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My surgeon's office won't call back. I'm in horrible pain. Help.

watchyurbackwwatchyurback Posts: 73
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:46 AM in Chronic Pain
This may be one of those questions to which I already have the answer, but I want to check with the wider community here to see what you would do.
The surgeon who did my 360-degree two-level lumbar fusion one-and-a-half years ago works at a major teaching hospital. His office won't return my calls seeking to move up my Sept. 13 appointment, yet I'm in excruciating pain.
A recent MRI showed severe stenosis caused by a severely herniated disc at L3-L4, the level adjacent to the fusion. There's also facet arthropathy at that level.
It's typical of his overworked staff not to return calls, or to wait two to three days to get back to me. They work for the state. The whole place is terribly bleak and bureaucratic. But he's supposedly a top-notch surgeon who has published widely.
My question is this: should I dump the guy and get another surgeon at a potentially less well-known hospital where they actually have to compete for business and return patients' phone calls? Do I have to put up with this BS from this guy just because he's a superstar and I'm afraid that anyone else may botch the surgery? Mind you, it was this surgeon's recommended fusion that hastened or caused the demise of the L3-L4 disc.
I hated my hospital stay at this very reputable but bureaucratic institution.
So -- I could go with another surgeon who has a very professional staff, a comfortable office and has hospital privileges at a much nicer place. He also has performed many surgeries. He's just not as "academic," as cutting-edge, as it were.
I'm tired of the cr-p from the superstar and his staff. What would you do?

Thanks for hearing me out,


  • Hi Phil, sorry you are going through all this, I know how awful it can be not to get help when you need it. I saw three NS before I picked one two of the three where in clinics that were suppose to be top notch. I liked the second one except his groups office seemed hectic and too many issues for the staff, they seemed overwhelmed. I went on to my third opinion at a clinic that was actually top of the list, but I was afraid I would have to waid to long and that theyed have slow or bad communication due to their demand and that they choose the cases they take by seeing your MRI before they will give you and appointment. To my surprise and I had my ACDF on August 3rd, they were the best at everything and I am so happy I didn't take the chaos of option 2. I can call his nurse and get a return call the same day. I had a crisis with post op pain twice and they were on it.

    I cannot accept a NS or any other who isn't there for me when I need help. 3 days and no call back is inexcusable. If it was me I would consider that the doctors group I picked may have been a mistake and they probably won't change for you or anyone else.

    I would surely seek a new NS that could meet my needs and you don't always have to sacrfice skill to get that.

    Sorry for the long opinion and i hope in some way it helps. Good Luck
    AL S
  • It has been my experience that you can tell the "measure of the surgeon" by the attitude of his staff. So if the office staff is overworked, stressed, cranky, rude or the like, it generally is a reflection of the doctors/surgeons they work for.

    I feel that it is important to be able to reach out and contact the surgeon or his staff, when you need to and know that they will pass on your message and that someone will return your call in a prompt and precise manner.

    Surgeon XYZ can have the best reputation for being cutting edge, but really stink when it comes to bedside manner. Unless the surgery that is required is some radical procedure that only this surgeon can do ... I personally like having my calls returned when I finally break down and call for help.

  • Thanks so much to Al from Cincinnati and C for your great feedback. I feel better already. It's sort of like being in love with the hottest girl in town (or hottest guy, for the women in the audience...) and having them constantly ignoring your desperate attempts to get their attention.
    Time to move on ... I have good insurance and can basically go anywhere I want. I'm so tired of being treated like cr-p by the superstar and his harried and helpless staff.
    The other surgeons I'm considering are also very experienced, as I mentioned, but they don't work at teaching hospitals. So much the better, perhaps, since I won't have inexperienced residents and fellows taking stabs at my spine, so to speak.
    The teaching hospitals are a must for very complex cases, such as cancers of the spine and gross deformities, but mine is a pretty standard problem that most experienced spine surgeons can handle.

    I look forward to further comments on this subject.

  • This is my experience and it works as C said as well. I have used two spine surgeons. One of them you can call the office never get answers, wait in his waiting rooms for hours on hours. No one says a word about why you are still waiting so long. But he does come with the better hospital recommendations in my area. The second surgeon, you will never wait very long in his office for your visit, if so they tell you when entering he is xyz behind, so if you need or want to do something your appointment isn't going to come up. If i call on the phone and need something they will talk to him and he makes the decision come in immediately or try something to help. I like to say in all of this we are the customer and just because they are surgeons we still deserve respect. I actually used the prompt surgeon and because of some work comp issues i had to use the second surgeon. When it came back to me needing more surgery, guess which one i went back to. The one who maintains his patients and has respect for them.

