A column about the spinal column and a medicine man
It is difficult to be precise. Perhaps that’s because our memories have a way of protecting us from details of the bad and the painful, so I can’t pinpoint when my leg problems began. About two years ago I would estimate. It started with numbness.
Naturally, I wanted to be able to feel my legs; it makes walking so much easier. The trouble was that when the feeling did return, it came in the form of pain. I wasn’t very satisfied with that either. When eventually I got my wish and the pain disappeared it was replaced once again by no feeling at all. You might say, so what’s his problem? In a choice between pain and no pain, most people would tick the box next to the word none.
That would be because they may not have experienced what happens when all sensation vanishes entirely between your waist and the soles of your feet. Since it is impossible to tell when your feet are touching the ground, when you take a step, you reel, spin and fall in a heap. I can’t recommend doing this at 10 am. in the liquor store section of the pharmacy. Eyebrows will be raised.
Though not one to scurry to the doctor at the first sign of a sniffle, I thought it was time to describe my symptoms to my GP and dear friend Dattu Patil M.D. at the Eastport Clinic. It was then I learned that, despite how far medical technology has advanced, our health system remains nostalgic for the old ways.
During the half- year that followed, Dr. Dattu tried his best to explain the urgency of my symptoms to doctors seated on the decision- making ladder above him. They decided I must first have an Xray. X-Rays can see broken bones, but not soft tissue damage. Mine showed nothing out of the ordinary, but the symptoms continued and became worse. I was then allowed to undergo a CT scan. It detects some, but not all soft tissue problems. My CT scan showed no problem either, but the symptoms continued to worsen.
Finally, I was permitted into the presence of the blessed MRI, the machine that can see it all.
And it did. Lo and behold, there on the large screen, plain as day, was my problem!
A lumbar disc, well out of place, was interfering with the spinal canal. Also two large growths of bone had decided to entirely crowd the spinal column to the point that, rather than a canal the diameter of my thumb, the spinal column was squeezed to under a millimetre. No wonder I couldn’t feel my legs. The picture was unmistakably clear. The spinal column, the Trans- Canada Highway of the nervous system, was now reduced to the width of a foot- path squeezed among boulders of bone.
I had spent half-a-year of my life going through the steps of X-Ray and CT Scan technology when an MRI could have shown in a matter of weeks what I now saw plainly on the screen.
This is a bit like a budding amateur photographer walking into a shop and asking for a smartphone camera. Before I do that, look at this, says the proprietor, as he proudly steers her to a Brownie Holiday Flash circa 1954.
But it’s only in black and white, she grumbles, and you have to buy the film at the drugstore. Once you’ve taken 12 pictures, sent them off to Kodak by mail and waited two weeks, the pictures may not even come out. Can’t you just show me a smartphone like my friends have?
Just one other thing first, let me show you this Polaroid Camera. The film is already inside the camera. Really slick. You click the snap, push a button and wait a minute or so and then the photo slides out of the camera. See that, pretty snazzy eh?
It’s not a very clear picture, is it? Can’t you just show me a smartphone camera? Please?
The shop owner sighs, hands her the phone camera, she snaps a couple of photos, each with more mega pixels than zeroes in a lottery win. She pronounces herself giddy with delight, swipes her Visa card and exits the shop, snapping away at everything she sees.
I know that MRIs are very expensive. But they can do everything.
How much money is wasted annually in a cash-strapped health care budget by sending patients for tests that are guaranteed in advance to not show the source of their affliction? Even with my limited knowledge I found it frustrating. How much worse must it have been for my friend Dr. Dattu, obliged by the system to send me to tests he was almost certain were wasting time and money, yet forced to follow the established routine.
He must have been all the more frustrated because at the time he was battling his own serious health troubles, yet turning up at the Eastport Clinic daily to care for his patients.
With the MRI pictures on hand, I met Joe Tumilty, the orthopaedic surgeon at Gander hospital, who explained how he would free up my spinal column and restore my legs to their former utility. A date was fixed for what promised to be a big surgery. As it got closer I emailed Dr. Dattu who was on his annual visit to family a world away on three different continents. I asked him how he was, and when he was returning to Eastport and reminded him that my surgery was days away.
The day I was preparing to drive in to Gander Hospital, the phone rang. It was Dr. Dattu. He was calling from India. The line was bad, his voice was weak and he was coughing a lot. Only after he had asked and been assured that all was well with me and my surgery, did he explain that he would not be coming back to Eastport. He would be staying in India. With the phone to my ear and tears in my eyes I watched from my bedroom window as my next door neighbour and his fishing buddy gutted and skinned a half-dozen seals on the wharf below.
The water around the wharf was crimson with blood.
My surgery was successfully completed May 5. I lost a lot of blood. My body is in the process of remanufacturing it. This makes me very weak. I am told that all will be well, but I must rest and be patient; the recovery will be long.
I will spend the time thinking of a very brave and caring man, a man of love: Dr. Dattu Patil, my friend, to whom I dedicate this column.
HONOURING AFGHANISTAN VETERANS — The sun was shinning and there was a light breeze as the Town of Bay Roberts held a mid-day ceremony to commemorate the National Day of Honour at the war memorial on May 9. The Bay Roberts event was one of a number of ceremonies happening across the country as Canadians honoured the over 40,000 men and women who served in Afghanistan, as well as the 162 who died during conflict. Among the dead are 13 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The poignant ceremony also paid tribute to a Canadian diplomat, a Department of National Defence contractor, an embedded Canadian journalist and more than 40 United States Armed Forces members who were killed while under Canadian command in Afghanistan. The Bay Roberts ceremony brought together members of the Royal Canadian Legion, town officials, provincial officials, as well as members of the Bay Roberts Volunteer Fire Department and a veteran who served in Afghanistan. Some of the words spoken brought tears to the eyes of onlookers. One attendee and her family was sure to catch the eye of everyone at the ceremony. Shearstown’s Taylor Hutchings (centre) showed her support for the troops by wearing a camouflage patterned gown, which she later wore to her high school graduation ceremony that evening. She is flanked here by family members and friends.