Month: October 2016

“The Merry Old Land of HOz” – The Story Part 24

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As stated in a previous post, it didn’t take long for the director to schedule an appointment to see me.  It was so fast I could not even mentally prepare myself like I normally did. I usually got all of the excitement of hope out of me and went in with a stern grasp on the situation. But how could I this time?  For years I had heard how great and magical Johns Hopkins was. And this great and magical place that cures all ailments wanted to see me right away. Everything and I mean everything, all of the failures, the months to years sitting on my chair; the pain I went through was washed away as soon as I slid onto the passenger seat beside my dad with Amanda in the back. In two hours we would be there.  We would be at the great and wonderful  “HOz”!

Getting there was easy. To get there you just had to start where most people do where I live. We started at the beginning, the beginning of 83 South .  As our car turned off 581 and head toward 83 a song filled my head:

Follow 83 South, just follow 83 South, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow 83 South. I’m off to see the doctor, the wonderful doctor of HOz!

It was right by the Baltimore Aquarium. Besides being the place where I fell when my ankle gave out, I found the building to be majestic. It housed so many fish, and animals and it was right by the bay. I could only imagine that Johns Hopkins, one of the most renowned hospitals in the country, would be just as majestic. I did not look for images of it on the internet, I wanted to be surprised.

As we got closer, I looked around for big fantastic emerald buildings that would house machines superior to any other that would cure people.  I looked for huge towering glass buildings that housed offices and boardrooms that held discussions on how to cure the most difficult diseases that plagued our society.

Our car reached the exit and I was not noticing any grand buildings that were in the Emerald City. I was not noticing any majestic buildings like the Baltimore Aquarium. I was starting to feel let down.  How can such a magical place be in such a normal city? Around the corner from the exit instead of being greeted by the TAJ MAHAL, I was greeted by a prison that was surrounded by a rusty fence. Up ahead was a big building plastered with graffiti on its walls, and a worn down garage that followed. When Hopkins appeared in sight it looked just like a normal building, just a regular building like the ones we have at home – and not as grand as the Penn State Medical Center looked.

I sighed, and I also felt disappointed and silly for expecting such things.  I felt bewildered because of my expectations based on what everyone had said, but I pushed the disappointment aside and told myself it does not matter what it looks like, it just matters if they could help me or not.

We parked our car in an ordinary garage, and used my scooter to go down the ordinary hallway and entered the ordinary waiting room.  I was surprised that it only took a few minutes to be called back. If anything,  at least they were punctual.  I decided that maybe the building was old, but the rooms were new and amazing-looking.

I followed the medical assistant to the room with my dad and Amanda. When we got there, there was just enough room for a bed, two chairs, and a swivel chair for the doctor. I had to leave my scooter outside of the room. Once again I felt a little let down, but I knew I should not judge things on aesthetics, so I kept my hope up.

Punctuality was dead-on once again, when the doctor entered the room five minutes before my  actual appointment.  Dr. Ficke appeared to be a little younger than my dad. He had a pleasant demeanor, he greeted everyone, he listened to every word I had to say, he showed empathy for everything I went through, and the best part of all – he believed me and the pain I was going through. For a director of a big hospital,  his bedside manner was the best I have ever experienced since Dr. Bustillo.  He may not have been the Wizard of Oz I was expecting, but he most certainly could have been competitive. After a fifteen-minute appointment he was ending his tests on my legs. I thought he was going to schedule another appointment, but to my surprise he stated he wanted to do another MRI of my foot and ankle. I suggested that I could get one up home, but he rejected the idea and said he wanted to do one at his hospital as they have state of the art MRI machines that have better 3D imaging.

I was delighted and hopeful. He was spending so much time with me and now wanted to look further into the issue right away.  I was reminded not to judge books by their cover. He left the room and I waited to be wheeled down to the MRI area.  It was down one floor and just a short distance away from the room I was in.  Amanda and dad were left behind as I was taken to get my test. The moment the assistant told me I was there and the two big wooden doors opened, my eyes finally saw what I was searching for, and the following song filled my head:

Ha ha ha, ho ho ho
And a couple of tra-la-las
That’s how we laugh the day away
In the merry old land of HOz!