    The funny thing is he himself has no bed side manners but he don't mess around either. He wants things a certain way and you can tell his staff all knows it. But the key is they are all very pleasant and wether they care or not they give the impression they genuinely do care. I had a issue following my last surgery asked his nurse should i tell him and she said yes. So he said follow me took me in his office and in front of me called the facility. Now the issue wasn't that bad, but it sure got some things changed in that facility.

    My gut is if you can't get the staff to answer you then he don't demand it. I mean when patients get into see him, I am sure they tell him. So I say make the appointment with the other surgeon and if you don't like him or her then hey you have a second opinion. But you might get lucky like me and say hey I really like the way they treat me here.
  • as a person that may need a 360 very soon also by a top notch surgeon in the uk i am now worried !! if your surgeon can screw up and he is top end ????
    i had to wait over a year to see this man in clinic and its only this month when i can have a discography to see if the L3 is suitable for a fusion ..did your surgeon do a discography before your surgery?? because my guy said that if the discography proves that the L3 is knackered there wont be an operation ....my thoughts are is you guy is so good he should have done a discography and CT and MRI before the surgery ..forgive me if he did ..if i were in your situation i would wait for this guy and not risk a poorer qualified surgeon ..and i would go and see your doctor and sort some pain killers out ..i hope that you can get sorted out i know what its like to be in pain all the time ..good luck phil
  • Straker, stop worrying ;)

    OP, you need to go with your gut.

    Also, who is responsible for treating your pain? Is it the surgeon? Because that's inexcusable.

    You know, when we look at the top 3 doctors on our list, how much different are their credentials? I mean, I'm assuming all of them are capable of doing the surgery you need- no doctor is good enough to put up with being treated badly. I recently dumped a doctor with good credentials after a ridiculous wait for an appointment- but the doc I went to had credentials just as good or better, he was just a little further away.

    And there are a few hospitals here I wouldn't go to because they aren't pleasant. Who wants to spend time in one of those awful places? Blech, no. I had my babies in 2 different places and the experiences were miles apart due to the facilities. Both reputable, one more patient centered than the other. After my son was born I didn't want to go home!

    If you have more than one good option, take the option that makes you feel comfortable and takes care of you. None of this not returning your calls stuff.
  • Being a superstar surgeon, does not make that doctor a better human being.
    If your not satified one suggestion is look at different hospital websites, there will be a listing of surgeons and doctors on staff, find the link and you can see a basic resume for the surgeons on staff, and will probably find some with just as much schooling and experience.

    Just a thought.
  • Can you ask to speak to your Surgeon's Nurse? It seems they're better at getting back to you then the Receptionist who isn't trained what to be on the look out for regarding post-op pain. Hope it works out for you soon. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • Thanks to all of you for your helpful insights and comments. First, I wanted to answer Straker's questions about the discography, MRI and CT scan before the 360-degree surgeries.
    The superstar surgeon had an MRI ordered by a pain specialist and then he did his own x-rays, but no CT scan.
    He actually told me that a discography would be useless because the MRI so obviously showed problems at L4-5 and L5-S1. That's how confident he is! (as it turns out, the two-level fusion was an absolute b*tch. It took a year just for my body to get used to the new biomechanics and all that metal, and now the adjacent level (L3-L4) is completely shot.
    So on and on we go, up the ladder. One of these days I imagine my whole spine will just be a bunch of screws and rods. Oh my...
    But I digress. Please, Straker, have the surgery if you've been waiting this long. You know all about the risks and benefits of fusion so I need not plague you with those here.
    Now for the update: Today I was in such excruciating pain that I called the nurse practitioner at my pain management doctor's office. She is absolutely excellent and actually called my surgeon's office on my behalf to get me in there.
    I got a call within five minutes from my surgeon's office.
    They offered a lame excuse for taking three days to get back to me ("oh, I thought you just wanted to see the doctor. You didn't say you were open to being seen by a nurse practioner." -- as if that distinction could possibly have made any difference when I left my message three days ago practically in tears from the intractable pain.)
    The plan now is to call the superstar's NP tomorrow and go over my new and enhanced pain (with radiating features down my left leg!). I had to take hydromorphone (the first time ever) plus Hydrocodone today just to manage. Was in a fog all day, to my wife's chagrin. But she's used to it.
    I'm also planning to stop by another surgeon's office tomorrow to drop off my MRI report and images. He's much closer and his office is actually presentable, his staff get back to me immediately (actually they just answer the phone. Think of that!). And he's very accomplished. So if I'm fortunate, I may well go with this other, more local surgeon.
    I found tamtam's comment particularly relevant, that if the doctor can't demand respect and professionalism from his staff, the patients certainly aren't going to get it. And this guy is the co-director of the spine center I'm going to. If anybody could change things, he could, but he can't. I think it's the bureaucracy, a culture of not caring, of being automatons.
    Thanks again everyone for your comments.
  • HI Phil...Ive read your posts and thats disgusting what they have put you through..

