Sunday, July 30, 2006

Eric Gagne's Surgery, Career, Well-being Doubted

A speculative, independent critique of the pre-op surgical plan for Dodgers relief pitcher Eric Gagne appears to cast doubt not only on the outlook for the remainder of the 30-year-old hurler's career, but perhaps even his prospect for his living out a normal, pain-free life. Gagne, the 2003 Cy Young Award winner, currently is recovering from an elective operation to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. The procedure sidelined him for the rest of the season, as expected. But much more is at stake considering puzzling choices associated with the procedure. While Todd Helton, Alex Rodriguez and other players with similar spinal pain have chosen rest, rehabilitation and medication, Gagne has taken a relatively radical course. The choice to operate was based on magnetic resonance images indicating spinal anomalies following Gagne's simple, common discomfort while rising from bed. But such anomalies are typical. MRIs of one in five individuals will show similar indications, while the patient experiences no discomfort or other manifestations. An elderly or infirm patient or one with a history of back discomfort might cause alarm with such pain, but the agitation should be far more ephemeral or transient in the case of a well-conditioned athlete such as Gagne. Dodgers bravado would have fans believe Gagne will be ready to return to play next spring, no problem. Yet the fact remains that the decision to intervene with surgery could have, however remote, repercussions leading to a lifelong medicinal regimen and potential discomfort when attempting ordinary activities such as picking up luggage, driving, bathing or even washing hands, let alone throwing a baseball.