Susan Steadman’s debilitating back pain didn’t happen overnight. It came on slowly, over the course of several years. As a registered nurse practitioner with over two decades experience as an ER nurse, Susan could read her X-rays and knew a mechanical problem in her spine was causing the pain.
“I saw my spine and thought ‘what the heck happened here?’” says the Spokane resident. “I’d taken care of my back my whole life.”
Susan, 61, tried to alleviate the constant pain in her lower back and leg by exhausting a wide range of noninvasive methods: ice, heat, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and even platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, a process that uses injections of one’s own platelets to speed the healing of injuries.
Some of the measures helped for a short time, but the shooting pain always returned. “I tried everything but voodoo,” she says.
Time to Consider Surgery?
In 2019, Susan decided it was time to explore back surgery. With her medical background and health care connections, she had heard of Dr. Nathaniel Whitney, a neurosurgeon with Providence Neuroscience Institute, who has expertise in treating scoliosis patients.
“They said he works on the most difficult scoliosis cases in the region, and I said, ‘Okay, I’m ready to talk to him.’”
After reviewing the images of Susan’s back and listening to her describe her pain and frustration, it was clear to Dr. Whitney that back surgery was her best option.
Without hesitation, Susan agreed. Her meeting with Dr. Whitney and his staff gave her confidence that the surgery was the right thing to do.
“I was seeking a solution and I looked at it as an opportunity,” Susan says. “Dr. Whitney’s quiet assuredness and the fact he and his nurse practitioner had reviewed my case together ahead of my visit really impressed me. And during my appointment he sat and faced me, made eye contact and listened to me.”
For most people, surgery for back pain is the best option when other noninvasive methods have failed, and pain is disabling.
Dr. Whitney explained that imaging has become more exact with higher resolution, which improves a surgeon’s ability to navigate around the spine with less risk of injury to tissue or nerves.
“We’re really at the leading edge of the tools we can use for surgery, and help speed recovery,” he says.
Susan’s condition required freeing up the nerves at the two lowest levels of her spine and a spinal fusion.
Susan left the hospital within two days after surgery. Rehabilitation started immediately and she was fully committed. She started a rigorous physical therapy program with input from Dr. Whitney’s team. The attention to her care beyond surgery made an impression. “It showed a collaborative continuity of care,” she says. “I liked the way the whole staff worked. The schedulers, the people at the desk, the nurses; everyone knew their role. I got the sense they were all there for me.”
Susan encourages anyone experiencing unrelenting back pain to be persistent in finding answers. “Get good diagnostics and a referral for at least one consultation,” she says. “Don’t give up.”
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