Bob Seger is a rock legend. The 72-year-old was in the midst of a 32-show tour in September and getting ready to release a new album when he started having mysterious symptoms that shook him to his core: his hands were tingling and feeling numb. In light of the recent tragic death of his good friend Glenn Frey, he was scared. An MRI revealed that the source of the problem was a ruptured disc in his neck that was severely pinching his spinal cord. The tour was immediately called to a halt, and he underwent emergency spinal surgery.
Looking back at the experience, he recognizes that he was lucky not to have had symptoms much earlier in his life. “Let’s face it: I’ve been singing real hard for 52 years. That’s a strain on the upper shoulders and neck. And I guess I finally just popped one out.”
When considering his experience, physicians say that the real luck Seger experienced was that he didn’t experience agonizing pain. The scans of his back were bad enough that they he should have been “screaming,” one specialist told him.
When the scans were originally read, the doctors indicated that he could continue his tour unless he started experiencing pain, or the numbness moved to another part of his body. “If you start dragging a leg, run for emergency,” they said. He continued the tour for another two weeks, but remembers, “It was nerve-racking to go up there every night, singing as hard as I could. But I thought, ‘You know, I can do it. I’ll take care of this after the tour.’”
But it wasn’t meant to be. Just two weeks after the scans were completed, what the doctors had indicated as the danger sign suddenly appeared. “I’m dragging my leg,” he realized. “Okay, that’s it! Pulling the plug.”
Seger took his physicians’ advice seriously, understanding that failing to address the problem risked permanent nerve damage. He called off the balance of the tour.
The surgery that Seger needed was not uncommon, and could have been done in a way that would have involved minimal pain and a short and easy recovery, but he opted for a more complex procedure involving an incision being made in the back of his neck in order to avoid any contact with his larynx. Though this assured that he would eventually return to singing in his distinctive voice, the decision came with a high price in terms of discomfort and an extended amount of time for recovery. “I opted for the pain,” he said.
The cervical laminectomy was completed in mid-October, and he left the hospital four days later, then began a rigorous therapy schedule that will last for months. He is not permitted to sing, and recalls that he was barely able to walk for a week as a result of the residual pain. He is improving, but is still experiencing some discomfort and is looking forward to several weeks from now when he is fully recovered.