because the pain clinic required it before they would take me as a patient. I waited to see if the shot he gave me helped, but it was completely ineffective, so I decided I would not go the pain clinic route.
I began to seriously read the posts at Coccyx.org by people who had their tailbones removed. I searched this website to find a doctor in my state who performs the surgery and found Dr. Edward Hanley, Jr. in Charlotte, NC. There were 3 posts by people who recommended Dr. Hanley for the surgery and I read them all. After reading Jona's story I emailed her and she graciously answered my questions. I was so encouraged by everything she told me about Dr. Hanley and the outcome of her own surgery and decided to make an appointment for Jan. 2010 with Dr. Hanley. When I called, I was very impressed with the efficiency and kindness of the staff in his office.
January 5, 2010
My husband and I drove 2 hours to Charlotte, NC to CMC Orthopedics for my appointment with Dr. Hanley. In the waiting room I picked up a brochure detailing Dr. Hanley's education and accomplishments. I learned that he is the Chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Carolinas Medical Center. He is Medical Director of outpatient clinics and the telemedicine program at Carolinas Medical Center. He is a clinical professor of surgery and an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina. He has spoken extensively on spinal diseases and treatment in the United States and around the world, and he has authored more than 200 articles on orthopedic topics. This information, plus what I learned from Coccyx.org and Jona assured me that I had found a great surgeon.
For this appointment I brought my previous x-rays and bone scans on a CD, but they were old, so Dr. Hanley ordered new x-rays, which were done right there in his office. Dr. Hanley did a manual exam and told me that my tailbone moves more than it should. He gave me three options. (1) Live with it. (2) Continue to get cortisone shots which would not cure the problem. (3) Have surgery to remove my coccyx. He told me he felt I was a good candidate for the surgery, but it was my decision. After conferring with my husband I decided to go ahead with the surgery. Dr. Hanley told us that he performed over 50 coccygectomies last year, which was very reassuring!
My surgery is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. Only a week to get my mind ready and to purchase things I have learned from Jona I will need after surgery. I have never had surgery before, but I'm less concerned about it than I am about the recovery and having to inconvenience my family and coworkers. Our daughter will come for a week to help take care of me, and my husband will take time off also. I will post again after my surgery when I am able. Coccyx.org and Jona have helped me so much, and in turn I hope that my story will be helpful to others.
January 19, 2010
My surgery was this January 15th. The surgery was done at the One Day outpatient clinic at Carolinas Medical Center located in the same building as Dr. Hanley's office. Conveniently, there is a pharmacy and a Chic-Filet in this same building. Parking is adjacent in a parking garage and is free if you ask staff to stamp your parking ticket. When I scheduled this surgery I did not fully understand how serious it is. I didn't realize I would be intubated and a machine would breathe for me. I had a lot to learn since I'd never had surgery before, but the staff was very kind and helpful. Dr. Hanley visited with me prior to surgery and explained that it would only last about an hour.
I was prepped and rolled into the operating room. An oxygen mask was put over my face and I was told to take deep breaths. The next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room. I was told I had only been in recovery 30 minutes. From there I went to another recovery room, from which I would be released when I passed all the "tests" required. My only problems during recovery were a very dry throat and being very cold. The staff took care of both as soon as I mentioned them.
While I was recovering my husband had to time to get my prescriptions filled at the pharmacy in the building and when I was released he brought our van to the door. I made the trip back home on a blowup mattress with a warm comforter and 2 pillows which we wedged in on both sides of me so that I wouldn't roll around. I expected to sleep on the 2- hour drive home, but I did not. I was not uncomfortable, due mainly to the heavy dose of pain medicine they gave me before I left and also the remaining anesthetic medication, which I learned lingers in the body for up to 24 hours.
My first night home went pretty good. Thanks to Jona, we knew that my husband needed to set alarms to wake him when it was time for my medication. He took good care of me, and I realized that Jona was right: you definitely need someone to take care of you at first. Two days later my daughter arrived so that her Dad could go back to work.
