Location: Calgary, AB
Occupation: Natural Gas Portfolio Manager
Pre-Surgery Life Style/Condition: In Canada, health care is a very public issue until you need it and then it gets very personal. At the point of pain and suffering, ideology is of little comfort. When simple daily tasks like getting dressed, driving to work or just doing your job become painfully unbearable, your priority becomes diagnosis and treatment. Over the past decade, there have been significant advancements made on minimally invasive back surgeries. You may not be aware of these treatments, but you do have a right to them. I would encourage anyone suffering from chronic back pain to look outside the “queue” for alternatives. The following is a personal account of how my pursuit of alternatives led me to an amazing surgical procedure that allowed me to walk out of the hospital one hour after major back surgery. My journey begins in the emergency room of Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary and ends at the University General Hospital in Houston. Two weeks after a hockey accident, the symptoms first presented themselves. Initially, I would try and manage the back spasms and inflammation with Naproxen, Cyclobenzaprine, and a lot of time on my back. When the recovery wasn’t forthcoming, a weekly visit to the chiropractor was added to the regimen. After two months, the symptoms had begun to subside until one Saturday morning when I woke up in excruciating pain. The symptoms had escalated beyond anything familiar and I had to make the uncomfortable journey to Rockyview General Hospital. I was quickly processed in emergency and was required to rate my pain on a relative scale of one to ten. I gave a pain rating of nine and then proceeded to provide a self-diagnoses; I had a disc issue causing severe nerve pain in my leg. After documenting my symptoms, an astute nurse attempted to fast-track me to the resident orthopedic surgeon, but he did not share her concern. Consequently, I waited four hours standing in emergency to see an intern (it was too painful to sit). When the intern finally arrived, he reviewed my symptoms and informed me that there would be no point in taking an X-ray or an MRI because “…they would do nothing about it anyway.” Alternatively, I was prescribed Oxycoton along with sleeping pills and was sent on my way, but not before the kind doctor offered to write me a note for work. I declined. It was on this day that any naivety that I had harbored regarding public health would vanish. I had come to the realization that I would have to take responsibility for my own recovery. On Monday, I went to my family physician who readily signed off on a requisition for an MRI from a private clinic. A few days and $1,600 later, I had the evidence in hand. Amongst other things, there was a bulging disc impinging the nerve root. Back in the office of my family physician, we strategized on alternatives. I could go back to Rockyview with my MRI and try again, or if I was willing to pay, I could apply to either of two private clinics in Vancouver that practice “traditional” back surgery. With nothing to lose, but time I decided that I would pursue both options. Getting accepted into the Vancouver clinics proved a lot easier than making progress at Rockyview. The nurses and staff at Rockyview were helpful, but all I got from the surgeon was a message that I wasn’t an emergency and it wasn’t appropriate for me to be there. However, I could see him in two months if I made an appointment.
Post Surgery Outcome: As I was concluding my due diligence on the private clinics, a friend of the family suggested I check out the North American Spine website. It was here that I became aware of the minimally invasive surgical procedures available south of the border. Some of these procedures had been practiced for over ten years and were promoted as the “Least invasive surgical option available.” The benefits of the forty minute procedure seemed almost too good to be true, but after investigation, I approached it as a viable option. Four weeks later, I was in Houston to attend my twenty minute pre-operative visit with my doctor and the following day I underwent surgery to correct an L5-S1 herniation and an L3-4 extrusion. An hour after surgery, I walked out of the University General Hospital and forty eight hours later, I flew home. The entire experience was extremely positive and to ultimately end up pain-free was a blessing. The surgical team was professional and informative and the multiple follow-up calls I received gave the impression that the team was sincerely concerned with my well-being. Having been the fortunate recipient of a successful back surgery, it would only be appropriate to thank those responsible; thank you to the emergency doctor who refused to take X-rays or provide me with an MRI; thank you to the orthopedic surgeons who refused to see me; thank you to provincial and federal governments for a health care system that promotes the virtue of patience. You see, if I had not had to suffer through the indifference of the current health care system, I would have never been motivated to pursue alternatives and consequently, would not have found the medical advancements that allowed me to walk out of the hospital one hour after major back surgery. This was not my first experience with back problems. Twenty-eight years ago, I received a Chymopapain injection for a herniated disc. Ironically, at one time, Americans were coming to Canada for this treatment as it was not available in the United States. Unfortunately, the Canadian health care system has not been able to keep pace with innovations. Access to non-invasive surgical procedures is imperative in providing timely, effective and efficient treatment. Professional sports teams understand this and they pursue the most effective treatment options on behalf of their players whereas, the average Joe must research and champion his own cause in hopes of an expedient restoration of quality of life and productivity. Individuals who do not consider alternatives outside their general practitioner’s office are often suffering through their symptoms and forced to manage their pain with prescription drugs and other band-aid solutions. Canadians deserve better. We need to be aware of our options. If we can’t find effective treatment options in Canada, we at least deserve to know where to find them. The Canadian Medical Association (“CMA”) Code of Ethics directs doctors to “Provide patients with the information they need to make informed decisions about their medical care…” Not all doctors are created equal and many Canadians have considered it necessary to inform themselves and pursue their own treatment options. Advocating for one’s health is a right upheld by the 2005 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of Chaoulli v. Quebec which ensures that Canadians can enjoy “timely access” to health care. If you are not receiving timely or effective treatment, you can pursue alternatives. Nobody will advocate for your health better than you. Do your own due diligence and you may be surprised at what you find – I was.