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Complications: The diagnosis was bad. The aftermath was calamitous. My new life as a medical train wreck.

Complications: The diagnosis was bad. The aftermath was calamitous. My new life as a medical train wreck.

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Complications: The diagnosis was bad. The aftermath was calamitous. My new life as a medical train wreck.

ratings:
4.5/5 (34 ratings)
Length:
63 pages
1 hour
Released:
Jul 21, 2020
ISBN:
9781094408194
Format:
Book

Editor's Note

A moving medical misadventure…

Lifelong jock Todd Balf’s life seismically changed when he was diagnosed with a rare spinal cancer, and this frank account of his long medical misadventure is both moving and surprisingly full of joy. A Scribd Original, “Complications” is as much a chronicle of surviving a physical catastrophe as it is a meditation on finding the balance between striving to recover and accepting one’s limitations.

Description

Written by Scribd Editors

A Scribd Original, this true story from acclaimed author Todd Balf is a harrowing, unrelenting journey from his diagnosis with a rare spinal cancer called chordoma.

Only three hundred cases are diagnosed in the United States each year — Balf was literally one in a million. During two long and risky surgeries, a team of specialists removed the tumor and buttressed his damaged spine with a scaffolding of metal rods. Having survived the surgery, itself a minor miracle, Balf was told that the surgery had resulted in a spinal-cord injury that left one of his legs partially paralyzed. Give it time, his doctors advised. The nerves might heal.

Then came unexpected surgery to repair broken rods in Balf's spine, followed by yet another complication: a stroke that jeopardized not only his recovery but his professional career. Balf wasn't just one in a million. Thanks to his unresolved spine injury, topped off with a stroke, he was now an “n of 1” — a single case study.

Both moving and irrepressibly joyful, Complications is a forthright account of what it's like to suffer a physical catastrophe and manage the uncertainty that comes with it. What's the right balance between striving to recover and accepting limitations? Was he still just visiting the land of the disabled, or there for good? Who was Todd Balf now?

Released:
Jul 21, 2020
ISBN:
9781094408194
Format:
Book

About the author

Todd Balf is a former editor at Outside magazine whose writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, GQ, Runner’s World, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Last River, The Darkest Jungle, and Major.


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Complications - Todd Balf

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Diagnosis: One in a Million

THE DAY I WAS DIAGNOSED with a rare spine cancer, I knew I had a problem, just not that problem. For the better part of a year, I had stripped away movements—from gym core routines I didn’t much like anyway to things I did, like raking a yard of warm compost into old winter soil. I told others that when I could no longer ride a bike, a lifetime passion, I would see my doctor to confirm what I already knew: I had a disk problem. Every fifty-year-old I knew had some sort of lower-back ailment they didn’t do anything about. We were a league, stoic and proudly inattentive. In July of 2014, I couldn’t sleep or stand without having disabling waves of nerve pain running the course of my legs. I was off the bike. I made the appointment.

I knew they had seen something bad the moment the imaging techs slid me out from the white MRI silo. They had seemed distracted when I arrived. They weren’t now. Did I need more warm blankets? asked one. Something to drink? asked another. Is somebody coming to bring you home? They led me upstairs, where the head spine surgeon, a genial Irishman, showed me the image of a tumor type he had heard of but never seen in a patient. It was a softball-size mass affixed to my lower spine, billowing out north by northwest, distinguished by its lobed shape, which looked to my uneducated eye like the human brain. Dr. Terence Doorly stressed that nothing about this thing inside me—slow-growing, exceedingly rare, originating from leftover prenatal spinal cord cells—was run-of-the-mill.

It was a bone cancer called chordoma. There were approximately three hundred cases diagnosed annually in the United States. I was literally one in a million. The doctor told me I’d freak out when I got home and that I should call him anytime. When you leave this office, you’re going to think of all the questions you should’ve asked, he said, correctly.

