"How long have I had a bad back?" I asked my wife, Ronna.
"Are you kidding? Since before we got married," she answered, "And that’s 17 years."
It didn’t help the pain much, but I think the realization of how long this back stuff had been going on, helped me decide to "go for it." Back surgery. "Enough is enough," I repeated to myself.
That and the fact that I couldn’t stand, walk or even sit. The pain running down my thigh, through my knee and into my ankle was absolutely excruciating on that Sunday, May 11, 1997. I literally could not get out of bed. A doctor with a bad back once told me that the only time you should consider back surgery, is when the pain is so bad you crawl into a hospital and beg them to cut you open. I was there.
In my mind, I ran through all the things I had
tried to lick the back and leg pain: Physical therapy, stretching,
chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, Rolfing, Alexander Technique, epidural
steroid injections, muscle relaxants, pain pills, Yoga… none had worked long
term. My first
Saturday, May 10, 1997, I knew I had really overdone it. But my son’s Annual Mayfair School Carnival was held, and I had to set up the sound system and help organize the event. Fortified with three Darvoset pain tablets, I attempted to make a go of it.
"You look terrible," my friend Vanita said. "What’s wrong?"
"Back. Leg pain. The usual," I muttered. But by mid-afternoon I left the Mayfair early and was back in bed trying to get some relief from the unrelenting ache.
The prior Wednesday, I had been to my orthopedic
surgeon’s office and we talked about "alternative" surgical
techniques. He poo-pooed Arthroscopic Microdiscectomy (
I emailed various questions to Dr. Yeung, and
the following morning his email reply was on my computer…straight answers to
my many questions. After several more exchanges of email, we both decided I
was a good candidate for
I called his office in Phoenix, and spoke to Vernida, one of his capable assistants, only to learn that the first available surgery appointment would be in late June, over a month away. I knew it would be tough, but I was willing to wait.
On Tuesday, May 13, I got an email message stating that Dr. Yeung had
rearranged his surgery schedule and he could perform his
But how would I fly to Phoenix? Sitting was even more painful than standing. I decided I would simply buy three airline tickets and lay down across an entire row of seats for the trip.
On Wednesday, I was driven to the airport by my wife, lying down during the entire trip in the back of our minivan. Sitting in the wheel chair was very difficult for the trip to the gate. I laid down across seats in the gate area waiting for my flight to be called.
On board, the flight attendants could see my pain and let me lie down through the entire trip, even during take off and landing.
I made it to Phoenix, where my brother-in-law, Steve, picked me up at the airport and took me directly to Dr. Yeung’s office for an examination.
Dr. Yeung was everything I hoped he would be;
"What do you think?" I asked my brother-in-law.
"I think you’re in good hands," he replied.
"Me, too," I said.
Dr. Yeung also introduced me to a young doctor from Syracuse, New York, Arnold Criscitiello, who would be helping Dr. Yeung during the surgery and learning the difficult procedure so that patients in Upstate New York can take advantage of this new technique.
During the examination, we decided it would be helpful to have a new
By 11:30 I was at St. Luke’s Hospital, fresh
I said, "Do your best. I want to go for it."
In the operating room, they helped me turn over onto my stomach, situating pillows under my shoulders and head. I was as comfortable as I could be in this situation, but quickly the euphoria of the anesthesia had captivated my whole body. I could hear, see, move, speak--but as the needles and scopes were inserted into my lower back area, there was no pain. The anesthesia also produced some vivid visual effects. As I looked at the operating room, it appeared as an impressionistic painting with points of intense color like a Monet painting.
After working on the L4-5 disk, Dr. Yeung went to the other side of my back and went after the second, tougher, calcified disk at L5-S1. This time I felt a bit more of a sensation with the needles, but it was not of long duration or that painful. Upon completion, the staff turned me over and held up two viles of yucky-looking brown material. "Here’s your disks," they said. I asked if I could keep the viles, but no, they had to go to pathology for testing. Dr. Yeung also said that he was not able to remove the calcified disk. But I figured if it had calcified, maybe it would not rupture any more and just sit there. Perhaps my sciatic nerve would learn to "work around" the calcified disk. I didn’t have any scientific evidence to back up my thoughts, but in my euphoric state, everything was beautiful.
