Spinal tumor ignites wife's determination

June 11, 2012

I’m not one for making broad generalizations, but when you hear the words “tumor” and “spine” in the same sentence, you are disinclined to set off fireworks.

Yet that’s what we heard as we drove through the Catoctin Mountains this spring, Beth on the cellphone with her physician, who was poring over the results of an MRI. (To save you the suspense, this story appears to be heading toward a happy ending.) Beth had been battling some intense pain, the type normally associated with watching a presidential debate, over the past year, chalking it up to an unruly sciatic nerve.

Now the doctor was saying there was more to it, and recommended a surgeon at Johns Hopkins who was good about eradicating such nuisances.

Johns Hopkins. All I could think of was Mark Twain’s line that the public would never fully trust an institution that “didn’t know how to spell ‘John.’”

Of course Beth is one of these people who, when you tell her she has a tumor on her spine, only gets mad, and more determined than ever to lead a “normal life” unencumbered by health troubles. Women are like that. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure that the pyramids were built by women who had just been diagnosed with spinal tumors.

Men, on the other hand, would become bedridden through the entire college football season and figure out how to parlay female sympathies over all this pain into a new boat.

So fast forward to Thursday, when we were ushered into the impressive tower named after the late Sheikh Zayed, which opened just two months ago. Sheikh Zayed’s family helped pay for it, I gather, although they probably did not pick out the orange and lime green retro furniture, which more or less resembled a cross between “The Jetsons” and the set of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

(Orange and green seem to be the hot new colors these days. Our offices at The Herald-Mail are now bathed in them, as well as some other colors that are all tied in with a new patterned carpet that chic people will find hip, but that the more stuffy among us would refer to as Moonlight on the Swamp.)

I am used to the kind of medicine where they wheel the patient into the operating room at the same time they are pointing family members to the mall across the street. And should a family member dare ask a question, he is threatened with arrest.

There is no such clampdown on information at Hopkins; they bring in the patient and the family and outline the surgery in such detail that I was almost thinking I could perform it myself.

To keep you even more in the loop, they have these massive video monitors in the waiting rooms that plot the progress of the patient hour by hour through the surgical process. It kind of reminds you of an airport where you can check departures and arrivals without bothering the help.

We sat through the surgery, which Beth passed with flying colors. Unfortunately, this was similar to the only (very minor) surgery I had ever undergone, where the “flying colors” were largely attributable to the nausea I was feeling from a bad reaction to the night-night medicine.

But the surgeon and staff were wonderful, and Beth, after a rough night or two, is recovering rapidly. When I overheard her giving a lecture to one of the nurses about the benefits of free-range chickens, I knew she had turned a corner.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at

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