Dr. Daniel Snyder seemed genuinely sorry for what happened in the course of my hip resurfacing surgery May 5, 2010, at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Newton, Mass.

That makes two of us.

I sought surgery to fix an arthritic right hip which made me limp and seemed to aggravate an otherwise unrelated back problem. I had been an avid long-distance runner before all that, and I remained in athletic shape (and 45 years old) at the time of my surgery. I had hoped someday to return to cycling, hiking and cross-country skiing.

I awoke from surgery unable to feel or move my lower right leg. My leg was swollen and bruised, and an MRI was ordered up within hours.

Ultimately, Dr. Snyder and various neurologists and neurosurgeons concluded that Snyder must have injured my sciatic nerve near the site of the operation, most likely while retracting the flesh to get at the bone. Dr. Snyder acknowledged that it had been hard; he said he’d been obliged to use a great deal of force.

It was a tough break, everyone agreed, but apparently permanent nerve damage is a "known hazard" of hip resurfacing surgery, and some of the best malpractice lawyers in Boston have assured me it wasn’t sufficiently grave or negligent to warrant a lawsuit. Dr. Snyder claims it had never happened to any other of his patients, just me.

I wound up staying several extra nights in the hospital. Several of the muscles in my upper right leg were no longer working, and I had no muscle function or sensation below the knee. Nerve injuries are not only debilitating, but they can be extremely and unrelentingly painful. I could hardly walk, and couldn’t sit at all. I couldn’t drive, which is just as well, since I needed heavy medication.

A neurosurgeon opined that the nerve would probably heal on its own, but he offered to cut me open and have a look. I declined. After six months of daily physical therapy (and several months out of work), with tests showing no discernible improvement in nerve function, I reluctantly opted for nerve repair surgery with a doctor in Philadelphia in November 2010.

That seems to have gone well. My hamstrings and gluts have started to come back to life, and the nerve pain has diminished. I still require daily pain medication, but I’m off the narcotics. I can sit long enough to drive around town, though not long enough to take in a movie. I still can’t stand on my right leg without support, and I walk with a leg brace and cane. My hip still hurts, and I still walk with a limp. My lower leg has atrophied. I can’t move or feel my floppy right foot, and the neurosurgeons tell me it’s unlikely that it will ever fully recover. I hope to surprise them, but only time will tell.

Dr. Snyder wished me all the best, and said there is nothing more he could for me. I’m sure that’s true, medically speaking.

We so often hear about the evils of malpractice suits, and I would agree that there is at least as much room for improvement in our legal system as in the health care and insurance industries. I’d suggest, for instance, that along with caps on total damage awards(how much is any one life really worth, after all?), doctors be required to carry no-fault accident insurance, to cover more of their mistakes. With any other product or service, I’d at least get my money back.

Andrew

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