Sandy Briggs has a contagious smile that her friends and customers have come to expect from her. But last March, pain stole her smile, and even her eyes betrayed all attempts to hide her pain.
Following a night of dancing with her partner, Jay Markwell, Sandy felt a little sore but dismissed it as a pulled muscle. Jay had already noticed that Sandy had been slow rising from a chair during the preceding weeks. The discomfort quickly gave way to pain, and Sandy could barely get out of bed in a matter of weeks.
In April, Sandy saw her medical provider, Kristi Esker, APRN, at the SBL Casey Clinic. She prescribed anti-inflammatory medication. As Sandy’s condition worsened, she was referred to SBL Pain Specialist Brian Ogan, MD, at the SBL Bonutti Clinic. As a first step, he provided steroid injections over the course of three months, but nothing touched the pain.
“I cried every day,” Sandy said. “I couldn’t sit, but my job as a teller at Casey State Bank allowed me to stand while I worked.” During the height of COVID-19, Sandy took care of her customers at the drive-up window. “Even through the window, my customers could see whether I was having a good day or a bad day. Pain shows on your face, no matter how much you try to disguise it,” Sandy said.
“I needed an MRI, and I was scared to get one because of COVID, but everyone made me feel safe and comfortable,” Sandy recalls. In debilitating pain and with an MRI in hand, Sandy was referred to SBL Neurosurgeon Emilio Nardone, MD.
The MRI had revealed a synovial cyst on Sandy’s spine at L4, plus a narrowing of her spine due to arthritis. Her spine was separating, which had caused fluid to form a cyst. Pinched nerves had caused shooting pain down her right leg.
Jay remembers Dr. Nardone coming into the exam room. “He said, ‘We can take care of this next week,’” Jay recounted.
“He was so confident that he was going to be able to help me live pain-free again,” Sandy said. “It was a relief, but at the same time, I needed to think about it. I had heard so many horrible stories about back surgery that I was scared to death. In fact, I thought at one point that I’d rather live with the pain than have the back surgery. My daughter reminded me that ‘this is not living.’ I had cried every single day because of the pain,” Sandy recalled.
“Dr. Nardone said, ‘I’m going to get you running again.’” She teased, “Well, I’ve never been a runner, but I do walk a lot, and I was looking forward to doing that again with ease.”
Jay added that Dr. Nardone’s confidence and demeanor helped Sandy make the decision to move forward with the surgery. “He was outstanding,” Jay said.
About 10 days later, Sandy had the minimally invasive outpatient surgery, during which Dr. Nardone made a one-inch incision, removed the cyst, and alleviated the stenosis to create more room for the nerves. “I went home on pain medication to manage the surgical discomfort, but the pain in my right leg was gone. Less than three weeks later, Sandy was back to work greeting her customers through the drive-up window. They quickly noticed her pain was gone.
“I couldn’t have made it through this last year without my family and Jay. He helped me through this entire ordeal. I’m really grateful for his support,” Sandy added. “He even polished my toes after the surgery to make me feel better!”
Sandy looks forward to an active life again. “I can’t wait to get back on my bike. Just think— I thought at 56 years old that my life was over. Dr. Nardone saved my life. When I thanked him for helping me, he told me to go out and live life, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” she added.