Spinal Care, Neurology, Spinal Medical Advice and Information.

Sneezing Causes Patient to Undergo Spine Surgery… Twice!

Michele Pooley has always been conscientious about her health. She considered a hard workout at the gym a small price to pay for staying in shape. A little extra exertion now and then was worth it in the long run. But when the then 42-year-old felt a “pop” in her back while doing a set of full squats, she thought maybe she had pushed herself just a little too hard.

“I didn’t think much of it at the time,” Pooley said. “It hurt, but I figured a few days of rest and I’d be back in action.”

After a few days she did feel better but still had some pretty significant pain in her right buttock. A visit to a sports medicine physician in Long Beach — near where she lives — had her thinking she had a tear in her gluteal muscle.

“I fully believed I had a torn muscle so I went back to the gym and to the chiropractor,” Pooley said. “But instead of getting better the pain just got worse. After one particularly painful day in September 2004, I got a little hysterical and went into the doctor demanding that someone help me. They referred me to Dr. Tiffany Rogers, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the spine. I went to see her the next day. The minute I walked in she said, ‘I can take one look at you and tell you what’s wrong.’”

As it turned out, Pooley’s ‘torn muscle’ was in fact four herniated discs, one of which was particularly bad. Dr. Rogers recommended a microdiscectomy.

“I was very anti-surgery and I said absolutely not,” Pooley said. “I was very active and I felt like back surgery would put an end to many of my activities and really curtail my lifestyle. So, Dr. Rogers said we could try steroids and some physical therapy for a few months and see what happened. I felt more comfortable with the conservative approach and decided to try that first.”

After four months, Pooley was, indeed, feeling better. Then one day it happened. She sneezed.

“It was something so mundane, yet I was in a great deal of pain,” Pooley said. ”I immediately called Dr. Rogers and said, ‘Okay, let’s do surgery.’”

She was admitted to a Long Beach hospital in late January 2005, where she underwent a discectomy and decompression of a level in her lumbar spine. Her surgery was a success — although her hospital stay was less than pleasant — and for three months her recovery was going along without a hitch. Then it happened… again.

“I was driving along on this beautiful sunny day in April and out of nowhere, I sneezed,” Pooley said. “I wasn’t braced for it and I knew right away something was very wrong. I called Dr. Rogers, but she was out of town. Finally, one morning, the pain was so bad I drove myself to the emergency room in Long Beach. The people there wouldn’t listen to me. I was so frustrated and in so much pain I think I went a little crazy. I left there and I will never go back.”

Fortunately, Dr. Rogers returned and Pooley immediately went to see her.

“She wanted to admit me then and there for pain control and an MRI,” Pooley said. “I told her I would never go back to that hospital, so she said she would admit me to Little Company of Mary – Torrance. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Because of a high census that day, Pooley was admitted to the oncology unit at Little Company of Mary Hospital – Torrance, where she says she was immediately made to feel welcome.

“Let me tell you, upon my arrival to that floor, I was greeted with kindness, treated with gentleness and cared for so expertly in those four days before my surgery that those things alone contributed to my pain relief,” Pooley said. “Every person I encountered during my stay — without exception — approached me with a high degree of professionalism and a genuine care and concern for my comfort and well-being. These are some of the nicest people I have ever met and I cannot find the words that express my gratitude for everyone’s help and caring.”

An MRI revealed Pooley had suffered an additional injury to her spine and would require more surgery.

“Michele’s sneeze caused a large re-herniation at an adjacent level of her spine,” Dr. Rogers said. “One of the risks of having a disc herniation is the possible re-injury of the disc or a level adjacent to it. It happens about five percent of the time and, unfortunately, Michele had this experience. Her second herniation was so large, it was pressing on nerves in her low back, causing leg pain and weakness. She needed additional surgery which was much more extensive than the first — a two-level lumbar decompression and fusion.”

The news was met with a combination of trepidation and relief.

“I certainly wasn’t looking forward to the surgery, but I trusted Dr. Rogers implicitly and was feeling infinitely more comfortable about my surroundings and the level of competency at Little Company of Mary Hospital,” Pooley said.

It’s been almost a year since Pooley’s second surgery and she is just about back to normal. The now 44-year-old, who works for the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation designing children’s playrooms in hospitals across the country, is completely satisfied with the results — as well as the outstanding care provided by the people at Little Company of Mary Hospital – Torrance.

“I feel really good,” Pooley said. “There’s still a little soreness, but it hasn’t quite been a year. I’m back at the gym, but I don’t push myself as hard. I enjoy taking my dogs to the beach. I love to travel. My life is great. There’s such a huge mental component to recovery, and when you have the best people taking care of you, you can relax and concentrate on getting better. It makes all difference in the world. I can’t speak highly enough about the level of professionalism of the staff at Little Company of Mary Hospital, or of the surgical skill of my physician.”

One can’t help but wonder… what if there is another renegade sneeze in Pooley’s future?

“If I had to have the surgery again tomorrow, I would,” Pooley said. “On the conditions that Dr. Rogers was my surgeon and Little Company of Mary was my hospital.”