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Spine Surgery: The Real Deal

Today I attended a lecture given by an orthopedic surgeon. He was in his early 40’s, tall, and athletic in appearance. He spoke about spinal injuries the way a young boy would talk about crashing his toys together – vertebrae were “smashed, crunched, or wrecked” in various ways. He showed the audience various CT scans and x-rays of the neck, and proudly described the hardware he used to fuse spinal segments. Here are some choice quotes from his lecture:

“I think I’m losing my voice. I don’t talk that much at home because I have all girls. Um… so the cement from a kyphoplasty can get into the veins and travel to the lungs, but it’s not like a big clump gets in them or anything. It’s more like little tiny microscopic pieces of cement. You know, they kind of cause bronchio… bronchiec… broncho… broncholectasis or something. I don’t remember. But if your vertebral body is smushed, what are you going to do? It’s just really awesome to stick that balloon in there and blow up the area. With kyphoplasty you get less… whatever that word is… spill of cement

…So with the thoracic spine I come at it from the back because otherwise the heart gets in the way. Also, I use a posterior approach because then I don’t need another surgeon in there with me, and it’s hard to find them on Saturday mornings.

…If you see lateral translation of the spine then you know you’ve torn everything up. I mean, that thing is going to be a disaster zone so you may as well just go in there with all you’ve got. Hey, if you need surgery, you need surgery. But if a high c-spine injury isn’t unstable then don’t immobilize it or it’ll freeze up like an elbow. You won’t be able to do much more than move your eyes.

…And here’s a case of a guy with Tuberculosis in his spine. We opened that sucker up and it just poured out all over the place. It was awesome. He’s totally fine now.”

I was trying so hard not to giggle throughout this “academic lecture.” It was actually kind of refreshing to get the straight scoop on spinal surgery from an orthopedist who obviously loves what he does. But at the same time, I felt strangely nervous…This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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3 Responses to “Spine Surgery: The Real Deal”

  1. scanman says:

    The story as you say it is amusing. And it’s nice to know that carpenters, oops, I mean Orthopedic Surgeons are the same the world over. 

  2. PearlsAndDreams says:

    You know, I think Don might like this guy!!!!!

  3. wwwcaretv says:

    This is really funny. I can relate to this doctor’s probable type…a little socially backwards, maybe a little eccentric, but an absolute genius. I’ve heard that spine surgery is extremely delicate and tricky. Considering scanman’s comment, it must take a certain kind of person to have the courage to take it on.

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