Paul Johnson, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Parkwest Medical Center, walked into Anna Halliburton’s exam room carrying an MRI report and bad news.
“The first time I met him he walked in with the MRI report and said, ‘Your back is a wreck! What are we going to do about it?’” the 71-year-old Powell woman said. “I said, ‘I don’t know. You are the expert – you’ll have to tell me!’ And he did. He told me that surgery was a likely option.”
He quickly found Halliburton’s problem – two deteriorating and ruptured lumbar vertebrae at L4 and L5. “He told me that we could do surgery or we could try some other treatments,” she said. “And I did have a couple of steroid shots but they were not very effective.”
“After that, we talked about surgery some more, but I wasn’t quite ready,” said Halliburton, who had never had surgery before. “I was just not prepared to do that yet. As I was getting closer to retirement, it was getting worse. I was trying to train my replacement and I went ahead and finished working as best I could. I did miss some work because of the hip and leg pain, but I went ahead and retired April 30, 2015.”
But as it turned out, those “golden years” of retirement weren’t so golden. Her husband, Jack, was diagnosed with cancer and her back pain grew worse. “She was almost in a wheelchair by the time she agreed to the surgery,” said Jack. “She’s tough.”
“Later that fall, I went back to Dr. Johnson and we talked about the surgery again,” she said. “He set up an MRI because the other one was about a year old by that time. When I went back to see him for the results, he said there were even more discs that had ruptured and would have to be fixed. It was the L2 and L3, and there was some curvature of the spine above that. We talked a little about fixing that, but he said he would have to wait until he got in there to see.
“I liked his matter-of-factness,” she added. “He didn’t dance around my condition; he didn’t sugarcoat anything. He told me exactly what I was up against, and that’s what I needed. If I know what I’m looking at, I can handle it. I like someone who will tell you like it is – just give it to me, tell me and I can deal with it.”
Finally, a year after her retirement, she had the surgery at Parkwest Medical Center. The procedure required the insertion of two spinal rods and 10 pedicle screws.
“It was a very successful surgery from my viewpoint,” she said. “I knew immediately when I woke up that the hip and leg pain were gone. I was able to come home from the hospital the next day. They got me up and I walked. The physical therapists worked with me on some exercises to continue at home.
“I walked mostly in the house the first week or so. Then I was able to get outside and do some more walking. I used a walker for about two weeks and then I was able to walk short distances without it. I kept the walking up because Dr. Johnson had told me that it would be one of the keys to recovery. He had also told me to expect a six-month recovery period, which I thought was awfully long – but he was right. It took most of that time me to get back to where I was pretty functional again,” she said.
A year has passed and Anna Halliburton is back doing the things she enjoys. “The surgery and the recovery period went much better than I had expected,” she said. “I can do pretty much everything I did before the surgery with just a little bit of limitation, not much lifting. But as far as doing housework, yardwork, household projects, I have no problem.”
The most demanding task, however, was tackling a painting project on their own home’s large deck and railing. “At one point I was lying on my back under a built-in bench and painting,” she said. “I told Jack, ‘I wish Dr. Johnson could see me now!
“All in all, I feel incredibly blessed,” she said. “The hospital experience was absolutely great. All the staff and the nurses at Parkwest were great. They were extremely friendly, extremely attentive. I felt that I, as the patient, had been put first.