There is no mistaking the energy and exuberance of Carl Schuch, owner of Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Rancho Mirage, California. At 70 years old, his stamina is remarkable and his enthusiasm infectious. Originally from Pennsylvania, Carl moved to the Valley in 1990 after 18 years in Chino. Carl was retired when he bought Mario’s Restaurant from his cousin Mario several years ago. But he and his wife work long hours to maintain the success of their business, thoroughly enjoying their customers and the restaurant they run together.
Three years ago, Carl’s life changed with the onset of severe, debilitating pain. Thus began a journey to find the source of his pain, which, after being wrongly diagnosed multiple times, led him to Shahin Etebar, MD, a neurosurgeon at the Desert Spine & Neurosurgical Institute in Rancho Mirage.
This is Carl Schuch’s story.
For my entire life, I had never even had a headache and I took no medication of any kind. But three years ago, I began to develop a lot of pain in my shoulder and arm. It continued to get worse and occasionally, my arm would go numb. I decided to see a cardiologist but he said there was nothing wrong with my heart. From there, I went from doctor to doctor trying to find out what was causing the terrible pain. The doctors said I had bone rubbing on bone and that I had bursitis. They told me that cortisone would make the pain go away.
Fortunately, I didn’t believe them. I knew that something else was causing my pain and I wanted someone to figure out what it was. The pain had gotten so bad that I had slept no more than two hours a night for over six months.
One day I ran into a friend of mine, a physical therapist, and she said, “You look terrible, Carl.” I told her about my pain and how I couldn’t sleep at night and how the doctors had all come up with a different diagnosis, and after two MRIs, including one on my back, the doctors said they couldn’t find anything wrong with me.
My friend listened and said, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your arm. I think it’s your spine.” She then told me about a spine specialist named Dr. Etebar and told me to call him as soon as possible.
So, I called Dr. Etebar’s office and spoke with a staff member who asked me this -- “On a scale from one to ten, how bad is your pain?” I said, “About a 25.” She told me to come in right away and I was shocked that I could get in so quickly. Dr. Etebar sent me to get an MRI, asking me to return with the film when I was done. I wasn’t finished until almost 6 p.m. which worried me because I couldn’t imagine that a doctor would still be in his office at 6 p.m. on a Friday night.
I called Dr. Etebar’s office and they told me they were waiting for me. My wife and I went to the office and Dr. Etebar read the film, telling me, “Just as I thought. You have a major problem. You’re going to be paralyzed in a few months.”
That was enough to scare the hell out of me. Dr. Etebar said, “I can fix it, but you need to be operated on immediately.” He showed us the film, what the problem was and where it was located. The film showed a tumor wrapped around my spinal cord and as it was growing larger, the spinal canal was growing tighter, and that was the source of my incredible pain.
Dr. Etebar’s office scheduled me for a stress test for the following Tuesday. The next day, Saturday, I drove to UCLA to get a second opinion. The spine specialist at UCLA looked at my film and told me that I had been properly diagnosed and that I needed surgery immediately. He asked me who I was seeing and I told him about Dr. Etebar. Familiar with Dr. Etebar’s work, he said, “He’s the right doctor.”
On Tuesday, after passing my stress test, I was scheduled for surgery on Friday morning. Dr. Etebar assured me that after I had the surgery, I would be pain free. In addition to removing the tumor, Dr. Etebar fused the vertebrae at C6 and C7 and put in titanium bars and screws.
Dr. Etebar had told me that I might have a headache when I woke up from surgery but I felt great. I took some pain medication in the hospital and a about a pill and half when I returned home. Since then I haven’t had to take anything. There’s no pain and I sleep like a baby.
Dr. Etebar is amazing. If he can’t figure out what’s going on with your back, nobody will. All the doctors at the Desert Spine and Neurosurgical Institute are great. Dr. Shen also worked on me. They really know what they’re doing and they’re at the top of their game, that’s for sure. The people in the office are amazing too. They follow up on everything and never leave you hanging. That’s why I recommend them to everybody.
One of the more important things I learned is something that Dr. Etebar confirmed. If you don’t believe that your doctor knows what your problem is, don’t give up. Keep searching for the right diagnosis. Listen to your body and keep asking questions until you find the right answer.
I have a great story about Mario’s uncle who arrived from New York in pain and using a cane. He’d been told he needed a hip replacement. I sent him to Dr. Etebar who diagnosed a problem in his back. Dr. Etebar performed a minor surgery on his back and he was able to walk back on the plane to New York without using a cane or anything. He’s over 80 years old and calls me every week to ask if I’ve seen Dr. Etebar and to tell him hello.
You know, after my surgery, I was kind of bad in the hospital -- bad in a good way. My second day in the Intensive Care Unit, I ordered food for my wife to bring in for me and all the nurses. By the third day I had wandered down to the lobby. Dr. Etebar caught me and was rather upset. He asked me what I was doing because I was supposed to be in bed. I told him I felt great and he said, “Okay, Carl, we’ll let you go home.”
I will be forever grateful to Dr. Etebar, his colleagues and their office staff. They saved my life.