    At least now you have some help and let us know how the appointment goes.Also, it doesnt hurt to get a second opinion...

  • I had a similar issue, so I just went around the surgeon. I just went back to my PM dr, and never looked back.

    My surgeon is more worried about whether the hardware has moved or not. He could care less whether or not I am in pain. The surgeon is merely a carpenter. He builds the house, but doesn't maintain it.
  • the multi level fusion depends on the discography on the 23 sept ..if L3 is sound then we are on but..mt surgeon think from the last MRI scan that because i have been using my mid and upper body .to compensate ..L3 IS also knackered ..i hope he is wrong because i dont know what i will do,,4 other surgeons have already turned me down for surgery due to the sever damage to the lower spine .i an unable to have ADR again due to the arthritis and surgical scar tissue and the fact that the spine has collapsed ..in other words its a bloody mess! .i think if i am unable to have more surgery i will have to go down the morphine pump or what ever is new in that field ..lets hope it dose not come to that .
    thanks for your support ..i had not forgot this is your thread and i apologies for semi hijacking it
  • I hope it comes to whatever it comes to to get you comfortable, Straker.

    Phil, I had the same experience with superstar surgeon #1. His office staff was just horrible. The first time I went, I'd forgotten my insurance card, and rather than agree to see me and allow me to fax it, they threatened to cancel my appointment. Good offices will offer to call your insurance company and ask for your information based on your ID.

    I admit that although surgeon #2's staff is much kinder, they are not up to the level of, say, an excellent GP's staff.

    But not answering the phone and not returning calls? Inexcusable.
  • My neurosurgeon is highly qualified and has an excellent bedside manner. After I had my cervical fusion done, I was discharged from the hospital in a lot of pain. After two days of intractable pain, I contacted his nurse. This was on a Friday. Being a nurse myself, I was shocked at her behavior towards me.

    Anyways, to make my story short here, when I visited with my neurosurgeon again I informed him of the treatment I had received, that I was disappointed as he was the surgeon I wanted to continue seeing. He spoke with this nurse after our visit and now I have no problems with her.

    If you do see this surgeon, if you can, I would bring up with him what happened with his staff. He may be completely unaware and take some action.

    Best wishes,

  • I had my appointment with the superstar. I have to tell you, this guy is a great human being, in addition to being a great surgeon. He and I had a heart-to-heart talk about my sad situation and went over the various options. The outlook isn't too great, but there's a chance that another surgery (ugghhh) may improve things, for a while at least.
    But, my God, what it took just to get an audience with this doctor! I didn't see him until I waited for two hours in the reception area and then in the small examination room painted in 1970s institutional yellow.
    That room really represents the overall problem with the superstar's practice. He works in a spine center at a major metropolitan academic hospital that gets all kinds of patients, many of them suffering from the most daunting spine disorders.
    The place is terribly bureaucratic, institutional and sometimes downright unfriendly.
    The nurses are overworked, openly stressed out, unhappy with the clientele. I often feel like Charlie in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The place is crazy and the staff are like some kind of weird oompa loompas, but when you finally meet the surgeon, it's like winning the golden ticket!
    My surgeon is very down-to-earth, very unassuming and gentle. I had one of the most interesting discussions I've had in months with him, talking openly about my spine problems, my pain, my future as a disabled man, etc. I'm so happy with him. I just wish they could get some new paint in there, a new rug, and return my phone calls!!

  • I would wait a very long time and endure alot to get the best doctor. Especially for a surgeon. What matters most when he has his hands in your body? I won't be chatting with him then.

