Collaboration of care at its finest

Contributed by: Sara Gilbert Nadler-Goldstein
Reviewed by: Elsbeth McSorley, MA

When working as a Medical Social Worker I would say to my patients and families that anyone’s life can change in a split second. However, I never thought that I would be victim of my own words. In May 2003 I was in an automobile accident on a parkway and was rear-ended by two cars with two separate impacts. That accident and that day changed my life forever. What followed was a year filled with many doctor appointments spanning the field of medicine from neurology, orthopedics, and pain management.

I was in receipt of two epidural injections but that did not provide the necessary relief that I needed. I was in severe pain and had difficulty walking. In March 2004 I presented myself to my neurologist and after a thorough examination and review of my MRI results, he told me that my back was severely injured and at that point he wanted me to go to see Dr. Paul McCormick, world renowned Neurosurgeon at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. Dr. McCormick is also the Director of the Spine Center at the Columbia University Medical Center.

On March 30, 2004 my mother accompanied me to the neurosurgical consultation with Dr. McCormick. After a thorough examination and films were reviewed, he told me that I had a herniated disc in my lower back that was affecting various nerves. He suggested that I consider surgery, and explained the intended surgical procedure and showed us a model of the spine.

I signed the papers for my surgery that day as Dr. McCormick made me feel so safe and comfortable. I knew at that point I could sign my life over to him. When most patients see a neurosurgeon for a consultation they seek other opinions. However that day my decision was made. Within two weeks I arrived at Columbia Presbyterian for my surgery with Dr. McCormick and assisting him was Dr. Peter D. Angevine. Today Dr. Angevine is Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery at Columbia University and is a member of the Spine Center at the Columbia University Medical Center.

I had an overnight stay in the hospital and then was discharged. Dr. McCormick continued to monitor my emotional well-being as well as my physical healing from my surgery for the next year. When a patient is recovering from surgery it is important that they have a good support system with their medical provider, and if necessary for the physician to advocate on the patients behalf. I was most privileged to have Dr. McCormick be instrumental in securing the necessary medical care that I needed to ensure an optimal recovery.

Many times when a patient is treated initially it is determined that they have other medical issues. That was the circumstance in my case. Dr. McCormick referred me to the highly regarded pain management physician at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia, Dr. Michael Weinberger. He is the Chief of the Division of Pain and Palliative Medicine and Director of The Pain Management Center. I was also referred to a highly regarded urogynecologist and pelvic reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Jody Blanco.

In addition, when a patient has spinal surgery it is important that they maintain a strong and healthy back. Dr. Weinberger referred me to Dr. Evan Johnson, Director of Physical Therapy at the Spine Center. I was then taught the appropriate spinal exercises to maintain a healthy back. I am most grateful to acknowledge that it has been over nine years since my spinal surgery with Dr. McCormick and years have passed since the other surgeries. I also had to learn to live a new kind of normal life. I am most privileged to say that I am living a full and independent life. My message to patients is to have the will to want to get better and to stay strong and resilient. Hopefully patients will have a medical team like I had that advocates on their behalf. If it was not for my physicians’ care, compassion, and devotion to excellence in medicine I would not be doing as well as I am today.


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