My name is John Bennett and I have lived my entire life in Anniston, AL. I believe Dr. Steven Nichols saved my life on November 6, 2018.
I have been physically active since my 30’s, consistently working out and running 4 days per week. My entire life, I’ve been healthy with no health issues.
All of that changed in October of 2018. Out of nowhere, I started experiencing back pain. The pain quickly increased from moderate to severe. The pain became so intense and completely controlled my life. I spent the majority of the next three weeks laying in the floor anguishing in pain. Working out and running – activities that had had been doing for decades – became distant memories.
During this 3-week period, I proactively did everything I could to get better. I saw well-qualified doctors in the Anniston area and made one visit to the ER due to the intensity of the pain. They all did thorough evaluations, x-rays, ordered an MRI and administered steroid shots in hopes of alleviating the pain. The MRI, which was conducted in Anniston, showed no abnormalities and none of the doctors were able to explain the intense pain.
During the third week of my life-changing ordeal, I started experiencing some swelling in the center of my back, along with a fever. On Thursday, November 1, I had a follow-up appointment with my local Anniston doctor. He was still unable to diagnose my condition and my pain was continuing to get worse.
My doctor realized this could be a serious situation and said he wanted to refer me to Dr. Steven Nichols at Andrews Sports Medicine in Birmingham. His office staff helped set up an appointment with Dr. Nichols for the following Tuesday, November 6.
Tuesday, November 6, 2018. I will never forget that day for the rest of my life. My wife and I got up early that morning and drove to Andrews Sports Medicine in Birmingham. At 9:35 AM, Dr. Nichols’ staff called me back to the exam room. His staff could see the anguish and intense pain in my face. Dr. Nichols quickly came into the room. He had reviewed the previous doctors’ notes and the MRI imaging that I brought with me from Anniston. Dr. Nichols asked me a variety of questions and conducted a physical exam.
Dr. Nichols suggested that I get an MRI with contrast that very day. His staff called the St. Vincent’s MRI Center, on the same St. Vincent’s Birmingham campus, and they scheduled an MRI with contrast. The MRI staff was great – they propped up my shoulders and lower body so I wasn’t in so much pain while in the MRI. Following my MRI, I went back to the Andrews Sports Medicine waiting room. Unfortunately, I was in so much pain that I laid down, yes laid down, on the couch in the main waiting room anguishing in pain.
Soon after, Dr. Nichols received the MRI results and directed us to come back to his office as soon as possible. My wife and I were directed back into one of Dr. Nichols exam rooms. Dr. Nichols came back into the room and told us that on the MRI with contrast that “my back was lit up with a very large abscess infection on both sides of my spine.”
Dr. Nichols went on to state that I had the largest abscess that he had ever seen and that it was the size of a small football.
He then went on to state that he needed to perform emergency surgery as soon as possible. He said we needed to work very quickly because if the infection got into my nervous system that I could die. At that point, his staff hurriedly called pre-surgery admission testing and asked that they work me through testing process as quickly as possible.
Later that afternoon, I was cleared for surgery and Dr. Nichols performed emergency surgery at the St. Vincent’s OrthoSports Center. After surgery, I was admitted to St. Vincent’s Birmingham. Dr. Nichols visited my hospital room and informed me that he had successfully removed the entire abscess infection. The intense pain I had been experiencing from the infection was completely gone, but I had some minor discomfort from the surgery.
Because of the seriousness of the abscess infection, I stayed in the hospital for 5 days. My entire experience during my stay at St. Vincent’s Birmingham was first class – from the nurses, support staff, to the food.
I’m now 3+ months post-surgery and I am continuing to recover to my normal self. Due to the nature of my infection, the recovery process has been very slow. Unlike many surgeries, Dr. Nichols elected to leave the incision from where the abscess infection was removed, open so the “wound could heal from within.” I have had to wear a wound VAC and dressing to keep the wound dry and healing properly. I have had six follow-up appointments with Dr. Nichols and will continue to see him until the open incision is completely healed and Dr. Nichols releases me from his care.
To this day, the cause of my abscess infection is a complete medical mystery to everyone, including Dr. Nichols and my Anniston doctors.
I am so thankful to Dr. Nichols, his staff and my caregivers in Anniston for helping leading me down the journey that helped saved my life. In addition, thank you to all the St. Vincent’s Birmingham staff – from the MRI department, pre-admission, surgical staff, nurses, cooks – who made my stay first class.