“My neurosurgeon diagnosed me with degenerative disc disease so I underwent a spinal fusion,” says Patricia, age 47. “Now I even wonder if I really have degenerative disc disease. And I wonder if I really needed this procedure to begin with. I am so frustrated and I don’t know where to turn. Not only am I in constant pain, but my back injury has become so bad it affects my sex life. My only hope now is through an attorney.”
Patricia started having numbness in her left arm and tingling in her hand. She saw an orthopedic surgeon who determined, after an MRI, that she had one bulging disc and a ruptured disc in her neck. “I never had a back or neck injury so this news was shocking,” says Patricia.
“I had three epidurals first—he suggested not to undergo surgery, but it didn’t get any better. He referred me to a neurosurgeon at the hospital. I had another MRI and the neurosurgeon said I needed a spinal fusion on two levels—if I didn’t have the surgery I would wind up in a wheelchair. It didn’t dawn on me to get a second opinion. He told me I would have the surgery on Friday, as an outpatient procedure, and I could go back to work Monday. He didn’t tell me I wouldn’t be able to drive or go back to work for more than a week or wear a big bulky collar for three months.”
Patricia should add that he didn’t tell her she would be in pain for the next few years, and maybe longer…
“I had the surgery and tried to return to work a week later. At that time I was business manager for a catering company, working 72 hours per week. The surgeon told me I couldn’t lift anything over 10 lbs. so work was just about out of the question. And soon after surgery I started hurting real bad in my shoulder blade on my right side.”
Patricia says she soon had trouble swallowing and her voice was raspy but her surgeon said it would go away in time. She was due for another follow-up appointment in three months, but couldn’t wait that long. “I called the office and told the receptionist that I was in pain and what would happen if the plates or screws became dislodged, I asked. She replied, ‘Are you walking?’ Yes, I was. ‘You need to see your family doctor and if he thinks you need to be seen by us, he will call us,’ she said. That was discouraging, to say the least.
"Last August, I finally saw the neurosurgeon. He told me that I was just seeking pain medicine. I showed him how my left shoulder was more than one inch higher than the right one. ‘Huh’, was his response. He then also sent me to a pain clinic in January 2012.
"My pain clinic doctor did another epidural and said something wasn’t right with my shoulder—there was too much pressure in the area. I am assuming he phoned my surgeon because the neurosurgeon finally realized that I wasn’t faking for pain meds. ‘Obviously something went wrong and you need to get nerve tests,’ he said.”
Next up, Patricia underwent a cervical myelogram-- an x-ray examination of the spinal canal. The diagnosis: The level below where the surgeon operated, C6 and C7, was bulging and he suggested that Patricia get a second opinion. He also advised that she get the plate and screws taken out—those that he implanted, thinking it would ease some of the pain.
“I am getting a second opinion with a neurosurgeon at the Houston clinic here this Friday,” says Patricia. “Meanwhile, I haven’t worked since March and I am still trying to collect disability insurance. I have health insurance through COBRA but I can’t get Blue Cross or Blue Shield due to the 365 day waiting period.
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"I believe I have a medical malpractice case, and I believe my spine is now crooked.“