I promised to add some technical details that might help others deciding on back surgery, so here they are. The name “microdiscectomy” can be very confusing since there are several ways of doing the surgery, some with much smaller incisions than others.
My neurosurgeon Dr. C. did a minimally invasive procedure called microendoscopic discectomy. It’s done through a 6 cm. tube with the help of an operating microscope. The incision is small and the muscles alongside the spine don’t need to be cut, which makes for a faster recovery and less scarring. Here’s a neurosurgeon showing the tube (at 2:33) and explaining how he uses it:
Some doctors don’t like to deal with a large disc extrusion like I had through the small tube. Of course doctors should do what they’re good at and comfortable with. But I’m glad that Dr. C. could treat me successfully with just the small incisions. Since I had two levels of the spine worked on there were two incisions, which by now look like two thin scratches.
I was “consented” for microdiscectomy at both levels, but that’s not exactly what I ended up getting. Dr. C. did a microdiscectomy at L4/L5. But at L5/S1 the disc was not actually herniated. It had a small, calcified bulge. Fearing that it would do more harm than good to disrupt that disc, Dr. C. removed a little bone from the area instead (microdecompression) to create space for the nerve. It all seems to have worked and left me in a much better condition than I was.
For the less squeamish this shows a microendoscopic discectomy, largely through stills but with some video too: