When Doctor Becomes Patient
Many Americans spend more time researching their next flat panel TV than their own medical care. When we’re sick we just want to get better, fast, so we don’t spend enough time thinking about our treatment options and how each of them might affect us over the long run. Neither do we spend enough time investigating who is treating us or where. For lack of a term more appropriate to healthcare, we just don’t do enough comparison shopping.
I say this both as a physician and as a patient who narrowly avoided a potentially bad treatment decision. The increasing—often excruciating—pain I suffered in my lower back over the last four years forced me to finally consider surgery as an option.
I moved to Baltimore in 1986 to complete my training at Johns Hopkins. This area has many fine medical institutions and I sought opinions from three renowned physicians here. Unfortunately, the standard treatment for my back required a multi-level lumbar fusion.
Traditional back surgery leaves a large scar, recovery times are long and there’s often a considerable amount of post-surgical pain. Even with the best outcomes, you never get back to 100%. What’s worse, in my case the chance of morbidity was 20%, which in doctor’s speak means I had a one in five chance of coming out of surgery worse than when I started.
Given my pain, traditional open surgery seemed like my “least worst” option, but not a good one.
Then, just a week before my scheduled surgery, I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Anders Cohen at a medical conference in San Francisco. After hearing him lecture and talking with him personally, I could see Dr. Cohen had much more experience in minimally invasive spine surgery than all the other expert lecturers at the conference. He was particularly well versed in an important new procedure for the lumbar spine called XLIF.
XLIF is unique in back surgery because it lets the surgeon access the intervertebral disc space and lower back from the side of the body rather than the front or back. This means the incisions can be smaller and there’s far less healthy tissue to cut through to reach the spine. Most importantly, the surgeon can restore the normal disc space with a spacer that fuses with my own bone. This relives pressure on the nerves without having to cut away bone (laminectomy) as traditional spine surgery requires. Simply put, less cutting means less trauma to those tissues, less risk of infection and less post-operative pain.
After reviewing my case with Dr. Cohen, I canceled my open surgery and scheduled a three-level XLIF at The Brooklyn Hospital Center. The results have been miraculous. Immediately after the procedure I realized the familiar, nagging pain in my back and hips was gone, and just a day later I was more than just able to walk; I was ready to pack up and head back on the train to Maryland!
Now that I’m home again, two-hundred miles from New York, I’m so glad I compared treatment choices, spent time interviewing prospective doctors, and made the extra effort of coming to The Brooklyn Hospital Center. In other words, I’m glad I “shopped” for my healthcare. If I hadn’t, I may never have found Dr. Anders Cohen and a very advanced form of minimally invasive surgery that gave me a new lease on life. This is my Christmas miracle. I thank God for Dr. Cohen and the very caring staff of The Brooklyn Hospital Center.