By Sara Gilbert Nadler-Goldstein
When working as a medical social worker in acute rehabilitation for 15 years (as well as in a skilled nursing facility), I would say to patients and families, “Anyone’s life can change in a split second.” However, I never realized how directly those words would apply to me.
In May 2003, I was in an automobile accident on a parkway. I was rear-ended by a car that was itself rear-ended, resulting in two separate impacts. That accident changed my life forever. What followed was a year of many doctors’ visits, including two for epidural injections. However, I was still experiencing much difficulty with walking and was in a lot of pain. In March of 2004, I saw a neurologist. After he completed an MRI and reviewed the reports and films, he told me that my back was seriously injured.
Fortunately, I was given the name of world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Paul McCormick, medical director of the Columbia Presbyterian Spine Center in New York. On March 30, 2004, my mother accompanied me to Columbia Presbyterian to see Dr. McCormick for a consultation. He was very thorough in his examination and told me that I had a herniated disc in my lower back that was affecting various nerves. He suggested that I consider surgery. He even showed us a model of the spine and explained the surgical intervention he would perform.
Within two weeks, on April 12, 2004, I arrived at Columbia Presbyterian for my surgery with Dr. McCormick. At the time, his resident assisting with the surgery was Dr. Peter Angevine. Today he is assistant professor of neurological surgery at Columbia Presbyterian.
I had an overnight stay in the hospital and was discharged to home. Dr. McCormick continued to monitor me for the next year as I healed from surgery. In addition to monitoring my physical progress, he was also interested in my emotional wellbeing. It is important that when a patient is recovering from surgery, he or she has a good support system—including their physician, who can advocate on the patient’s behalf. I was most privileged to have Dr. McCormick help secure the medical care that I needed for my recovery.
Many times, when a patient is treated, it is determined that they have other medical issues that need to be addressed, and that was the circumstance in my case. Dr. McCormick referred me to a highly regarded pain management physician at Columbia Presbyterian, Dr. Michael L. Weinberger, an associate clinical professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University where he runs the Pain Management Center at Presbyterian Hospital. He was caring and compassionate, and he understood the complexity of my medical condition. (See the story on the hospital's website by clicking here
It was also determined that I had gynecological issues, so Dr. McCormick referred me to a highly regarded urogynecology and pelvic reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Jody Blanco.
In addition, when a patient has spinal surgery, it is important that he or she maintain a strong back. Dr. Weinberger referred me to Dr. Evan Johnson, director of physical therapy at the Columbia Presbyterian Spine Center for the necessary spinal exercise program. (Click here
I am most grateful to acknowledge it has been over eight years since my spinal surgery with Dr. McCormick, and years have passed since the other surgeries. I am pleased to say that I continue to receive the benefits of this collaboration of care, which has enabled me to live a full and independent life.
My main message is for patients to have the will to want to get better and stay resilient and positive and strong. Hopefully, the patient will find a medical team that works together and will advocate for them. It is beneficial for their outcome as well as to how they will live and function. In conclusion, if not for my physicians—who were caring, compassionate, devoted to excellence in medicine, and willing to work together—I would not be doing as well as I am today.