The MRI machine was like none other. I have seen my fair share of MRI machines. But this one looked like the newest state of the art machine located in a room in which a speck of dust could not be found in even the deepest of corners.  I was mesmerized by how very different this machine was compared to the others that I had been in. I knew that if this machine couldn’t detect an abnormality, no other machine would be able to.

After being entranced by and encased in this machine for an hour, I was wheeled back to my room. I told Amanda and Dad about the experience and how great the machine was. They were pleased to see my spirits had picked up. Dr. Ficke soon followed with the lightening-fast results in hand and started to go over them.

He stated that he would have done the same surgery Penn State performed. He also stated he would have tried physical therapy just like I had done. He stated I did everything he would have done. However, he said it is not that we were wrong in what we did; it was that it did not work. We talked about the cartilage and bone deterioration and how it was becoming bad again. We talked about how it would not be wise to do nothing about it. We discussed that doing a fusion would also not be wise, due to extra force that would place upon my hip and knees at my young age. He stated he did not recommend doing an amputation yet, due to the complications that are involved with that procedure. What he did suggest and what hit home to me was that if I were his son, this is what he would do. He suggested an allograph.  A procedure that was much like the OATS but one that took most of the cartilage away and replaces it as well as the bone. He stated the bone would be fractured again.  He stated that even if the procedure were 100% perfectly performed, I would not be the same.  But it should take pain away and help me walk better. He stated this is what we needed to do again.

I sat there….I did not say anything…I mean it is what I wanted to hear…another shot at hope…I honestly till this day am not sure how I felt at that exact moment. I just looked at him and said, “Let’s do it.”

He stated that I would be non-weight bearing another 16 weeks and would have to go through some physical therapy to regain my strength.  I told him I did it all before multiple times and I can do it again. He said the pain should not be as bad as before because the bones were already broken in that area, and all of the nerves were already cut in the area he needed to work in.

I felt committed to doing it again, and I told him that. He agreed and we parted.  What I thought was going to be a 15-minute appointment turned out to fill the whole day, between the MRI and discussions with the doctor, but I couldn’t have been happier. It was all worth it.  It was worth traveling the two hours to get there. It would be worth paying the out of state medical bills.   It was going to all  be worth it. Dr. Ficke was going to be my Wizard of Oz…


I did feel silly for thinking the building was going to have a state of the art futuristic design.  At this point I havd dealt with the hospitals and doctors in my area for over six years.  It was around the last four years I was starting to get suggestions about going to Johns Hopkins.  I never wanted to go because I really liked Dr. Bustillo, but since he left the practice, I could not find an adequate replacement in my area.

 I have a mind that always makes my thoughts and visions grander than what they are in reality.  It could be the reason I love fantasy novels like Drizzit and the Threshold Child.  Having this type of mind, I always seem to feel let down when I see the reality of the world.   Even though I was aesthetically disappointed with Johns Hopkins, I was not disappointed with the service I received from their staff and Dr. Ficke.  He truly was a wizard, but all wizards have their limitations.  He had told me the surgery had a chance of making me feel 60% better. I left this discussion out of the above blog, but wanted to write about it in my afterword.  We both knew going into this surgery the best I could hope for was a 60% recovery.  But at that moment, who knew what the possibilities could be, because from that day forward, he was going to be my wizard…at least in my mind.     

I bought this 70th year anniversary release of the Wizard of Oz for my wife for her birthday, a few years ago.  We both love the story and I always seem to sing their songs.  Oz is another magical land that I love.  After hearing about Johns Hopkins for all of those years, it easily formed a similarity in my mind.  The thoughts of Oz truly were going through my mind as we took our trip to Hopkins for my first time.

First Class Service – The Story Part 23

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I woke up the next morning determined to find new help. I was not even shocked or depressed that the fourth surgery was a failure; I just kind of expected it. It was not from a lack of trying on my part. I went through all of the therapy, regained most of my strength, and increased my muscle in my right leg. I was not imagining that my right leg and ankle hurt. It was getting to the point that at times I really thought it was in my head. It is hard not to think that after having four surgeries and having most of your cartilage and damaged bone replaced that it possibly couldn’t be fixed.

