Word of warning: this is a very long post, which I don't expect anyone to actually read all the way through.
So Tom has had back pain for a few years now. At first it was nothing too extreme or uncomfortable, so he just ignored it. As it got worse, he started just taking Aleve or Ibuprofen to help combat it. As it got even worse, and the pain started shooting down his left leg, he took OTC back pain medication and tried whatever he could find at the drug store. He hadn't had health insurance since he graduated from BYU, so going to the doctor was out of the question--either the doctor would tell him to get over it, or they'd find something that he couldn't afford to fix.
Finally, a couple months after we got married, he got an awesome job with Wasatch Mental Health, which included benefits like amazing health insurance! Within a month and a half of getting coverage, Tom was in to see a doctor. He just found a random general practitioner that was covered by the plan, Dr. Gale. Dr. Gale was helpful at first, giving him some stronger prescription pain meds and sending him to physical therapy to see if that would help at all. It didn't. PT just seemed to make things worse, so Tom went back and Dr. Gale prescribed an MRI for May 9. You can see one of the images of that MRI above. If your curious about what you're seeing there, I would recommend searching image results for an MRI on a regular spine, and the difference becomes pretty clear: there's a big mass pushing up against Tom's spinal cord.
The doctors we talked to called this an arachnoid cyst, and told us that Tom would probably need surgery. As scary as this image was, Tom and I were actually more excited than anything else that we finally found what the problem was! Dr. Gale was great to get us to this point, but after that he was very unhelpful. When we called the surgeon's office to make an appointment, they said we would have to wait until July to even get a consultation. This was pretty discouraging, but even more so was the fact that Dr. Gale wouldn't do anything to help speed the process along, and he started being pretty stingy with the pain meds. Tom and I felt that he thought Tom was just trying to abuse the medication, which we didn't understand because he had seen the MRI and had proof that there was something causing the pain. So it didn't take long to switch to Dr. Shelton, who was infinitely better to Tom through the whole process.
During this time Tom's symptoms just kept getting worse. More pain, less ability to use his left leg, and some other more delicate functions were being affected. At one point the appointment with the surgeon got moved forward about 5 days, but then they called back again and moved the appointment back a week (read: this new appointment was later than our original appointment).
One procedure Tom had to get done before seeing the surgeon was a nerve conduction study. The cyst was pushing into Tom's spine and causing damage to those nerves, so basically a doctor stabbed needles with electric current in them all up and down Tom's legs and buttocks to determine the extent of the damage. The results were pretty grim--there was degenerate nerve damage in Tom's left leg and in his groin area. We hoped that this information would help us get into the surgeon sooner, but it didn't.
As Tom's symptoms got worse and worse, it finally came to June 20 and Tom couldn't even go to work, and he was losing more and more important functions. We called the surgeon's office and got nowhere with their staff, despite telling them about these severe symptoms. We called Dr. Shelton, she called the surgeon's office, and she got nowhere with their staff. We called and told the staff we were going to the ER if something didn't happen soon, and they said not to; they would move some things around and get an appointment for us. We never heard back. Finally, Dr. Shelton got the surgeon's personal cell number from a colleague. She called the office one more time and threatened to call him if they didn't get Tom in. Within 15 minutes we had an appointment for the next afternoon.
At this point, things started to move very quickly. We met with the nurse practitioner on Thursday afternoon, who told us that with the severity of Tom's symptoms he should have gone to the ER two days previous (thank you very much to his staff... :P). He let us know that surgery would definitely be within the week, but he had to talk to the surgeon to find out specifically when, and he would call us later that evening or the next day to let us know. Within 10 minutes of leaving that appointment, the nurse practitioner himself (not a secretary!) called Tom to tell him that the surgeon wanted to meet us in the ER the very next morning to perform the surgery.
We spent a few hours in the ER the next morning, and Tom went into surgery around 2 in the afternoon. He was done in a couple hours and the surgeon was very pleased with how it went.
All of these pictures are out of order once again, but you get the idea.
Tom's first real meal after surgery was In'N'Out for lunch on Saturday--is anyone surprised??
This was on Sunday afternoon, right before I left the hospital (and Tom's side) for the first time since Friday morning to shower and take a nap. Needless to say, it was a very emotional moment.
Tom looks like he's dying in this picture, but he's actually just closing his eyes as he gathers the strength to do his breathing exercises.
Thank you to everyone who came to visit Tom in the hospital, we felt so loved!
There were a few days of mystery while we couldn't see the incision because of the dressing.
This was Tom right before he went into surgery.
Immediately after Tom got out of surgery.
There was an embarrassing moment which resulted in the nurses wheeling a bed in for me to lay next to Tom.
And finally, I just want to send a huge thanks to everyone who fasted and prayed for us, again to everyone who visited in the hospital, to everyone who made us meals during recovery, to our bishop for meeting us at the ER on Friday morning, to my mom for being with me that first day while Tom was in surgery, to Tom's parents and Ben for coming up on Saturday and taking care of Tom and me. We couldn't have done it without all of you!