HealthThe Stethoscope

Shan George: Doctors Gave Me A 50-50 Chance When I Was Sick.

Popular actress, Shan George, was operated upon successfully in 2019. The Nollywood film star was treated at the Brain and Spine Surgery Consortium following her long sojourn with a painful back and painful leg which almost terminated her career.

Shan told her great story online, baring her soul, expressing her pain and then joy at finally finding a solution to her misery. The story is worth its weight in gold and it is worth retelling.

50-50 affair
She said that she was given a 50-50 chance by her doctors in 2019 after a terrible sickness that disrupted her career. Apparently, the problem started sometime in late 2018. She had just finished organising the artistes that would be on the governor’s band for the Calabar carnival in December 2018. This was very hectic and a rigorous action packed pursuit.

Later, she found that her knee was swollen and painful. She did not understand the reason and could not fathom what was going on. However, she attributed this to the activities for the Calabar carnival and decided to rest for a few days. So, she took some drugs and took to her bed expecting to be well rested, up and about in a few days. Alas, it did not let up and by mid-January the pain had intensified. The pain was shooting down the leg and making life truly miserable.

She said, ‘’I kept managing it by using pain killers, but by March, it had become worse. I then started going to hospitals to find out what was wrong’’. ‘’Eight months later, my left leg was almost paralysed. I was already bedridden for some months’’. She had also been taking various medications without any respite in her pain.

At this point her doctor advised her to do a series of tests. All the tests came out negative (normal) and she was advised to undergo an MRI scan of her lower back to get to the root of the problem. An MRI scan is a test that looks at the body on the inside and can show where there is an abnormality in the tissues within the body. In this case, doctors asked her to do an MRI scan of her lower back to identify the cause of her leg pain.

‘’After the scan, they found out, I had lumbar spondylosis, which is a disease of the spine’’.

Lumbar Spondylosis
This is why she came over to see us in Abuja. She had lumbar spondylosis. This is arthritis of the lower back for the uninitiated, simple wear and tear. Her bones were rubbing together and the shock absorber between the bones had shifted on to her nerves causing severe back pain and the leg pain.

An operation was required as suggested by her doctors since medications, physiotherapy and bed rest had failed.

Spine operations
Many people are scared stiff of spine operations in Nigeria and expressed the belief that spine operations were a 50/50 affair. This was what some people told Shan George. Some also said they have heard that patients die or become paralysed after spine surgery. A do and die affair! Which is why many fear spine surgery.

Yet, many were actually suffering with abysmal quality of life. A patient recently asked me to speak to her daughter, a medical doctor, who also expressed the same fear. She said that the results of spine surgery was 50:50. This is not true, of course, but even doctors who should know better are afraid to subject their relatives to spine surgery.

The risk of spine surgery
Spine surgery is an individual thing and everyone is different. The outcome prediction is also different for everybody as we are not all the same. So, it could be as good as 90-99% good outcome for some and totally unsafe for some others. Some will benefit and some will not. Our job is to evaluate the risk for each person and find ways to make the operation safe, if possible.

For Shan George, the risk was as low as 5-10%.

The other major concern for patients and relatives is the age of the patient. Some consider anyone above 55 as too old for spine surgery and similarly, anyone below 30, as too young.

A misconception, of course. Age has little to do with spine surgery. We can operate on any deserving person so long as there is a good reason for surgery and they are medically fit to undergo the operation.

They have to be assessed and certified fit for the operation and the type of anaesthesia that may be required. We also try to ensure that the real benefits of the operation outweighs the possible side effects inherent in the operation.

This article serves to provide current information for the general public and especially medical doctors and physiotherapists who see these patients. Spine operations have improved in quality and we now boast of much better outcomes than before.

Of course, we cannot ever boast of 100% good outcome as we are not the Almighty God! There will always be some complications and even deaths in hospitals. However, there has been so much improvements that death and disability are now few and far between. Continuing conservative management in a patient that is visibly deteriorating should no longer be tolerated.

We can offer safe surgical options.

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