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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.

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  • 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
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  • 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...

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