    Good luck with your surgery. Wish there had been a perfect fix out there for you but sometimes that isn't in our cards.
  • You always crack me up dude! You have some of the funnest words ever - I also have some of my own vocabulary, but yours is hillarious sometimes..
  • I got the advice here to go with the surgeon who does a lot of surgeries. It makes a lot of sense to me! If you're having to wait to see him because he's in surgery, it means he's getting a lot of practice for when it's your turn ;)
  • I just have to jump in here and say one thing. I'm glad you're very happy with your surgeon because that's so important. But I'm thinking of the thing you said in your first post about your surgeon being the one who recommended the surgery that "hastened the demise of the L3-4 disc." Now, I'm not saying he's not a good surgeon but I'm comparing him in my thinking to my spine surgeon who will not recommend fusion if adjacent discs are relatively healthy because of the stress on those discs post-fusion. If he hadn't told me about that phenomenon, I might never have known about the risk and from the number of people on here who have experienced that cascade of one surgery leading to another and to another, I wonder how many spine surgeons are honest with their patients about this risk. Or, is it that the majority of patients push their surgeons to do the surgery anyway and then live to regret it later?

    2009 Foraminotomy C6-72010 PLIF L4-S1Multi RFA's, cervical inj, lumbar injLaminectomy L3-4 and fusion w/internal fixation T10-L4 July 17Fusion C2-C5 yet to be scheduled
  • TO Whatchyurback- ive been in the same situation i have a surgeon who is in demand he continues to expand his practice all over the state and he is currently the only spine surgeon in our small town but is in the top 10 of great surgeons in the U.S. i have been in situations where i need answers or help because im in pain or whatever it may be, and no one gets back to me. the only way i have ever gotten anything done is when my boyfriend calls in there and is stern and tells them u r going to answer my girlfriend u r going to get the surgeon to respond, but just by being stern and saying like he is the one thats put me here by operating 4 times and i continue to have problems and she will get what she needs he will even threaten lawsuits. then its automatic that i get a response. i am not the stern and and tell it like it is and u will except what im saying and do something about it type of person. my point is you as a patient should not have to wait, it is not our faults that the doc has all these patients to deal with, thats why he or she has office staff. alot of the times the doc doesnt know what goes on in their offices they leave that to their staff cause there busy but again not our problems as a patient. file a complaint to who ever is the head of the staff. next time u see ur doc let him know what goes on, make he or she aware and tell them because of this u r considering leaving. i was with my fam doc and complaining about my surgeon and he actually called the doc right then and there to say hey this is what is going on bla bla bla, next time i went into the surgeons office u could tell he talked to his staff, everyone had different attitudes and one aid was actually defending herself to me, about how she didnt know i still had problems and was sorry bla bla, they were blowing me off. thats not there right. i have been trying to find a new doc, people i think wont take me on cause ive been with this surgeon for 4 years and he;s done alot of work on my back. so basiclly be stern demand what u want or need and let the doc know what goes on within the staff. hope all is well.
  • I hear what you're saying sunshine31. It's sort of like being in a bad relationship. You tell yourself the person is the only one, the one that has that special something, the best-looking, the most ambitious, the wealthiest, whatever it is we deem important in a partner. And then they just treat us like cr-p. I can't say my surgeon or the other top surgeons at this particular hospital ever treated me like I was a nobody, but their staff certainly have.
    It's good that you have an advocate, i.e. your boyfriend, or your family doctor. It's a sad state of affairs when only the threat of a lawsuit will change behavior.
    Treating patients with respect, honor, even humility is so rare in medical offices. I find that far too many medical decisions are made based on litigation, i.e. defensive medicine. Far too few decisions are made in the patients' interest.
    Anyways, I'm on my way to the next surgery, an XLIF this time, at L3-L4. It's another surgeon in the same clinic, so he's a colleague of the superstar and a superstar in his own right.
    I'll keep you all updated on how things go.
    Best of luck with your super-surgeon challenges!
  • For Whatchurback: Yes I feel bad for you, I hope this surgery works for u, but like u said now ur with ur old surgeons friend. If they wont call u back dont waste another day giving them ur money. I seen my surgeon earlier this month and he's like yep either I have to fuse ur back or see if ur insurance can pay for another artificial disc, and he;s like yea we will operate within 2 weeks, well im still here no phone call. anyway this will be my 4th back surgery, and yea i cant work either. It stinks. its funny how u compared a relationship with docs and such that was cute and yet at the same time so very true. take care and best of luck to ya.

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