It seemed like only minutes, but after two and a half hours of surgery, I was being wheeled into the recovery room at St. Luke’s feeling very good.
About an hour later, I was sitting in a wheel chair being moved down to the front door of the hospital. I stepped into my brother-in-law’s van, this time sitting in the front seat. Pain? Very slight. Ninety percent of my sciatica leg pain was gone.
As I walked into Steve’s home I felt a little surge of discomfort in my right leg, but I proceded to lay down on an inflatable sleeping bag pad that I had been using to sleep on.
After some family conversation, I decided to call it a day, and fell into a deep sleep. I slept from about 6 pm till morning.
The first indication of the success of the operation came at about 5:00 am on Friday, May 16. I pushed myself up from the inflatable pad on the floor, got up and walked to the bathroom, 100 percent pain free! No leg ache; no ankle soreness; no calf pain. NO PAIN! What an amazing procedure, I thought! I still had some numbness in my foot, but my foot has been numb for at least five years. And I’d take numbness over pain any day of the week.
Later that morning, I called Dr. Yeung’s office and reported my progress. "There's no pain, and I'm not taking any pain pills, not even ibuprofen," I told him. Dr. Yeung urged me to take it easy and stressed that it would be about two weeks before we really know the success of the procedure. I also sent email to many of my "connected" friends telling them that I was alive and well and pain free!
On Saturday, May 17 I flew back to my home in San Francisco, this time sitting in just one airline seat! Air travel had always been one of the most difficult feats for me with a bad back, but this trip was very enjoyable!
I am writing this on Saturday, May 24, 1997. This past week I’ve had a couple of days of soreness, but Dr. Yeung removed a large volume of disk material, and that takes time to heal. But today I awoke 100% pain free, again. My foot is less numb than last week and I am working hard at not "overdoing it" as I often tend to do.
I have to keep telling myself that it’s only been 10 days since my surgery. Imagine what I’d be feeling like 10 days after regular back surgery!
Everyone who sees me marvels at the speed of my recovery and I’ve told countless people about my experience.
If you have long-term sciatica and you’ve tried getting relief from physical therapy and it hasn’t worked, I strongly think you should consider Dr. Yeung’s procdure.
I’ll post updates to my story in the coming months. Meanwhile, here’s to no pain!
It's been three and a half months since my
I also have a loss of strength in my foot and have trouble raising my right big toe. My San Francisco orthopaedic surgeon is watching this carefully to make sure it does not worsen. I've had a thorough neurological test (with needles and electric shocks down your leg... "I confess! I will tell you the military secrets!") and that provided a baseline of my neurological condition. I will be having another of those lovely tests next month to see if there is any change.
Otherwise, I'm able to walk around our beautiful City and can play baseball with my son again.
I just wish I had had
December, 1997 Update
Things just keep getting better! The numbness in my foot is much improved. I can lift the big toe higher and I have a much greater level of feeling in the ankle, foot and toes. And there is no more pain anywhere.
I'm still "stiff" in the mornings. And I still take a great deal of care in the way I move... turning on my side to get out of bed, not bending over from the waist to pick up my shoes, etc. But these are things that I'd thoroughly mastered as a result of my years of back aches, anyway. If I'm careless I can end up with a bit of pain around the lower back area for a day or two.
It's not perfect back there... but it's still such an improvement over where I was in May of this year, it's absolutely spectacular!
May, 1998 Update
As I approach my one-year anniversary of my
My foot numbness has stabilized... not getting better or worse. I have to watch my footing carefully, making sure I don't turn my ankle on uneven payment or stones, but big deal! I can walk as far as I desire, and here in San Francisco, that's a critically important ability!
