Superb patient care sparks rapid recovery from spine surgery.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Robert Long

The quest began just after the turn of the century with a trip to Boston’s legendary Fenway Park. It ended last September with a Texas two-stop in which Robert Long and his wife visited Globe Life Park in Arlington and Minute Maid Park in Houston.

With the homes of the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros scratched off their list, Robert and his wife had completed what baseball fans consider the ultimate road trip – a visit to each of the ballparks that are home to Major League Baseball’s 30 teams.

“It was a great tour, so much fun,” Robert exudes. “We really enjoyed it and liked most all the parks. They all have their own certain charm to them. San Diego was probably my favorite, I guess. It’s beautiful and in such a beautiful setting.

“Oh, and Yankee Stadium is special, of course, and so is Wrigley Field in Chicago. Another one that I really liked is in Kansas City. I felt like I was in a Norman Rockwell painting watching a game in that stadium.

“Now we have do-overs to do because a couple of the teams have moved into new stadiums since we started this. We have to go to the new one in Minnesota and the new one in Miami, and there’s a new one in Arlington now, too, so we’re looking forward to that.”

When he’s not traveling to baseball parks, Robert likes to stay up on the latest movies and play golf, but this retired school superintendent recently had to put his golf clubs away for a while due to some serious back pain.

The pain first flared up while Robert was out golfing one morning this past November. The pain was initially so great, he says, that he had to kneel down to place his ball on the tee. Soon thereafter, he sought medical help for the problem.

After being informed at an urgent care clinic that he was suffering from sciatica, a condition caused by problems with the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back and down the back of each leg, Robert decided to trudge on.

He did, at least, until the pain intensified. Then, and largely because he had a weeklong cruise to the Mexican Riviera coming up, Robert visited orthopedic surgeon Patrick G. Dermarkarian, MD.

“Dr. Dermarkarian didn’t say I couldn’t go on the cruise, but I probably shouldn’t have,” Robert says. “I was in so much pain that I had to go to the emergency room the night before we got on the boat, and then, during the cruise, it was really tough.

“It was while I was on the cruise that I got my first cane because the pain was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It ran through my left buttock and all the way down my leg, so as soon as we got back from the cruise, I went back to see Dr. Dermarkarian.”

Time to Decompress

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Robert points to a
display of all the
major league ballparks he’s visited.

During his previous visit with Dr. Dermarkarian, Robert learned that the root cause of his pain was a severe case of stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal that results in a pinching of the nerves in the spine.

Dr. Dermarkarian initially suggested treating the problem with physical therapy or epidural injections, but upon seeing Robert in the condition he was in following the cruise, Dr. Dermarkarian suggested a more aggressive fix.

“We had talked about watching this and seeing if it got any better, but at that point, Robert’s gait was changing,” Dr. Dermarkarian reports. “He was barely able to walk because of the pain, so I recommended surgery, and Robert agreed.”

For patients such as Robert, there are two forms of spine surgery that can alleviate their pain. One is a decompression procedure where the objective is to alleviate the pain by removing any bone or tissue that may be compressing the nerves. The other is a fusion-type procedure which may be needed in order to realign or reconstruct the spine in order to adequately alleviate the pressure on the nerves. The decision between the two is dependent on what is seen on x-rays and advanced imaging, such as MRI and/or CT.

For Robert, Dr. Dermarkarian performed the decompression procedure, and he chose to perform that procedure at Manatee Memorial Hospital, which offers a comprehensive range of surgical services for joints and the spine.

“Manatee Memorial Hospital has a great staff that is well-versed in spine surgery,” Dr. Dermarkarian observes. “They have both orthopedic spine surgeons and neurosurgeons and a dedicated nursing staff that understands the procedures surgeons perform.

“The whole process of getting the patient prepped and to the operating room is very seamless there, and when it comes to postoperative care, Manatee Memorial’s Nurse Navigator, Andrew Stritzl, RN, BSN, is a huge asset.

“He looks after all the orthopedic-type patients and spine patients and knows exactly what the best process for taking care of them postoperatively is. He’s an incredible resource for us.”

Clean Sweep

Robert had his surgery on December 17. The procedure, which begins with the physician making an incision about five centimeters long in the patient’s lower back, takes about 90 minutes to complete.

“Through that incision, I gently elevate the musculature off the spinous process [a bony projection on each vertebra],” Dr. Dermarkarian explains. “The spinous process connects to the lamina, and you take out part of that bone and the ligament in between on both sides.

“That decompresses the canal, and then an instrument is used to sweep around in there and make sure the nerve is completely free of anything that might be pushing on it or any large disc herniations that could result in impingement.

“I typically do this as an outpatient procedure where the patient goes home later that day, but with Robert, I wanted to keep a close eye on his respiratory and cardiac status, so we had him stay overnight, and he went home the next day.”

Robert’s stay wound up lasting less than 24 hours, but he was pain free shortly after coming out of surgery. He has remained that way since and says his activity level is increasing all the time now.

“They have you follow the BLT order, which is no bending, lifting or twisting, for a while, but I was back walking right away, and by January, I was driving again, which is something I hadn’t done since I first hurt my back in November,” Robert says.

“So the recovery went very well for me, and the surgery was wonderful. In fact, the whole experience was topnotch. I could not be happier with Dr. Dermarkarian and the folks at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

“Dr. Dermarkarian did a great job explaining everything, and the Manatee Memorial Hospital staff was really top-of-the-line. If you’re assigning a number grade to them, with ten being the highest, they get a ten from me, for sure.”

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