The first week of my recovery I was in bed most of the time and slept only on my sides. I napped a little during the day, and I slept pretty well during the night. I got up several times a day and walked around the house. I ate meals standing up at our kitchen counter, or if I didn't feel like standing, in bed from a tray. I took pain medication every 4 hours, an antibiotic, Milk of Magnesia every night, my blood pressure medication and other medications I was on before the surgery. I was careful to eat something with my meds so that I didn't get nauseated.
Towards the end of my first week of recovery I had the deep body pain that the doctor, staff and Jona all warned me about. They say this is due to the odd ways they have to position your body during surgery. I also experienced what I call body "shudders." These did not hurt but they were quite strong and occurred in my legs, torso, shoulders and arms. I called Dr. Hanley's nurse and the doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant. I then experienced 4 episodes of hallucination, requiring another call Dr. Hanley's nurse who is very accessible and gets back with me promptly. After conferring with Dr. Hanely she advised me to stop the muscle relaxant and start taking a milder one I had on hand already. The shudders continued for about a week and a half. caused according to Dr. Hanley, from the healing process of damaged nerves.
I return to Dr. Hanley's office on Feb. 9th to have my stitches removed. There are 5 stitches with old-fashioned sutures. I was instructed to change the gauze dressing (nothing was applied to the incision) and be careful to keep the area clean and dry. Also, I was not to lift anything over 10 pounds and avoid stretching and bending so as not to pull the incision area.
February 9, 2010
Another trip back to Charlotte on the blowup mattress to have my sutures removed. I was so ready for their removal as they seemed very taunt. When Dr. Hanley took them out I felt pressure and some pulling, but the procedure did not hurt. He was pleased with how good the incision looked. He bathed it with a lot of hydrogen peroxide and covered it with a small gauze dressing for my trip home. He told me not to apply anything to the incision. Best of all now I could take a complete shower. (Before I only showered the front of my body, and we taped saran wrap over the dressing so it wouldn't get wet.) He again cautioned me not to lift more than 10 pounds. He said I could try to sit in about a week. If I'm not comfortable, wait a while longer and try again. Once I can sit comfortable, I may resume driving.
Dr. Hanley told me that he removed 2 sections of my tailbone that were very loose and hypermobile. I'm glad they are gone and hope to soon be sitting normally again, though I realize I still have much healing time in my future. Normally Dr. Hanley has coccygectomy patients come back 3 weeks after suture removal, but because I live so far away, he told me to just call his nurse and give her a report about how I'm doing. I agreed to be part of a coccyx study that Dr. Hanley is doing, so I'll be filling out questionnaires at different stages of my healing.
June 15, 2010 - 6 months since surgery
I can sit comfortably for about 30 minutes at a time and I can drive myself most places now. As a passenger I can ride longer than that, but I would not undertake a long car trip unless I'm on the blowup mattress in the back of our van. I think driving is harder because it requires sitting back flat, and I'm just not comfortable doing that – in a car, at church or at a movie. If I can sit forward, more on my thighs than on my bottom, I can sit okay for an hour or so.
The pain and discomfort I have now is in the muscles of the buttocks, still mostly on the left side. My doctor said it just takes time for all the muscles, tissue and nerves to heal after surgery. I had muscle pain before surgery too, but it was more widespread and worse than it is now. I still use my TENS machine occasionally.
The only time the tailbone area gets painful is when I do too much sitting, bending or squatting, but now it just hurts and doesn't feel swollen and throbbing as it did before. After a few days' rest the hurt goes away. Over-doing happens less and less, and when it does occur, my recovery time is shorter. This tells me I AM getting better! Some folks don't understand why it's taking me so long to get back to normal life, but I don't let them worry me, as I have read stories on coccyx.org that tell me this is not unusual, and more the norm. I am not at all sorry I had the surgery.
Thank you again for all you do to provide a very valuable website for coccyx pain sufferers.