I pushed all of the doubt aside and was determined to come to terms that this pain was not in my head and that the four surgeries did not work.  I also pushed all hope aside that I was going to be able to get help from a doctor close to my home. Having my mind made up, I got out of bed and performed my routine to get ready for the morning. Just getting ready to sit in a chair takes more effort than you realize, but going through the routine as if I was going to go somewhere helped keep me in a better state of mind. Nothing beat the feeling of being showered, and having a clear mind for the upcoming day.

I went to my computer and brought up the Johns Hopkins webpage. I first looked at the directions to get down to their facility, and it seemed to be a two hour straight shot down highway 83. The hospital looked like it was placed in the center of the city, but not far from the Baltimore Aquarium, the place that solidified my issue years ago when my ankle gave out and I fell on my face. I also noticed that they had many satellite offices in the surrounding area, but all of them except for a few were right by the main building. I researched their orthopedic program and the services that they offer.

Satisfied with the information that I found, I clicked on the contact page to make an appointment. I was a little nervous and upset.  I knew I was going to have to explain my situation all over again and how was I going to explain that I needed help from a facility that is located in a different state.  Also, how was I going to make an appointment and know what doctor I truly needed to help me? I knew I needed an ankle doctor, but the facility had a few orthopedists specializing in specific things for that area.  I took a deep breath and dialed the out-of-state number they provided on their site. After only a few rings, a human being picked up. No press this button or that button. Optimism was starting to build up inside me.  I sensed her smile over the phone as she asked how she could help me today. I fumbled through the speech I memorized before I made the call, but my need was clear enough for her to determine what her next question was going to be. She asked if I obtained multiple opinions in my area. I laughed and restated that I had four surgeries in my area at two different hospitals, had years of physical therapy, and had spoken to multiple specialists. All of which had not helped me.  She kindly sympathized with everything that I was going through, and requested that I send all of my medical records to her. She stated, “What they will do is examine your medical records and determine who the best doctor would be to treat you.”  I said, “Great.  I have all six years of medical records stored on my laptop. I will send them to you right now.” She was genuinely surprised that I was so prepared. She stated she will send me an email to collect all of my information and that she was going to be my appointment concierge. “Appointment concierge?” I asked.  She continued, “Yes, I will be your sole contact for all of your questions until we determine who will see you for your appointment.” I told her I was relieved to have one contact point. I was amazed by the fact that I could email one person, call one person, and send documents to one person that I can hold accountable for all of my information and needs. I was thoroughly impressed.  She concluded the call by telling me it may take or week or two after she received my documents, but that I would be hearing back from her by the end of September (2014).

I immediately emailed all of my information. In multiple emails I sent her my medical notes in .pdf format. I sent her copies of my insurance card and medical card, and then called my dad to give him the update. He was happy to know that I acted so quickly on it, and Amanda was hopeful that answers would be around the corner.

After the phone call I waited, but for only 6 days. I received a phone call in the early morning from my new concierge. She stated she already heard back from the doctors. I told her that was great and was anxious to find out what they have decided. She went on to state that after reviewing my records they want to schedule an appointment with the director of orthopedics and that they specifically want him to help me. I was stunned and relieved.  My medical records were enough to gain their interest, and I was bypassing everyone and going right to the director.  I told her that I was excited to get started, and speculated that I would probably have to wait a few months to see him, like I had to with the other specialists that I had seen.

She was quick to say no. She stated that he wanted to see me in a few weeks on Oct 10th. I was shocked.  That soon, I thought. Without hesitating or checking anyone’s schedule I booked it. I figured if the director wants to see me, the director was going to see me on his time not mine.

I thanked her multiple times for her service. I was so impressed with the treatment I received. To think that I was going right to the director of Hopkins orthopedic, the doctor that was on their front page of orthopedics. I was so glad I listened to everyone to make this appointment. My only regret was waiting that long to do it. I knew at the time that it was going to make a world of difference in how I felt. I thought I might be able to get back to work and restart my career. My head was racing with the future possibilities which led to optimism exploding in my mind and heart.

For the first time in a long time I was really happy and feeling hopeful again.  I will not forget feeling that way, it was . . . good.