Alan Benson: A Successful Nonsurgical Fix for Back Pain
Alan Benson had suffered from very painful sciatica for six long weeks by the time he arrived in the office of interventional pain management specialist Divya Chirumamilla, M.D. He came by way of Geoffrey Zubay, M.D., FACS, a board-certified neurosurgeon with fellowship training in complex spinal reconstructive surgery. The two physicians work together at Mischer Neuroscience Associates-The Woodlands to ensure their patients access to fast, comprehensive spine care with effective pain management.
In Benson’s case, “fast” is the first operative word. Last fall, he saw Dr. Zubay on Oct. 4 and was evaluated by Dr. Chirumamilla the following day. One day later, on Oct. 6, she performed a fluoroscopically guided transforaminal epidural injection of a long-acting steroid between his third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, the location of a herniated disk. The procedure was done at Memorial Hermann Surgery Center-The Woodlands.
“I’ve worked in public service for 37 years and recognize compassion when I see it,” says Benson, who is 60.
“Dr. Zubay believed I was a candidate for the most conservative treatment possible, and Dr. Chirumamilla concurred. She explained exactly what she would be doing during the office visit, and then dropped in and visited with me again before the procedure while a nurse was taking my vital signs. The procedure went like clockwork, and she saw me again when they took me to recovery to check my blood pressure. Considering her background and high level of training, I didn’t expect that kind of exemplary doctor-patient interaction.”
Fellowship trained in pain medicine, Dr. Chirumamilla is a Diplomate of the American Board of Anesthesiology, with primary certification in anesthesiology and subspecialty certification in pain medicine. She joined Mischer Neuroscience Associates from Harvard Medical School, where she served as clinical faculty in the department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine.
To her, compassion is second nature. “I talk to all of my patients about the risks of procedures and ask them if they have any questions beforehand. Not all of it sinks in so I also spend time with them the day of surgery to make sure they have a good understanding of the procedure,” she says. “I use a lot of numbing medication to avoid anesthesia and its associated risks, so I like to see them after the procedure in recovery to make sure they’re doing okay before they head out.”
Benson’s pain was relieved after the first injection, but when he returned for a follow-up visit in November, he had some lingering discomfort. A second injection resolved it; going forward, Dr. Chirumamilla will see him on an as-needed basis.
“For Alan things worked out really well,” she says. “As a multidisciplinary spine care group, we try to make it as easy as possible for our patients. Alan’s case was particularly fast. For other patients we work to get treatments scheduled as quickly as possible within the limitations of insurance authorizations.
“Dr. Zubay does the initial evaluation. If he feels they will respond to conservative management, he refers them to me,” she adds. “I do an evaluation from the pain management perspective and develop an appropriate treatment plan. We work closely together, and our teams communicate well.”
Benson, an avid golfer, has returned to his active lifestyle. “The whole experience was so positive for me that I wrote Dr. Chirumamilla a personal note to thank her and her staff,” he says. “I was in so much pain that I was actually excited to have the opportunity to have a needle stuck into my spine. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone, but if you do have back pain, you can expect a good experience with her.”