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Column: Dr. Frank to the rescue

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Dr. Frank Adiepietro
REPORTER FILE PHOTO Dr. Frank Adipietro

The doctor inserted the needle into my back and soon the pain was gone.

The doctor was Shelter Island’s Frank J. Adipietro. He practices in a wing dedicated as the Frank J. Adipietro, Jr. Interventional Pain Center at the historic Eastern Long Hospital in Greenport — the first voluntary non-profit hospital in Suffolk and now affiliated with Stony Brook University Hospital.

Dr. Adipietro’s Pain Center is a medical treasure on Long Island.

What pain I had suffered! A seven and eight on the one-to-10 pain scale. And it had been going on for weeks, causing me agony, forcing me to use a walker when going from the parking lot to the building where I teach journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury.

Considering the intensity of the pain, my primary care physician, Dr. Allen Fein, and osteopath, Dr. Trang Nguyen, both of Southampton, and the folks at physical therapy, recommended an epidural procedure by Dr. Adipietro.

I had initially injured myself in mid-December carrying firewood from the yard to the front porch. I have problematic (bulging) discs in my spine which pinch on nerves. Things had been getting better after weeks of intense pain, and then, feeling O.K. in February, I re-injured myself shifting files from cabinets into boxes. The bending and twisting in a still not-stabilized state did it.

Weeks later, the pain wasn’t abating and was becoming chronic.

I had the epidural procedure on a Tuesday after a fitful night — it goes without saying that it’s hard to sleep when you feel terrible pain.

Waking up Wednesday morning, putting my legs on the floor — the pain had vanished! Now, a couple of weeks later, things remain good, no more than 1- or 2-level of pain. I can live with that. The hope is that the steroids which were shot into the epidural space surrounding the spine will reduce inflammation and the body will heal itself.

I was very apprehensive about the procedure. The notion of getting a needle inserted in your back is scary. But Dr. Adipietro and his support staff were compassionate in a consultation a week before the procedure. He’s a friendly, warm man. And highly skilled at what he’s been doing for 30 years.

I felt a pinch from the initial shot of an anesthetic. Then I hardly felt the needle that delivered the steroids. Dr. Adipietro was able to see exactly where the needle was going with a fluoroscope, which I also watched sitting on the table in an operating room as the needles went in. The entire injection procedure took less than five minutes.

I’ve had several bouts of back issues through the years. The first was in 1973 in the woods of Vermont. We had bought nine acres of land abutting the Green Mountain National Forest. I planned to build a log cabin from trees on the land. Before you laugh, let me note that although originally from New York City, I was an Eagle Scout and during summers worked on the staff at Ten Mile River Scout Camps.

The night our family arrived on the land, as we tried to sleep in our tents, there was what was later reported to have been a once-in-a-century storm. It caused a brook next to our land to turn into a raging torrent. There was the roar of rocks tumbling down from the hills. The next morning, rocks were all over the road between our land and the brook. A foundation for the log cabin had been delivered, I thought. And I began to carry rocks on to the land.

The following morning, I reached for something at our outdoor table and suddenly was in horrible pain. There was no way out — bridges on the road to the land had been impacted. For a week, I managed to get around with a staff fashioned from a tree branch. Then the Army Corps of Engineers arrived, fixed the bridges and, meanwhile, the pain had happily passed.

This time it was the most severe of any of my several back episodes: I was in an “acute” condition, said the doctors. Thanks to Dr. Adipietro, I’ve gotten out of that now.

My brother, blues guitarist Stefan Grossman, has similar back problems and last year underwent epidural care. He emailed me from his home in the England after I told him about the success of my epidural: “Modern medicine at its best!”

Indeed, it has been a case of extraordinary modern medicine in knowledgeable and highly capable hands. I’ll be getting a second injection next week which hopefully will further help.