by Dr. Andrew C S Koh
On 26/12/2019, I attended a post-Christmas, pre-New Year celebration dinner with my cardiologist colleagues in a hotel in Ipoh. After dinner, when I was leaving the restaurant, I tripped and fell. I could not remember how I fall. I must have lost consciousness, and when I came to myself, I saw my friends looking at me and calling me.
I could see and hear them but I had a strange feeling. I could not feel my body below the neck and this was frightening! It was as though my head was cut off from the rest of my body from below my neck. I could not move my hands and feet, and there were no feelings below my neck. Then it dawned on me that I was tetraplegic, and the fall had resulted in a neck injury and spinal shock.
Prolapsed intervertebral disc
My colleagues called for an ambulance and transferred me to KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital. The paramedics were very careful not to move my neck and protected my neck with a cervical collar. I was immediately taken for an emergency MRI brain and neck scan and subsequently admitted to the ICU. The MRI scan showed no head trauma, but there was a prolapsed intervertebral at the C3/C4 level causing a 90 % compression of the spinal cord, confirming the diagnosis of a prolapsed intervertebral disc with cervical myelopathy at the C3/C4 level. By then, it was already past midnight.
The next morning, I was taken for a CT scan of the neck to delineate the prolapse intervertebral disc in more detail. By then, the spinal shock had resolved but I was tetraplegic. The spinal surgeon who attended to me advised urgent spinal cord decompression surgery to remove the prolapsed intervertebral disc and to decompress the spinal cord. He explained that this was a delicate and precise operation, and there was a risk of permanent spastic tetraplegia in the event of complications arising during the operation.
At 8 pm on 27/12/2019, I was wheeled to the operation theatre for the scheduled operation. I heard the anaesthetists in attendance saying that they were giving me pure oxygen, and will be putting me to sleep. The next thing, that I remembered was the doctors calling my name, asking me to wake up, and saying that the operation was over. When I opened my eyes, I saw the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and the clock in the operation theatre, and it was 11 pm. I was wheeled back to the ICU.
After 8 days in the hospital, I was well enough to be discharged and was able to walk with great difficulty using a walking frame. After 6 more weeks of outpatient physiotherapy and rehabilitation, I finally recovered and was discharged from physiotherapy. At that time, the COVID-19 pandemic kicked in, and the whole country was under lockdown. It took me another 3 months before I became ambulant. It is now almost 3 years post operation and I am fully ambulant but still requires the assistance of a walking stick.
Thanks for the support
I thank all my cardiologist colleagues for calling the ambulance and protecting my neck during the ambulance transfer.
I thank my wife, sons, daughters-in-law, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, niece, relatives, in-laws, friends, pastors, church members, ex-school, and ex-university classmates, for their prayers, support, care, visitation, encouragement, and reassurance.
I thank the spinal surgeon, neurosurgeon, neurologist, anaesthetists, radiologists, staff nurses, nursing aides, paramedical staff, radiographers, physiotherapists, KPJ ISH hospital directors, and all the hospital staff, who had attended to me during my hospitalization.
According to one of my cardiologist friends who was an eyewitness to the accident, I fell head facing downwards hitting the floor, and was lifeless for about 5 minutes. He said that at that moment, he thought I have died and was so worried for me. When I woke up again, it was a miracle. According to one of my sons, who is an anaesthetist in New Zealand, he said that such an injury almost always results in permanent tetraplegia, and my recovery in such a short time was indeed a miracle.
So many people prayed for me, through whats-app messenger and in person. My wife and sister were very supportive throughout my hospital stay and postoperatively. My in-laws were also very supportive throughout my ordeal. They drove me to various places outside Ipoh during the Chinese New Year of 2020 for food and recreation, just to cheer me up.
I thank God for saving my life, rescuing me from spinal shock, rescuing me from spastic tetraplegia, successful spinal surgery, and successful rehabilitation
I thank God for preserving my life so that I can serve Him in the church. For the past 3 years, He had enabled me to write and publish 38 books. God is good, He loved me, had compassion, mercy, and grace on me, and His eyes were on me throughout my ordeal. I had experienced such amazing grace.
I was once paralysed but now I can walk! I hope this testimony will be an encouragement for you as it had been for me.