Monday, March 26

Seriously. When did I become an Allergy magnet?

Somehow I have managed to have a pretty strong immune system.

Most of my illnesses have started with some kind of 'allergic reaction' to the environment.  When I go to the Doc-in-the-box it is because I have started coughing. And I can usually pinpoint an event that had me out in the blowing wind or very dusty conditions .... even traveling and staying in hotels with their air system blowing on me at night!  So, when I recently spent 4 days in a whirlwind of travel and places ~ BAM! The coughing started. But, I was also around some pretty sick people ~ my grandson had pneumonia and his momma was also coughing.  I also stayed in places with cats, spent time in a Laundromat and helped folks clean & flew on planes.

My fear of 'catching' something from those that were sick around me took me straight to the doctor when I slowed down. I was flu and pneumonia free, but got the cortisone shot, antibiotic shot, cough medicine, z-pac, and nose spray.  Four days later I went back when the cortisone wore off. Tested negative again, but another shot, changed cough medicine, gave me a breathing treatment and put me on an inhaler. Time to fly again, this time heading west to Arizona..... maybe the change will dry me up. Nope. It took both cough medicines just to get me through the day. It has been two weeks now and I have used up the prescriptions and started taking over the counter allergy medicines. 

So, I am not contagious dear friends ~ sorry you have to listen to me cough.

Sunday, March 25

Are we talking about back surgery or ..... Football?

Gene and I waited for Dr. Dickman to enter the room, anxious to meet him for the first time and ask our many questions about the upcoming surgery options, etc.  "Hello, Curtis Dickman, Gene Smith, my wife Pam, 'smiles' all around" ..... then we hear "my son is really excited to have the opportunity to play at the University of Alabama as a walk-on offensive lineman" ~ REALLY? Trust me, neither of us were wearing any paraphernalia that suggested we were for our beloved team. It goes without saying..... Guess we will have more to talk about then back surgery.

Today, Sunday, I was googling the doctor for a picture and came across an article that mentioned his talents (besides the guitar):
Dr. Dickman’s surgical fetes at BNI have often made headlines, including the Phoenix teen whose skull was literally detached from his spine, when he was hit by a drunk driver. In a daring surgery, Dr. Dickman reattached the teen’s skull to his spine with a first time ever technique.  Wow. That sounds familiar, like I remember hearing about that!  Guess Gene will be in good hands! But, I am WAY ahead of myself.

Barrow Neurosurgical Associates is located on the same site as St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, near downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Their front office has an aquarium full of colorful saltwater fish swimming about. Many young 'doctor's-to-be' dressed in blue scrubs hurried in to get some coffee on their way to their work destination for the day. The mood is upbeat all around.  Gene and I are joined by a couple other early appointment patients before heading back to a room. As stated above, the introductions were made, small talk had and then Dr. Dickman went right into examining Gene and discussing his own abilities, etc.  He is a confidant doctor. Skilled. Knowledgeable. Someone we feel we can trust with the delicate surgery at hand.  We had been sent to him because he has been doing a minimally invasive procedure that can be used on Gene's Thoracic herniation's.

Dr. Dickman noted that Gene's reflex's showed some spinal cord damage that could worsen if the herniation's were not addressed. He has two that need to be tended to. One other smaller one will be left alone. I felt comfort in the fact that the doctor can do BOTH the less invasive procedure AND the "older" cut you open one, as well as switch gears if he sees that the minimally invasive one is not going to do the job. Before leaving the room, a contract was signed..... giving Dr. Dickman permission to perform the surgery.  Gene's doctor's back home need to sign off and say he is well enough to handle it.  One other thing is in order; Gene needs to work with his pain management team and start coming off his pain medicine regimen. With a plan in hand we can schedule the surgery.......

When, when, when? We should be able to get on their calendar within a month of calling to schedule. 

Wednesday, March 21

The Year of the Back (pain)

It all started in February of 2011 ~ After flying to Las Vegas for a short trip to meet with the design team for our new Gun Range. And sleeping on the crappiest mattress ever. But, there is no medical explanation for a crappy mattress or a plane flight causing Herniated discs. Thinking it might have been the mattress I encouraged Gene (the pained one) to get a massage. He did. After we returned home he even got an x-ray & shot to relieve the pain and muscle relaxers from his GP doctor ..... helped some. Then it was an MRI. The Herniations appeared in the Thoracic region, which is where your ribs connect in the back. The discs do not move independently in this area, so in order to work on them you have to go in through the front of your chest.... deflate a lung and move the Aortic valve, etc.  A heart surgeon is advised to be nearby. Can be risky. At best, the recovery is like that of a heart procedure.

Gene got on board with Dr. Mayer at St.Vincents (friend referral), who scheduled Gene for pain blocks, saying due to the rare placement of his herniate discs there were only a few people in the country he would allow to do surgery on him.  Therefore, we want to avoid the surgery route and work on Pain Management.... starting with the pain blocks, which do work for a lot of people. After the second block, which appeared to help, he got a staph infection (not related) and skipped the third session.  

With only pain medication to control pain, Gene went to see Dr.Gomez, a neurologist. Tried  Electrical impulse unit he tried. Fail. Special creams. Fail. Then came the prescription drugs. All I can say about those is ~ Not good. There are so many emotional issues with taking a prescription drug for pain relief. First: They help (at first). Second: You need to increase the dosage to continue relief.  Third: You don't WANT to WANT more.  Fourth: You try to find another solution or become addicted.  Dr. Gomez switched Gene to a Pain Patch. But, eventually even that by itself was not enough. Time to talk surgery. 
Or risk becoming an addict AND staying in Pain. Thank you to a friend with much knowledge of pain medications. We have been enlightened on the terms and definitions surrounding the word addiction, and feel much better about the use of these pain management choices.

Since St. Vincent's did not allow for Thoracic herniation surgery's at their hospital (due to the risks involved), Dr. Mayer could not do our surgery.... we asked for that list of doctors he would consider. While waiting for his list, we got a few other referrals to doctors in town. The first one we went to see was eager to help.Said he had invented a new less invasive procedure. And he had done 7 successful ones. He had also done many, many of the 'old way' surgery's, but was certain this new way was the way to go nowadays. Gene did not want to be part of TRIAL!! I told him not to scoff at the new procedure idea.... just in case other doctors have the market on it. 

Next we pursued  a group of doctors at Kirklin (UAB) Clinic, settling in on Dr. Pritchard. He was an amazing talker, explaining how the surgery works, how the hospitals allow and disallow this kind of surgery, and by the way: "had anyone mentioned any doctors in Cincinnati? Phoenix? California?".  Nope. But then, we were fresh in our search. Dr.P. told us that bottom line was that he was there for our patient care, whatever that may be. If sending us to a different doctor was best for Gene, then he would do that.  After some thought, Dr. P sent Gene's records to a doctor in Phoenix, Arizona, that did a more minimally invasive procedure.

I must stop here. We fly out in the morning for the consult!! Update on Saturday!