Things moved quickly. One of the leading chordoma teams in the country was right here in Boston, at Massachusetts General Hospital. Three days later I was meeting with them. We overflowed a tiny examining room—surgeons, oncologists, fellows, nurses. A fellow in a white lab coat slipped in to offer a chemo-and-something clinical trial slot. Wait, was I that bad? Al, an RN care coordinator, diplomatically moved him along. Al wasn’t the nurse archetype I’d expected. He looked like the former secretary of labor Robert Reich.

The chordoma team outlined a plan of daily radiation treatments for five weeks, followed by a short recuperation period, then surgery. Then a radiation top-off. The surgery involved two stages on separate days. First the team would go in from the front to put several spine-supporting rods in position. On the second day, they would flip me over to remove the diseased L2 and L3 vertebrae and muscle tissue from my right hip and briefly apply a radiation patch to a portion of the dura, the protective sheathing around the spinal cord. Another surgeon would harvest some of my right fibula (calf bone), repurposing it to span the several-inch gap in my divided spine. Each surgery was expected to take eight hours.

I wasn’t supposed to be here. I led an active, healthy lifestyle. Never smoked. Bowed down to kale. Most people who learned what I did for a living told me that they wanted to do it, too. Traveling, seeing the world, writing about it in my barn-loft office overlooking a pocket-size vegetable garden crammed with tomato plants and snap peas. I had a great gig.

Patty, a journalist in college, scribbled a lot of notes that first day. We had married a year after she graduated, and early on she had acquiesced to the adventures I urged on her: a nauseating high-altitude overnight in a dingy Quonset hut atop an active volcano in Guatemala; a remote Kokopelli mountain bike trail in Utah where she rode four-wheel support while pregnant; paddling on whitecapped Jackson Lake, in the Tetons, with months-old Celia in tow. This would be another adventure she really didn’t ask for. With our youngest child off early to college for preseason soccer, we had been quasi empty nesters for four days. On day five, I came home with cancer.

The diagnosis, tests, and assortment of specialists gave me the impression that I was gravely ill, soon to be wheeled into surgery, but instead the medical process played out slowly. The photon and proton radiation had to be designed, scheduled, and delivered over months, a period of rest and pain management leading up to surgery. I wrote angsty, Thomas Paine–sounding notes to poor Al, with beseeching statements like Time seems very much of the essence and I’m ready and available.

In the interim, I went to my

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Reviews

What people think about Complications

4.5
34 ratings / 9 Reviews
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Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    Just thank-you, Todd, for sharing your story. I read every word and did not find a single thing to criticize, and I am told I am too critical. Please write more.

  • (5/5)
    Gracious in his ability to share the agony and ecstasy. Economic, really non- indulgent - especially because it so easily could be. God love Todd and Patty...and their kids.
  • (2/5)
    I was very interested in reading this book because we had a lot of issues in common due to illness. His story is interesting but I can’t say inspiring. I think the best way I could say it is he was very annoying. I know he went through terrible trials but the way he wrote about did not inspire me to think of him as anything but a spoiled brat.. maybe it’s his writing style I don’t like or it’s just his personality. Either way it was disappointing.
  • (5/5)
    I love it and my sister adores this reading. So I thought it would be useful for me – and hopefully for you too – to put together a list of some of the best quotes on wealth and money that I have come across.
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  • (5/5)
    Todd is a writer who has solid research skills as he coveys insightful perspective to a subject, a skill demonstrated in his books. To write so objectively about his own situation and covey perspective to the reader is impressive.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Incredibly moving. And smart. And even entertaining, despite being about medical calamities. A wonderful read

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    honest writing. lots of highs and lows shared through his words. inspiring.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I like your book very good and awesome your book
    romantic

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Motivational psychology at its best! His description of the ‘complications’ he endured shows his strength of character, his ability to overcome whatever came his way. It minimizes my aches and pains...any complaints I might have ...

    1 person found this helpful