Spinks preparing for surgery, long rehab

One good thing that will come out of Robert Spinks' upcoming surgery has been hanging on his bedroom wall for the past week, a 32-inch flat screen television.

"I received an early Christmas present. I've already been watching it for the past two days,"

Sequim's police chief and interim city manager said Nov. 26.

But the electronic extravagance will provide a necessary distraction during the next eight weeks as he recovers from major surgery followed by physical therapy just so he can walk properly again.

Spinks is scheduled to have surgery Dec. 3 at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle for an acoustic neuroma, a noncancerous but potentially life-threatening tumor in the auditory canal leading from his left ear to his brain.

Removing the tumor will require removing the auditory nerve, leaving him deaf in his left ear and destroying his sense of balance.

Surgeons will use the "translabyrinthine approach," which involves removing bone behind the ear and some bone of the inner ear to access the tumor.

The surgical technique also involves harvesting fat from the abdomen to replace the bone and prevent leakage of cerebral spinal fluid, which nourishes and cushions the brain and spinal cord.

"No, I will not allow people to call me "fat head" after the operation!" Spinks quipped.

The other two approaches - "middle fossa" and "suboccipital" - were deemed to pose too great a risk because of the tumor's location and size.

The chosen approach also reduces the possibility of damage to his facial nerve, reduces stroke risk "and my brain doesn't have to be retracted, pushed aside or otherwise banged about by hard metal or sharp metal instruments," Spinks said.

The surgery will mean lying for eight hours on the operating table being worked on by two surgeons.

"Once I'm over that hurdle, there will be excruciating vertigo for five days. I'm really not looking forward to that," Spinks said.

After the surgery, he will spend a day in the intensive care unit followed by four more days in the hospital but he won't be sitting around.

"They've already said I'll have one day in the ICU and then anticipate physical therapy, walking, and it's not going to be fun," Spinks said.

He is going to want to lie still but he's been told that the longer he does that, the longer it will take to recover, Spinks said.

"I'm probably going to lose weight from this because I'll be throwing up all the time, too," he said.

He will receive drugs for the vertigo and the nausea as well as physical therapy to regain his sense of balance. The physical therapy will continue for up to eight weeks after he returns home to recuperate. He will be walking up and down the street past his house, probably looking like he's drunk, until his balance returns, Spinks said.

During a good portion of his recovery, he's going to be "very bored" because he has to just let his body heal, which is why his wife bought the television, Spinks said.

He will have a large head bandage following the surgery but, once that is removed, there shouldn't be any visible scars.

"You probably shouldn't notice by the time I get back to work. There will be no differences in my appearance," Spinks said.

This surgery has been the 50-year-old Spinks' first serious health challenge since having his tonsils removed as a 5-year-old.

"I've been battered and

bruised and sprained but not broken, nothing a visit to the chiropractor couldn't fix," he said.

Since sharing the news of his upcoming surgery, he has received numerous cards and letters from people who have undergone the same operation including one that was left on his front porch, Spinks said.

"I was surprised at the heartfelt way people have responded. A number of people have gone out of their way to thank me for my service to the city.

"My faith in my fellow man and living in a small town has been restored. I want to tell people thank you," he said.

Spinks said he regarded the symptoms of the tumor as just an irritant until he learned what really was happening.

"That illustrates the often-heard warning not to let little things go and to check and prod your health care provider about anything that could be amiss. My sinuses and allergies masked my symptoms for the past three years," he said.

A series of step-by-step graphics on acoustic neuroma surgery are available at

Details on the three different techniques for the surgery are available at


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 20
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates