Earlier this summer, I completed back and neck surgery on Diane, a patient whose first physician informed her at age 26 that she would be in a wheelchair by age 50.
Due in part to her own hard work and persistence, she is on her way to recovery and a more full life. We had the fortune of meeting each other when Diane’s neighbor, a former patient of mine, encouraged her to seek my opinion.
Over the course of decades, Diane had undergone surgical procedures with limited success, and had even been turned away by other physicians who did not believe they could help her. After that, and a number of unsuccessful pain therapies, we connected and she is now recovering and looking forward to discarding her walker and finding a new job.
August is Neurosurgery Awareness Month, a time dedicated to the patients, families and medical professionals who have been impacted by the practice. While any surgery can be a scary event for a patient, facing surgery for a neurological condition can be a daunting prospect. Unfortunately, in my years as a neurosurgeon, I’ve encountered far too many people suffering in silence, for fear of what recovery and challenges a surgical solution might bring.
Neurosurgery has made great strides over the past decade and now offers myriad solutions for problems ranging from sciatica to neck pain and herniated discs. I had the opportunity to enter the profession at a time of great change — neurosurgery was embracing new and exciting minimally invasive techniques that proved highly beneficial to patients, who found treatments that resulted in less pain, faster recovery times and a quicker return to daily life.
Of course, no surgery should be undertaken lightly. The advice I give is that a person considers surgery when the condition begins to interfere with daily life, but after other, more conservative, treatment options have been attempted. Everything from physical therapy to pharmaceutical intervention might prove beneficial and avoid the financial and health challenges that can accompany surgery.
If a surgical consultation does become necessary, you want to be confident in your choice of surgeon. It’s no easy task to pick a doctor. Dragging test results to and fro, getting poked and examined at every turn. But what could be more important than ensuring that the individual who will be holding your very life in their hands is someone you feel good about?
Beyond their technical qualifications and experience, you might consider whether their personality will put you at ease, or add anxiety to the already stressful situation. Some things to ask yourself include: Do they care about you as a person? Do they take your unique life circumstances into consideration? Do they listen to your concerns and take the time to address them fully?
Finding the right neurosurgeon can make a world of difference during a very challenging time. The trust developed between a patient and their medical team is invaluable in the treatment and recovery process and can greatly improve outcomes.
Editor’s note: Dr. Igor Yusupov founded Arizona Brain and Spine Center in 2010