When Workman's Comp Gave Him a Wheelchair, He Fought for Surgery

James Scrine hurt himself on the job, yet Workman's Comp wanted him on injections and a wheelchair. He found a doctor that would fight for a new surgical technique, now he's flexible and active.

My name is James D. Scrine, I’m from south of Atlanta, Georgia. I worked for a company that installed electric, gas, water, and solar panels. My job was inspector/installer, I kind of did it all I had been with the company so long. After I was injured on the job, I went to my flight surgeon/family physician and he referred me to a chiropractor next door. He took a look at it, tried to massage it a bit but there was just so much pain I couldn’t do it. From that point on my daughter was kind enough to drive me to St. Joseph’s in Atlanta where they did an X-ray. They said “Sir all you have is a herniated disc, you’ll be fine in six weeks.”

I’m a remote employee, so at that time I called my HR department, started the workman’s comp, found out the workman comp system is not very kind to those who become injured. They had specific things they wanted me to do, which I did. At one point, they suggested well, what we’ve done so far didn’t work so they gave me a steroid shot in my lower back. Found myself 22 days later, about four months after the injury, the shot had made me a diabetic and my eye sight was very poor. At that point I contact legal assistance, they forwarded me to pain management.

Found myself 22 days later, about four months after the injury, the shot had made me a diabetic and my eye sight was very poor.

From there, I saw my first surgeon in Atlanta at a spine clinic. He said I did have a herniated disc, some torn discs, or something associated with region between the vertebra. I really didn’t understand it, but he put it in writing. I had my legal assistant explain it to me, he said I’m probably going to wind up with surgery. I sat at home for a couple of weeks, Dr. McCord’s name came up. I asked workman’s comp if I could get a second opinion, took a few weeks for them to get back with us. They approved it, thinking he was in Atlanta. That was the only reason, I think, that they approved it. I got in a car and drove up here as quick as I could, and get the ball rolling. He gave me the same diagnosis, but said “You’re looking at more like four levels, not two levels.” I didn’t know what that meant, and I’m probably glad I didn’t, because of the extensive surgery that was going to be done.

From that point on, it seemed workman’s comp had an agenda, of all these hoops I had to jump through before they were going to approve the surgery. From the time of my injury on the 12th of August 2010, until I was fortunate enough to have my surgery on May 22-25th. During the process of working up to the surgery, we’d ask workman’s comp for approval for a procedure or test to get done, then they’d say “Well first you need to have a myelogram done.” So it’d take a month to get that scheduled and set up. And then we’d say “Ok, what about the surgery both doctors agreed on?” “Well, you need to have a discogram done to make sure that’s what we’re doing.” I was thinking how is this insurance company telling me that these two surgeons that don’t know each other, have agreed we have to have this done, and now I’ve got to have a discogram? And these things are painful, and probably expensive. Not only are they paying me a weekly workman’s comp fee, they’re paying me to have all these procedures done, when we in the end we have to have the surgery. I’m sure they believe what was in writing, that the surgeons had said, but they didn’t treat me as they believed that I was hurt as bad as I was.

It seemed workman’s comp had an agenda, of all these hoops I had to jump through before they were going to approve the surgery.

During the setup of pain medicines I told the pain management doctor I wanted a second opinion. He said that’s a good idea with the extensive damage done to my back. We started talking about what options we had, where in Atlanta we could go. He said “You know, there’s a guy in Nashville who doesn’t move the spine over, he goes in from the front, then goes in from the back, and he’s having really good success with that. Would you be interested?” I said sure, because moving the spine over may damage the nerves or something else. We talked about it, I was still getting worse. That’s a five and half hour drive if nothing is wrong with you, it’s an eight hour drive if you’re hurting and have to stop every two hours. I drove up, had my initial consultation with the X-rays and all, Dr. McCord said let’s do it (surgery). It was still six months before we got the surgery approved.

During the whole process of dealing with workman’s comp, one of the I call it “tricks” (I’m sure it’s one of the administrative things they have to go through) but I didn’t understand it. You start off with a case worker, then when you ask for something, conveniently they change. And that new person is completely ignorant of your case is, so there’s another month. Then their lawyer is conveniently changed somewhere down the road. Now the new guy has to get up to speed on your case. Here I am having to fight for every procedure, and they’re throwing curves in there to slow it down even more. Not only do you have to jump through the hoops, you have to fight for a worker to stay with you, believe in you, and help you out. It’s a shame that you have to go to a lawyer to write a letter to tell them to do their job.

The bottom line is for anyone working with workman’s comp is that you’re going to have to fight for everything to get your health back. The best way for me was to fight through Dr. McCord to get my surgery done, and that’s what happened and now I’m able to walk again.

I’m a 23-year military pilot, I’ve seen it all. My 17 years was picking up dead people, or people that had been injured. Carrying them to hospitals and seeing families, having to tell them they didn’t make it. I met someone in the waiting room here...this was his eighth surgery, he had been operated on three times by someone else. David was taking everything out, and put his hardware in there. I heard that the day before I had surgery, so that was encouraging. He had cuts all over him, I asked him if that’s what I’m going to look like. He said Yeah you’re going to get the two cuts on the side, this that and the other, but don’t worry about it, because the pain will go away when you wake up. And it has.

The best way for me was to fight through Dr. McCord to get my surgery done, and that’s what happened and now I’m able to walk again.

The hardest thing is getting over the surgery. But the medication I started on right away was oxycontin. Just to where I could pass a 45 degree bend. Our biggest worry in the beginning is this going to progress to where you’re going to be in a wheelchair after surgery, or even before surgery. It was heading that way. You can try to talk yourself out of it, well it’s not as bad as they said, I can work my way through it. That’s what the oxycontin will do for you. It’ll make you feel like I’m not hurt. Then you don’t take it for a day and you can’t move, you’re in a fetal position trying to do something. So over the last two years I’ve been on 20mg of oxycontin twice a day, that’s the slow time release. And then every two hours I’d take a 10mg Percocet, which is the same thing with Tylenol added. It just acts quicker with your brain to tell you that you’re not in pain. Then you have to take a muscle relaxer to go along with it, otherwise you’ll be all knotted up and nothing works. The Soma relaxer, the oxycontin and the Percocet. Been on it for two years, pain management says six months minimum to come off it. So I’m now starting to come off a lot of pain medicine. Which really the depression, the roller coaster started again. It started at the beginning, now the roller coaster of depression, ok, depression...it’s going to come back over the next several months.

I just finished talking with Dr. McCord downstairs, today is 75 days since surgery. No wheelchair, we’re starting to come off the drugs. I don’t believe that without Dr. McCord’s help that I would have ever made it through this, and I would have been in a wheelchair. And taking medicines that would have been taking away my life, taking away my social existence and that’s not a good way to live.

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