My wife's new hardware

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

If we live long enough, many of us will become bionic.

My wife is the latest example. She was recently given some new hardware, and not just mundane trinkets like the bowling trophies she won as a teenager. We’re talking about space age materials and the fusion process.

It wasn’t so long ago when such a thing was unthinkable. People who were suffering from debilitating joint pain were given an aspirin and told to park themselves in a corner. It wasn’t that the medical community didn’t care; it’s simply that fixing deteriorating joints wasn’t possible.

Thank goodness we live where and when we do. Scientific advances have made routine what was once deemed impossible. Plus, it’s kind of cool to know that my wife and the space shuttle now have some exotic metals in common.

I know what you young people are thinking. You’re thinking, “It must bite to get old and rickety. That’s never going to happen to me!”

Father Time hears this, grins, and says, “Hold my beer.”

It wasn’t a straightforward path for my wife from “My back is killing me!” to “Report the hospital for the installation of new metalwork.” The road began with our health insurance carrier denying our request for the surgery.

We had done everything we thought was required. My wife had had two MRIs, had tried chiropractic and had even been given injections of painkillers directly into her spine. Nothing we tried made much of a difference.

Our spine doctor referred us to a neurosurgeon, who said that my wife was a good candidate for fusion surgery. Paperwork was filed and we mentally prepared ourselves.

But then we received a letter from our insurance carrier saying in effect, “This is probably not what you want to hear.” They based their refusal to cover the procedure on the fact that there were some things that we hadn’t done. There were additional hoops that needed to be jumped through, not an easy task when you have a bad back.

It shouldn’t be this hard. If a highly skilled and thoroughly accredited neurosurgeon says that you need an operation, that should be it. The issue shouldn’t be decided by some bureaucrat.

We were given instructions regarding how to appeal the decision. Nowhere in the forms did I see a place where I could tell them that I had known this lady for 38 years and have watched her push out two babies. I didn’t see a section where I could describe to them how I’ve seen the way her back pain has caused her face to twist in agony. I would be willing to take a lie detector test if that’s what it took to convince them that my wife was suffering on a daily basis.

The insurance company’s hoops were cleared one by one and they finally sent us a letter approving the surgery. At the same time, they rejected our neurosurgeon’s request to use a stem cell-based substance that could speed the healing process.

We learned that the stem cell product is made from amniotic fluid and placental material. Had we known about this we wouldn’t have discarded those items when my wife gave birth 30-some years ago.

My wife asked one of the surgical nurses how much the stem cell product cost. If it wasn’t too steep, she said, could we maybe pay for it ourselves? The nurse replied that nobody had ever asked that. He said that he would take it up with the drug company’s rep.

The nurse called my wife the next day and told her that he had spoken with the drug rep. The rep said that his company had a program for people like my wife and that they would give her the stem cell substance for free.

Woo-hoo! We finally won one!

We were apprehensive on the morning of the surgery. After all, the plan was to cut into my wife’s back, drill into her spine, install titanium appliances and apply a paste that consists of the stem cell product and donated (as in cadaver!) bone material. All without damaging any nerves.

I met with Dr. Wellman, our neurosurgeon, shortly after the operation was over. Dr. Wellman is tall and sinewy and radiates an empathic intelligence. He’s exactly the kind of person you would entrust with your central nervous system.

Dr. Wellman said that everything went smoothly and that my wife could return home in a day or two. It suddenly occurred I would be responsible for her post-surgical care.

Whose idea was that? This should be appealed! Also, what sort of warranty came with the new hardware?

Jerry Nelson