You might have seen me on TV, but if you see me on the street you won’t recognize me. Some would say it’s because I wear a mask much of the time. That’s part of it, but it is my goal is to be invisible. I’m a college baseball umpire, and if at the end of the game nothing happened to make you remember me, that’s success in my book.
Unfortunately, I was facing the end of my career. In January 2016 I had started feeling an electricity-type sensation in both of my thighs. As time progressed I noticed it in my waistline, and then my chest. After three months it was obvious that something was wrong so I went to see a neurologist. We started with tests – they came back negative. He then ordered an MRI which showed such severe spinal cord compression that even I could see it. Instead of a round spinal cord surrounded by spinal fluid, my spinal cord was heart-shaped. My neurologist said the spinal stenosis was only going to get worse and that I was at a significant risk of permanent paralysis without surgery. I worked hard to get to the top of my profession and I was devastated that it might end.
My neurologist recommended a neurosurgeon that confirmed the diagnosis and told me I would need a two-disc spinal fusion in my neck. He was an accomplished surgeon but only performed this procedure a couple of times a month. I knew I wanted a second opinion after this, but didn’t know where to go. A colleague of mine was familiar with Virginia Spine Institute (VSI) and recommended their care team
After the first visit I knew I wanted the VSI Team.
What made the difference? It was their accomplishments, confidence, and great sense of humor. It was the number of procedures they had performed. It was the fact their surgical team had been working together in the OR for over a decade, and they made themselves available after hours for all questions. No other practice had done that for me. I was given the same diagnosis and procedure recommendation, so I gave them the go-ahead for the spinal fusion.
Surgery day arrived and when I woke up after there was some pain that could be managed by a morphine drip. The morning after the surgery, I walked out of the hospital. I spent the day in my recliner, except for time spent walking. I started walking a quarter mile a day, but quickly worked up to a mile, three or four times a day. I exchanged the ‘hard drugs’ for straight Tylenol after three days. Through all of this, I still had some numbness, but I had been told to expect this.
Two weeks later, I was no longer taking any pain meds. I was driving and I had returned to work. After my first post-surgery exam, I started physical therapy. One of my biggest concerns had been what kind of head mobility I would have since I needed it to be a successful umpire. Much to my amazement, after a couple of months of therapy I had a greater range of motion in all directions than before surgery. Even better, my symptoms had all but disappeared.
As I write this, it has been six months since my surgery. My spine is completely secure, my symptoms are gone, and I’m done with physical therapy. Best of all, all restrictions have been removed and I’m cleared to return to the field!
So, watch for me on TV this spring. I’ll be the one wearing the mask.