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Friday, November 11, 2011

Update on Susie’s Medical Treatment--The Long Road Back

Because an Anonymous Comment this morning asked me for an update on Susie’s condition, I’m going to give one here on “Bob’s blog.”  The reason I haven’t done so regularly is that Susie has indicated she prefers to give updates on her medical treatment in her own way.  Of course, she doesn’t write a blog, so many of those of you who are concerned about her don’t hear what’s going on with Susie if you’re not on her email list.  The information you hear about her from other people may not be entirely accurate or complete.

Neck surgery and aftermath

As you may recall, Susie had delicate and potentially risky surgery on her neck last summer.  I’ve written about that frightening (to us) day on “Bobs blog.”  That short story (I mean short as it applies to story-length treatments of an event; there are readers of “Bobs blog” who think much of my writing is too long) was called “The Surgery: God's Work and The Surgeon's Hands,” and can be found at the following link:

C diff(icile) infection and recovery

Susie then developed a very dangerous C. diff(icile) infection, which she recovered from.  I wrote about that in a post called “Susie has C. diff, a potentially Life-Threatening Infection --- or, Stayin' in the Hospital's Not for Sissies,” which can be found at this link:

One of my children was upset that I called the infection “potentially Life-Threatening,” but as I explained to that child, C. diff(icile) IS a dangerous bodily invader and takes a lot of victims each year who have the bad fortune to get it.  Fortunately, Susie gets excellent medical care and takes care of herself, so her body successfully fought off the invader.

Shoulder pain from cervical collar

Susie no longer has to wear a cervical collar, so her shoulders are less painful, but she still goes to physical therapy to reduce the shoulder pain she still experiences from having worn that uncomfortable hard neck collar for so many months.

Hand surgery on left thumb is required

Her hand surgeon, Dr. Linburg, one of the, if not THE, best hand surgeons in Connecticut recently told Susie that the tendon in her left thumb has not re-attached itself since the accident.  Without surgical repair, her thumb would forever remain unstable with lateral (side-to-side) movement.  She needs to have a surgery to hopefully pull the damaged tendon back in place and tack it down with a surgical screw.  If the tendon is too badly retracted and cannot be pulled back in place, Dr. Linburg will have to remove part of the tendon which runs laterally across her left wrist and use that to extend the damaged tendon and replace the function of the thumb tendon which God knit together in her mother’s womb along with all the other organs of her body.

Susie plans to have that surgery sometime before the end of the year.  After surgery, she’ll have to be in a wrist brace for 6 weeks.  The brace will leave her fingers exposed but completely cover her left thumb.  She won’t be able to shower or otherwise get it wet for two weeks.

Gallbladder and hernia surgery

The heavy pain medications which Susie had to take for her broken neck and the aftermath of her neck surgery activated her previously a-symptomatic gallstones.  When blood tests revealed a compromised liver, Susie’s doctors were recommending an immediate removal of gallbladder. 

Susie also got a small hernia in her abdomen from the bicycle accident.  That needs to be repaired surgically.

Dr. Bill Longo, a general surgeon in Middletown whom we’ve known for many years, has been following Susie’s gallbladder and hernia issues.  Recently she discussed with Dr. Longo if she could delay getting her gallbladder removed because she also needs her thumb operated on and, as I’ll discuss below, also will probably need to have brain surgery. 

Susie has noticed that her gallbladder pain has diminished, although it still acts up occasionally.  Based on that clinical fact, Dr. Longo says he is comfortable with Susie delaying the gallbladder surgery until a future date.  As long as she carefully monitors her symptoms and IMMEDIATELY calls his office to see him if she experiences pain in that part of her body, the surgery can be postponed.  The limiting factor is this.  If the gallbladder is removed when it is not actively symptomatic, it’s a lot easier for the patient to recover without adverse effects.  On the other hand, if it’s removed when it’s active, there is a much greater chance of bad complications.

Brain surgery to remove the menginoma

One “good” thing to come out of Susie’s bicycle accident was the discovery of the probably benign brain lesion called a menginoma.  This was discovered by MRI examination following the accident, when the doctors wanted to find out the effect of the trauma on her brain.

Here’s a link to a Mayo Clinic article about menginomas if you want to know more about them:

Dr. Paul J. Schwartz, Susie’s neurosurgeon, performed her neck surgery and is also following her for the menginoma.  I wrote about him in a short story on “Bobs blog” called “The Surgeon.”  Here’s that link:

In “The Surgeon” I detail how I went from being skeptical and distrustful of Dr. Schwartz, before I met him, to believing and trusting in his expertise and motivation once I met him and interacted with him.  I call such experiences “a visual credit check.”

Dr. Schwartz met with Susie the other day.  He compared her brain MRI of last summer with the one taken this week.  While the radiologist saw no change, he told Susie he believes it has changed slightly and needs to be removed now.  His concern about Susie waiting a year or so is this.  What if it continues to grow and becomes symptomatic by pressing against normal brain cells and disturbing some function of Susie’s brain and mind?  At that point, the damage could not be reversed. 

He also thinks he’ll be able easily to remove it.  “Easy,” of course, is relative to one’s experience of the event to which the term is applied.  My initial reaction to the idea of brain surgery is not something I’d apply the term “easy” to.  But Dr. Schwartz has done lots of these menginoma-removal surgeries.  He’s comfortable with the idea of peeling back the top part of her face, from the scalp down the forehead to just around her eyebrows. Then he proposes to cut out a section of her skull and enter her brain through that window.  The menginoma lies in the arachnoid layer of the three-part lining between the inside of the skull and the outside of the brain.  Then he would remove the growth and send it to the lab for pathological analysis, to make sure it’s not cancerous.

As you can imagine, there are all kinds of potential risks when Man enters Brain.  But also there are all kinds of potential risks when the brain surgery is postponed out of fear.


I give thanks every day to God, Mother Nature, Lady Luck, and just plain Bona Fortuna for saving Susie’s life in the bicycle accident and not leaving her a paraplegic, quadraplegic, or a persistent vegetative state.  That said, it’s not an easy time for her, even now.  She has at least three more surgeries to “look forward” to and lots of painful recuperation. 

She also has to deal with the changes I’m making in my personality and life.  I’m still working—with the emphasis on working—on shutting off my “need” to find humor in every situation, when I’m out with her.  I’m confident I’ll eventually strike a balance we both can live with.

I hope Susie and you will forgive me if I’ve gotten anything wrong about her ongoing efforts to regain the life she lost when her bicycle hit that depression in the road on July 2, 2011.  It’s been a long road to this point, and we still haven’t reached that light at the end of the tunnel.  We know the light’s out there, somewhere.  However, it’s sometimes a discouraging process to be living in the here-and-now with no assurance, beyond faith, that Susie’s going to make it back to where she was on July 1, 2011, the day before the accident changed her—and our--life.


  1. Thanks for this update, Bob. In terms of your children's comments about c. difficile, you could refer them to the article I sent you earlier about the situation in QC. I am not sure how many people in ON and QC have died as a result of c. difficile, but I believe it is at least 100. Four actove cases were reported at CHEO (Children's Hospital of Easter Ontario) in Ottawa just last week, and those children have been in an isolation unit since. People who die from c. difficile are generally speaking weakened from other conditions, but it is, as you stated, potentially life-threatening. That is why I was so concerned when I learned she was suffering from it. Carol

  2. Thanks, Carol. I agree c. difficile's a very dangerous illness. The danger is underestimating the danger, not the other way around.

    All best wishes,