Steve was an active 60 year old, excited about the new gym opening up around the block from his home in Queens, when his knee began hurting. He had previously had surgery on that knee, so when it started acting up again he immediately made an appointment with his knee surgeon.
But by the time Steve got there, the knee pain had cleared up, only to be replaced by shooting pains in his neck that traveled down his right arm.
“I thought maybe the knee pain had traveled to my shoulder,” he laughed. “I had no idea what it could be.” Whatever it was, the pain was bad enough that he was unable to drive, or stand for any length of time, or even sleep through the night.
His knee doctor sent him to a pain specialist, who did an MRI of his neck and found that Steve had a herniated disc. One of the cushions, or discs, between the vertebrae in his neck had ruptured its outer covering and was bulging into his spinal canal, pressing on the delicate nerves in his spinal column.
“My doctor’s take on it was to try therapy and pain medication,” Steve said. “We wanted to try the path of least resistance first, not jump into surgery.” Steve was happy with this approach because he was concerned that surgery might restrict his mobility.
He did physical therapy for about two months, but the pain didn’t improve. “The pain wasn’t constant,” he says, “but it wasn’t going away either.”
When the pain wasn’t better after the physical therapy, Steve felt it was time to talk to someone about surgery. He wanted to do his research and choose a surgeon and a hospital very carefully. He spoke to a couple of different neurosurgeons but didn’t find anyone he felt comfortable with.
That’s when Steve’s wife remembered the Fourth of July barbecue, where one of their friends had talked about an operation he’d just had on his spine. The operation was performed by Dr. Paul McCormick, Director of The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York.
They called their friend. “He gave rave reviews of Dr. McCormick,” Steve said. “I went online to check him out, and I was very impressed by what I saw. I was impressed by his credentials. He had over 25 years of experience. He started The Spine Hospital. You could see that this is a man who is at the top of his profession.”
But as impressed as he was with Dr. McCormick’s resume, Steve knew that there’s more to being a good doctor than credentials. Personality and bedside manner matter too.
Within minutes of meeting with Dr. McCormick in person, Steve knew he’d found his surgeon. “I just felt very comfortable with him. He’s down to earth—no airs, no pretense. He really put me at ease.”
After Dr. McCormick explained the procedure he would do, Steve remembered he had promised his wife that he’d put her on speakerphone so she could be part of the appointment.
“Dr. McCormick repeated everything he’d said to me for the last 10 minutes,” Steve said. “I was very impressed, because this is taking up his time. But he said ‘No problem!’ and was very agreeable. He took the time to answer any questions we had.”
When it came time for Steve to have his surgery, he was just as impressed with the hospital as he was with his neurosurgeon. “Everyone we dealt with, from the intake people up to Dr. McCormick… it was the best hospital I’ve ever been to in my life. They’re rated the number one hospital in New York, and I can see why.”
Dr. McCormick performed a discectomy, in which he removed Steve’s damaged spinal disc and put an artificial one in its place. The operation took about two hours. “When I came to in the recovery room I was feeling fine,” Steve said. “No pain whatsoever. Dr. McCormick told me that when I woke up the pain would be gone, and he was right on point about that!”
In fact, Steve felt so good that when he went home the next day he played host to a family gathering. “I felt fine!” he said. “I was able to stand and not worry about things.”
A year later, Steve is back to his active lifestyle, with no neck pain. He’s thankful he heard about the right surgeon for him at that Fourth of July barbecue.