We traveled to Philadelphia yesterday for my 8am appointment with Dr. Balderston, nineteen years almost to the day after he did my scoliosis fusion on September 4th 1987. Have I mentioned that this doctor holds a special place for me? He changed my life nineteen years ago and he’s about to change it again, in a big way. Rose petals should be strewn in front of him when he walks and beatific music, like angels singing a joyful chorus, can be heard. Do I even have to tell you that when I look at this doctor, I see a halo, an aura of golden goodness of hope and freedom from pain and disability around him so bright I almost have to turn away? Almost.
Ironically or maybe coincidentally is a better word, the two days leading up to the appointment were particularly hard for me. Trying to pack one little bag for an overnight trip to Philly for two people took the better part of the afternoon on Thursday; go to the bathroom for the toiletries, then walk into the kitchen to get a plastic Ziploc bag to stuff them in. Find out, after walking back to the bathroom that they don’t all fit in the zip bag, so throw them into a small Duane Reade bag and tie it shut as though it was some stinky garbage. Then hobble to the bed and lie down and rest for thirty minutes. Get up, go to the dressing room; get t-shirts and underwear for me and Tyler. Walk to the bed, sit down and fold them and put them in the overnight bag, lay back and rest for another twenty minutes. Make several more trips to get jeans and t-shirts, a sweater, Tyler’s electric razor, sunglasses, maps, but of course not all at once; repeat packing and resting routine till I’ve got everything in the bag, which I can’t lift or carry, by the way, and I collapse in pain and exhaustion on the bed at 6PM. I started at 3.
Dr. Balderston always starts out an appointment by asking me to “talk to him,” tell him what’s going on. I was sitting on the exam table, leaning forward and supporting myself with my hands on my knees, explaining that I could no longer hold myself up, by myself, at all, anymore. He told us that ProDisc was approved.
Really? No kidding. It’s not like I hadn’t spent a lot of time obsessively refreshing the FDA website or waiting for the daily Google alerts we’d set up for ProDisc and Synthes. He added that it was time now to submit this to the insurance company and “do something about your back.” Do I have to tell you that the aura brightened to an unbearably bright corona, the kind you can’t look straight into or you’ll damage your eyes forever, and I swore I could hear a chorus of angels singing, their voices swelling with joy as he said it?
He said he’ll ask them for approval for a three level replacement. Starting at the bottom, L5-S1 will be replaced, restoring movement in my hips. Then L4-5 will “probably” also be replaced, and L3-4 will “probably not” be replaced but fused. The reason for the questions on the other two discs is not financial or bureaucratic but anatomical; it depends on how much those discs have collapsed and whether or not the ProDisc can be physically fit in to the space between the vertebrae.
I asked him to take a look at my back, and pulled my shirt up so he could see the lumbar region, the place where I’m afraid I’m developing another scoliosis curve from being so uneven all the time, my right leg buckling under me and leaning on the cane and whatever else I can find to get around with. He said nothing about what he saw or didn’t see and just responded that he was sending me for x-rays as a first step in going ahead with the surgery. Of course now I’m frantic, over analyzing his facial expressions (or lack thereof; he’d be a formidable poker player) and inflections when he said he wanted x-rays, because now I’m thinking that if it is possible that I have the start of another curve down there, the ADR surgery is out.
So all this is maybe coming together for a surgery date in early November. He mentioned Monday, November the 6th as a possible date. I was stunned that we were at the point already where he had a date in mind. I joked that I wouldn’t be able to vote on the 7th and he said, totally straight-faced, that I could do an absentee ballot ahead of time, like I was really concerned about that!
When he stood up and said that he was going to start the process “right now,” I burst into tears, blinded by that damn halo again.
Now again, hold your cartwheels, for there is no guarantee that Aetna will come back with the decision we want, or any decision for that matter, by early November. Still in all, the ball is rolling, and this is great news. Above all the voices of doubt and fear chattering away in my head, I can still feel the warm glow of hope and almost hear those angels singing. Almost.