Andrew Calvin, M.D., spends plenty of time in a doctor’s office — his own. Dr. Calvin, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, cares for patients every day. But he says his eyes were opened when the tables were turned recently, and he became the patient.
“I had nagging back pain that I thought was from a run-of-the-mill muscle strain,” says Dr. Calvin. “I took over-the-counter medications and left it alone for a month — probably too long.” When Dr. Calvin says he started to feel pain shooting down his left arm, he went to see his primary care provider, who referred him to Physical Therapy.
When the pain continued, Dr. Calvin made an appointment with his friend, neurologist Scott Spritzer, D.O.
“He picked up that I had some arm weakness, which I did not know about,” says Dr. Calvin. “At that point, I knew that surgery was a real possibility, and I was scared.” An MRI revealed that Dr. Calvin had a compressed nerve in his neck.
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Dr. Calvin brought his wife, Leah, along to his next appointment with spine and neurological surgeon Jonathan Bledsoe, M.D. Dr. Calvin says having her there was helpful.
“She had a notepad with questions I would not have remembered to ask,” says Dr. Calvin. “I have to admit I felt silly, as a doctor, having to ask some very basic questions.”
Dr. Bledsoe says having a second or even a third pair of ears in the room for such an appointment is helpful, and no patient should ever be embarrassed to ask a simple question.
“Once I say I’m going to have to do surgery, all they’re is thinking is, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to have surgery,’” says Dr. Bledsoe. “The other person can remember what I say and understand differently what I’m explaining. And I know it’s a cliché, but there really is no such thing as a dumb question.”
Dr. Bledsoe says it is a good idea to write down questions you want to ask and the answers provided by the surgeon. Questions to remember to ask include:
- Exactly what are you going to do?
- What kind of care will I will need after surgery?
- How long will I need pain medications?
- How long will I be out of work?
- What kind of restrictions will I be under and for how long?
One of the questions Leah asked was how many of these procedures Dr. Bledsoe had performed. “He said he had done two that morning,” Dr. Calvin says. “I knew I was in good hands.”
Dr. Bledsoe performed an anterior cervical discectomy, removing two damaged discs from Dr. Calvin’s neck, inserting a bone plug and fusing the spine — all through the front of the neck. When Dr. Calvin awoke after surgery, the pain in his arm was gone. That was followed by a three-week stay at home and physical therapy.
Dr. Calvin says he realizes he waited too long to be seen about his neck and arm pain. Dr. Bledsoe says it can be hard for people to know when to come in.
“General neck and back pain is a common problem,” says Dr. Bledsoe. “You typically treat it with ice, heat and rest. When you get pain, numbness or weakness down the arm or leg, you definitely need to see your primary care provider right away.”
Besides gaining new insight into the experience of a patient, Dr. Calvin says he has a new appreciation for the colleagues who cared for him.
“The personal touch and assurance were even more important than the technology. They were great. I would send a family member or any of my patients to them in a heartbeat,” says Dr. Calvin.