Friday, August 2, 2019

As 2020 vote looms, a steel spine will come in handy

     This is the last of three columns about surgery for stenosis, a condition where narrowing vertebrae compress the spinal cord. The first two parts ran Monday and Wednesday.

     The doctor wasn’t sure what he’d find.
     If my bones were pliant, he’d cut little “doors” in three vertebrae, propping each open with a tiny titanium doorstop, so there would be room for the compressed spinal cord to shy away from that bone spur spearing it from the front.
      But, if the bones broke, he’d have to fuse the whole thing with a titanium plate and rods. That second possibility made me worried I’d end up as limber as the tin-man.
     So when I came to, after three hours, and learned that Plan A worked, and nothing had to be fused, I was ecstatic. Doctors would ask me how I was — doped up, bandaged over, with stents in each arm and a drain and a catheter — and I’d mumble, “ecstatic.”
      Strange. Newspapers review every new burger joint and off-Loop musical, yet never rate hospitals. Let’s fix that. I spent three full days and nights at Northwestern. The surgical care was excellent. The post-surgical care was ... quite good, with exceptions.
   Amazing how the reputation of a vast, $11 billion medical enterprise teeters on the back of whoever answers your call button. Most nurses were great; a few, not so much.
      The dividing line seemed to be what each thought his or her job was. Those who saw themselves as tending to the person in room 1009 — aka, me — were sympathetic and attentive. When they went off shift it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. Some, however, seemed to be merely ticking off boxes — go into Room 1009, collect a blood sample, then get out.
      A couple close-but-no-cigar moments, like the aide who brought the water I requested but then placed the cup just out of my reach and fled. I thought of that skeleton sprawled before a pitcher in “Snow White” as my fingers quivered toward the cup and I wondered whether pushing the extra few inches would roll me onto the floor. 

To continue reading, click here.   

A few "close-but-no-cigar" moments. 


  1. I'm happy to know it went so well, and glad that you're too restless to take a month off.
    I'm more than a little concerned for you when I think of the pain killers.
    I assume you are stronger than I am, but I had an alcohol problem, and then after a root canal and a prescription I spent the next 20 years with an even worse opioid addiction. A brutal addiction.

    1. I'm hoping to avoid that, and have been very careful about the opioids. I'm not so much strong as lucky. The heavy grade stuff they gave me in the hospital made me so nauseous I didn't want to take it, and the light grade stuff they gave me to take home barely does anything anyway and is hardly worth the bother of swallowing. Edie has to keep reminding me to take them. Course I'm not out of the woods yet either, so we'll see, but I like to think that being vigilant is half the battle. I could of course be wrong.

    2. Craig Ferguson, who was an addict for a long time had surgery & had to take an opioid for the pain, learned that if all you do is take it for pain, you don't get addicted or readdicted in his case.
      I've taken opioids for weeks after surgery & never got addicted, because as soon as the pain went away, so did the drugs.

  2. Speedy recovery!
    The only thing I regret about my wrist surgery is that I wish I had asked the surgeon to have someone take a picture during the procedure. X Rays are not nearly as interesting as your own "inviolable" body open down to flesh and bone. Like Snowden's secret.

  3. The headline got my admiring attention, but then I thought, "Neil doesn't write the headlines and might be miffed with a 'What a great headline!' comment." So I was quite pleased to find that he did write this one as the last sentence of the column.

    And "being vigilant" is the answer to a whole lot of human woes, especially the self imposed ones. Was just discussing a family of very smart people who live together and are all grossly overweight except ironically the family cook, who apparently is "careful about what he eats."

    As far as addictions go, I'm one of the lucky ones who rarely need anything for pain and when long ago I drank to excess was inclined to get sick before I got all too happy. The tradeoff might be that being relatively insensitive to my own pain, I'm not all that sensitive to others' pain either.


  4. Regarding post-operative care, I recommend you have your procedure early in the week so you don't have to spend a weekend in the hospital. The place tends to empty out.


  5. If you are not particular about that "dose" thing in radiography, I run an industrial version and could probably get some cool "after" images for compare and contrast fun!

    (JK, good luck on continued recovery)

  6. Thanks for sharing. Sounds scary but looks like you're in good care. If you can feel your hands now, sounds like you're better than before. Good Luck.


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