My wife remarked that since the surgery, I have not ever complained of a "back spasm" of any kind. I've had some stiffness, as I said earlier, but not one incident of "pulling out" my back. In the past decade, I used to have one of those about monthly!
But the most dramatic result is the lack of pain. None. Zero. Nada.
So it's full "go" and full speed ahead with any activities I desire. Thanks again, Dr. Yeung.
May, 1999 Update
I can't believe it has no been TWO years since
my surgery. I'm afraid this report will be totally boring. No
change. No pain. No problems. I have not had an episode of
back spasms or pain since the
Again, I recommend
May, 2000 Update
Three years! Amazing! Although the
old spine has definitely continued on a path of deterioration. In
August of last year (1999) I had a full blown back spasm blow-out... the
first since my surgery in 1997. I was crippled up for about a
week. I had that crooked-spine look for the first time in ages where
you stand in front of a mirror and your body looks like the Leaning Tower of
Pisa! I had a new
October, 2000 Update
Still truckin' along! No major pain issues since May. The
morning stiffness continues, but I'm sure it's as much age as anything!
(I'll be 54 next month!) Hundreds of people have emailed me in the last
three years, and for most people I recommend a second opinion on their
situation from Dr. Yeung or a surgeon who is adept at
April 2003 Update
How… I forgot I even had a back problem.
I just got an email from another successful patient of Dr. Yeung
indicating that the link to www.sauro.com/nopain.htm was not working. In reconnecting the link, I realized I had
not updated this file in two-and-a-half years! I'm doing very well, but I've made some
major changes in my life. November 5,
2002 I had a minor heart attack and had angioplasty and a stent installed in
my heart by another very capable surgeon, Dr.
September, 2004 Update
Life is good. I rarely have any back pain of any kind. Some morning stiffness until I get that cup of coffee ingested, but yesterday I carried an 80-pound Sony TV set from my son’s room, up two flights of stairs to the back of my car by myself. That included the lift of the TV from a low table. No back issues of any kind. And my surgery was “old school” as my son would say. Imagine the results I could have had with today’s amazing improvements!
February, 2006 Update
Still seems really weird seeing “2006”, even though the year is two months old. It’s been almost nine years since my surgery, and I’m still pain free. I never had one of the those, “my back hurts so much I can’t move” episodes since the Microdiscectomy, and that’s pretty amazing. Sure I get an occasional ache and pain, but I don’t consciously avoid picking up heavy things, I lug huge suitcases up three flights of stairs when my daughter heads back to college and so forth. I am very blessed!
May, 2007 Update
At 60 years of age now, the old body has a pretty good share of aches and pains. But that killing pain in the lower back and leg is not one of them. Still no major spasms or back incidents after nearly 10 years.
June, 2009 Update
Has it been two years since I last updated this page? Amazing how you don’t think of something
when it is no longer a pain! Still
happy to say I’m in great, pain-free shape.
Gained a few pounds with the “good life” here in
September, 2011 Update
Seems like two years is the length of my updates because nothing much bad has happened. No major back incidents… stiff and a bit grumpy in the morning, but that’s because I’m eligible for Medicare in November! Yikes, I can’t be that old!
November, 2013 Update
Just celebrated birthday No. 67 with a fun week-long visit to one of my favorite cities… Chicago. Now if they could just adjust the weather a bit, it would be perfect! Nothing to report in the way of back problems. I just lugged a 90-pound old-school cathode-ray TV set out of an armoire, carrying it out the garage with no back issues. Dr. Yeung reports that he has many more innovative procedures that might help my back be perfect, but I’m able to do everything I want… walk at least 10,000 steps a day, carry heavy items, garden, cook, do handyman jobs… so I don’t feel the need for anything further. But thanks Dr. Yeung for allowing me to be one of your pioneer patients!
Dr. Yeung's website: www.sciatica.com