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my spine

Let’s just say, my day did not go as planned.

We showed up at the Rothman Institute in King of Prussia at 11:40 for my appointment at noon. After filling out a couple dozen forms, and handing the pretty young pregnant woman my insurance card, an hour long discussion with their billing department and our insurance carrier revealed that I’m not covered for all of this. Apparently, spine doctors hate our insurance and refuse to play in their network. It’s long and sordid, but the end result is we had to fork over $265 and will end up paying a few or more thousand when this is all stitched up. heh…stitched up, get it?


After we decided to go ahead with the appointment, it was already one o’clock. A nice young man in blue hospital duds called me back to X-ray. Normally, I refuse X-rays with a righteousnes seen only in fundamentalist christians holding pro-life, pro-death penalty signs, but not anymore. I’ve had so many X-rays and MRIs lately that I’m positively glowing. The nice young man took four X-rays, placing me in different positions with the care a child uses to set her dolls up just so.

After this, I was sent out to the waiting room to sit and wait as all the people who came in after me got taken back to see their doctors. Our long, involved discussion with the money people had used up our appointment time, so I lost my place and had to go to the end of the line. With insult and injury, I read Oprah’s magazine for the first time in my life. They had all the issues on all the tables and every one had a picture of Oprah. No mistaking that very thick magazine for Vogue or Vanity Fair or Cosmo (do they still publish Cosmo?). I didn’t get the appeal, so after a bit, I dug around and found a very slim U.S. News from last month and flipped through that. Finally, a woman called me back.

After disrobing and donning the standard gown with the open back, I waited in the slightly too cold room, staring at the pictures of my spine. Finally, Brni realized I was missing and came back, then the woman came back. She spent a goodly amount of time arranging my spine on the light box on the wall. Apparently, there is a strict protocol for the actual hanging of X-Rays: full frontal (or backal?), side-view, side bent forward and side bent backward, and the sides must all face left.

She had me explain everything I’d already filled out on the 10 page questionaire (why do they make us fill them out if they don’t read them?), examined me, oohed and ahhed as I bent over and placed my hands flat on the floor by my feet, and left to go tell the doctor of my wondrous ability. Finally, the surgeon came in, tall and good looking with an open and friendly face. Okay, now’s my chance to tell him my desire for as minimally invasive a procedure as they can muster. But, this part of the day goes the way you’d expect from the way it began…downhill.

Apparently, I not only have bulging discs and stenosis, I have spondylosis as well. My spine is unstable. My spine is misaligned. My spine is out of whack. The bone labeled L4 is tipping over L5 in a way that is just not right. I saw it on the X-ray when nobody was with me. I saw it and thought, this isn’t going to go well, I wish I’d brought Oprah back with me. I need major surgery. I need a fusion, with bone from my pelvis and titanium rods to hold it all together. I need days in the hospital and weeks in a brace and then more weeks in therapy. No micro-surgery for me.

Before he left, the surgeon asked if I’d please show him my (now famous) forward-bend.

So, then it was more forms and waivers and reams of paper all explaining that with my signature I understood that they had explained all the things that could go wrong and that I would submit to this procedure despite their warnings. And I signed all the pieces of paper, correcting the typos as I went along, holding back the tears.

Later, in an attempt to feel in control, I opened my laptop to research this procedure and the doctor and the hospital and look what I found….a webcast of an operation similar to the one I’m going to get, at the same hospital and the guy talking is my surgeon! I watched the hour long video as they used drills, chisels, mallots, wrenches and other tools to fix a woman who’s back was far worse than mine. It was fascinating! And I can tell my surgeon is competent. So, if you all want to see and hear what is going to happen with my back, go here: and select from the list, Lumbar Laminectomy and Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion (Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA, 11/15/2006).

Be warned, it’s graphic. But it also gives me hope. Hope that when I ask them to video tape it for me they will say yes (really!) but more importantly, it gives me hope that I’ll get my life back.

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