Are you someone who has been putting off a surgical consultation? Has a health care provider recommended an evaluation because of your neck or back ailment? If the answer is yes, then let’s have a conversation. There are many effective nonsurgical modalities for most common spinal conditions that cause chronic back pain.
I only recommend surgery when a patient fits protocols that have been developed through decades of data evaluation. But while a patient may fit the protocols perfectly, I’m amazed how many were ready to simply settle for a diminished quality of life and rationalize it by telling themselves they are resilient.
I learned that no matter how much I refine my operating room skills, I need to be equally adept at building a bridge between the science that guides my decisions and the emotions that guide the decisions of my patients.
So let’s talk about what may be preventing you from getting a life-changing surgical evaluation. You may be settling in life without realizing it if you are reluctant to explore the possibility of surgery.
Most of us don’t know how resilient we are until tested and often we surprise ourselves. Living with chronic health conditions is a fertilizer for resilience and we all know people who deal with medical adversity of all types, yet still show up to work each day and tend to their families.
This year has certainly tested all our resilience with the challenges and disruptions brought by COVID-19. But there is a fine line between resilience and settling. When it comes to neck and back surgery and there is a chance that as you suffer through the headwinds and challenges of various neck and back conditions, you may be settling for a compromised quality of life that surgery can fix.
Many patients are referred to me with diagnoses such as disc herniations, spondylolisthesis and scoliosis that they have lived with for years. They have been through episodic pain cycles, sought other types of treatment and likely curtailed activities. Until our surgical consultation, they never knew they may be a candidate for surgery and the improvement it will bring to their quality of life. Usually it’s a chiropractor, pain management physician or physical therapist who convinces a patient that it is time for a surgical consultation. These fellow care providers are very astute and usually have excellent sense of who can benefit from surgery. Sometimes they have to be persuasive when referring someone because of how intimidating surgery can seem.
Nonsurgical treatments certainly work, yet many simple surgical procedures can help a patient find a better quality of life faster. When a patient is apprehensive, anxious or unconvinced that surgery will help, and is living a compromised life of resilience, he or she miss out on many favorite activities, good nights’ sleep, adventures and happy moments with loved ones and challenges in commuting or working. With all that cost comes the question: Why settle?
Think about all the elements in your life where settling was never an option — your choice of your significant other, your lifelong search for a beautiful home, how hard you worked and are still working for the job you want. If you are a parent, I suspect you have given the “never settle” speech to your children as a measure of support and wisdom. But life has unavoidable tradeoffs — we don’t get everything we want. The older we get, the more tradeoffs accumulate and the more opaque the line becomes where we should and should not simply settle and accept various circumstances.
But I’m a surgeon not a therapist — so if you need help on life’s big decisions, I must refer you elsewhere. But I have met thousands of people over the years who became patients with wondrous results and had no idea the degree to which they were simply settling and living with the burden of a neck and back ailment they simply didn’t have to. So let me say based on decades of data and outcomes: Never settle when it comes to your health.
While I am trained as a surgeon, the other less mechanical part of my job is to be an advocate for patients who come to me searching for solutions. Many don’t want to get their hopes up as they have been and are suffering. Many are weighing the options and the reality of living with their diagnosis and all the hardships it brings. Others are simply worried about surgery and that is perfectly normal. I see and recognize each of you. All those perspectives have merit and value. But I think you’d be surprised at how well life may turn out if you choose surgery after a referral and after a consultation. Life doesn’t have to hurt after a certain age. You don’t have to settle. Let me put it another way: What would you tell a loved one in your situation who was suffering? You would tell them to get the surgical consultation that was recommended because you couldn’t stand seeing them miserable. You’d likely even offer to drive them. You are worth it. Make the appointment at NJNBI.