James Back on the Bridge

Describe how your neck or back pain started.

I had been a union electrician for 42 years at the time of my injury, enjoying my work on The Golden Gate Bridge. At 60 years old, I had experienced back pain and some sciatica from time to time as most construction workers do, but in mid 2015, I was trying to pull some wire out of a conduit when I felt a pop in my lower back.  There was some immediate pain, but I had no idea of the extent of the injury at that time. When I got up the next morning, I could barely get out of bed. I went to work, reported the injury, and was sent to a nurse practitioner who gave me some pain medication, said I should rest it for a week or so and to come back in two weeks. The pain continued to get worse, and when I returned to the doctor, they ordered an MRI to better evaluate my condition. After the review, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc and sent to a spine surgeon for further analysis. His hope for me was that it would get better over time and with physical therapy I would get better.

What did you do to try to reduce or control the pain?

At first, I started walking every day, building up to about 3-4 miles a day, and taking pain medication at night to sleep. I was instructed to start physical therapy, but after the second day, I just about crawled back to my car. From there, everything got worse and very painful. I could no longer stand up straight, and when I turned sideways or raised my arms above my shoulders, I could not stand the pain. I was taking Vicodin every 4-6 hrs.

How long did you endure symptoms before seeking treatment?

With my condition worsening, I could not lay flat in my bed and was most comfortable in a recliner in a sitting position with feet up. I stayed like this hoping to get better for a few months, but it was like being in jail - it was all I could do to stand to make a sandwich for lunch!  I decided to get a second opinion. While looking for a spine surgeon in my area, I found Dr. Slosar and came upon his website. I called Dr. Slosar's office and explained my condition, and Gina set me up with an appointment that day.

What treatments did you undergo?

When I came in for the appointment, Dr. Slosar was very personable. He looked at the MRI and brought his laptop over to me to show me the ruptured disc and the disc material that was kinking my spinal cord. He explained to me that in order for me to live a normal life again, I needed to remove the obstruction from my spine! I was really scared of what my life was like at that point, and wondered if being crippled in retirement was in store for me. Dr. Slosar reassured me that he could fix me up and told me, this is like having a rock in your shoe and the sooner we take it out, the sooner you can get back to normal.

What did you do to prepare for surgery?

I had surgery in August 2015 - without a doubt, one of the best decisions of my life! I am SO grateful for Dr. Slosar being a skilled and extremely talented spine surgeon. He performed a laminotomy with a microdiscectomy between the L3- L4 vertebrae. As I awoke after surgery, Dr. Slosar was in the recovery room with me and asked me "do you think you can stand up?”  I said “right now?” He said “yes, let’s see how we did.” He helped me get my legs on the floor and for the first time in 5 months, I stood up straight! Then he asked me to try and touch the ceiling and I raised my arms over my head (which I had not been able to do for months), and I knew I was going to be all right. Dr. Slosar smiled and said “that's great!” I am so thankful for Dr. Slosar and that I was able to find him in my time of need. As well as being a talented surgeon, he is an all around great guy with great bedside manner.

How was your recovery?

Recovery is painful for the first two weeks, but Dr. Slosar gave me enough medication to keep me comfortable. Invest in the frozen gel ice pack belts, they help a lot! After two weeks, I started walking every day and by four weeks, I was walking 4-5 miles a day. At five weeks, Dr. Slosar started me in physical therapy, which went a lot better than before. Three months after surgery, I was back at my job as an electrician on the Golden Gate Bridge – climbing, hiking the main cables, running pipe underneath, etc.  I got my life back! Thanks, Paul!

What advice would you share with others who have a similar condition?

Don't wait until you are totally incapacitated to get help, and get a second opinion if needed. Dr. Slosar is one of the leading surgeons in minimal invasive surgery.  Get his advice!

Doctor’s Notes:  James is an example of how surgery can help a patient who follows through on therapy and the hard work of recovery.  His positive attitude was a big factor is his success.  I was proud to see him in his element during a tour of the Golden Gate Bridge – a real treat!