Bruce, 49 “On the Beat”

Share this video
ContributorBruce, 49Read Full Bio


Bruce, 49, has worked with the L.A.P.D for 26 years. He is married with three children. He began to feel neck pain roughly 20 years ago while working in the Gang Unit. His job involved intense physical activity as well as having to carry a heavy gun belt. Bruce had occasional pain relief after going physical therapy and taking a lot of anti-inflammatories. Whenever he exacerbated his pinched nerve, he could bedridden for days. He never knew when and how he might hurt himself again which affected him mentally. Around 2013, after seeing two doctors and having countless uncomfortable diagnostic tests, he elected to have surgery.

  • The Journey
  • The Stories
ContributorDr. Robert G. Watkins IV, MD, Orthopedic SurgeonRead Full Bio


Robert Watkins IV, M.D., is co-director of Marina Spine Center and Chairman of the Surgery Department at Marina Del Rey Hospital. Dr. Watkins is a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon, specializing in minimally invasive spine surgery, computer-assisted surgery, spinal-deformity treatment, and disc replacement. Dr. Watkins earned his medical degree at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the L.A. County/USC General Hospital. He then worked as a traveling fellow in Europe, specializing in artificial-disc replacement and scoliosis surgery. Over the past decade, he has lectured on spine issues to doctors, patient groups, athletic trainers, and physical therapists; led research teams that have published studies; and taught surgeons on specialized techniques. He is the spine consultant to many Los Angeles sports teams, and has treated professional, college, and high school athletes from all over the country.

  • Video Description

  • Video Transcript

Bruce, 49, has worked with the L.A.P.D for 26 years. He is married with three children. He began to feel neck pain roughly 20 years ago while working in the Gang Unit. His job involved intense physical activity as well as having to carry a heavy gun belt. Bruce had occasional pain relief after going physical therapy and taking a lot of anti-inflammatories. Whenever he exacerbated his pinched nerve, he could bedridden for days. He never knew when and how he might hurt himself again which affected him mentally. Around 2013, after seeing two doctors and having countless uncomfortable diagnostic tests, he elected to have surgery.

My name is Bruce. I’m 49 years of age. I’m married with three kids. And I’m a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. I’ve been a police officer now for 26 years next month. I’ve worked pretty much every assignment one could think of with the police department. I worked gang units, special problem unit, I work for the… I’m now assigned to the detectives working at major crimes.I guess my back pain started really affecting me more so was around 1997, ’98.

I started working in the gang unit, had a lot of, what we call, uses of forceful where we had to apprehend suspects who didn’t want to go to jail. You had to kinda wrestle with them to put the handcuffs on. It started around that time. It-it progressively gotten worse over the next two or three years. And going into 2000, I started physical therapy. That went on for maybe a year, two years or so. You know, they taught me exercises I could do that kinda helped me alleviate the-the pain. And a lot of medication. I’ve been taking anti-inflammatory’s probably now for the last 15, 16 years or so. That was a big issue, because you start having other affects. Kidneys, liver, and so forth. I tried not to use it as much, but lot of times I didn’t… I didn’t have a choice.

Around 2010, again, I started having more problems with my back. One of the issues we have as police officers, you’re wearing a gun belt that weighs anywhere from 20 pounds to 24, 25 pounds. I always carry extra ammo, so my gun belt is a little heavier than most people, because of the job I was working. So, my belt was pretty heavy. And over the years, pretty much 20 of those years I was in uniform, and that starts taking a toll. Getting in and out of the car became another job for me, just to get out the car. And a lot of times, I… if I move a certain way, I mean, my leg will just go out, but as soon as I stood up, I was okay.

And nine times out of 10, as long as I was standing and walking, it was mainly sitting and standing, squatting. There had been times when I was on perimeters, and would hide behind cars, and we’ve got an active shooter, whatever the case may be, and you-you crouch down for a couple hours, or you’re pinned down, and I’ve been there, so it just, over the years, doing this for 26 years now, it’s starting to take a toll. There were incidents where, you know, I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do, because of the back pain. Like I said, I have an eight-year-old and six-year-old. I was already having chronic back pain, and I can remember one incident where my son was on the end of the bed, and I to jump, ‘cause I thought he was gonna fall off the bed. I had to jump to grab him. And I was on my back for, like, three days after that, because whatever I did, that nerve got pinched, and-and I couldn’t walk for almost three days.

What was funny about it, because it’s a pinched nerve, I could be fine for a month, and I could just turn my leg a certain way, and I’m on the ground or I’m falling to my knees. And-And just like, wow. And the pain is unbearable when that nerve gets caught right at that-that little pinch area. It had a profound effect on my personal life. Things I-I would like to do, I wouldn’t do. I like to ski, bike ride, I could do it, but it was minimal.

I’ve always had to be real careful that I don’t aggravate it somehow. It’s one of things that you don’t know when it’s gonna happen. If you’re gonna be at work, at home, chasing after somebody, it’s one of those things where it’s always in the back of your mind. Think I had maybe eight, nine years on the job when I first started having the chronic pain, so we go back to the 90s, actually 17 years or so. I dealt with it. I guess a lot of the issues were that there were so many unknown factors about having back surgery, ‘cause I worked with several guys that had to take a medical pension, because they had back injuries like mine.

You had to take a pension, or they shoved you in the corner somewhere until you retired. And I was having too much fun doing police work that I just wasn’t gonna risk it. So I took my job, doing what I enjoyed doing, over getting the surgery and-and feeling better. But as time went by, uh, the techniques changed, and I start hearing that, doing a little more research, and that led me to where I’m at now. So right around 2013 or so, I started [seeing a?] doctor, and about that time was when it got to a point it was unbearable, and surgery was needed.

I think I had maybe two or three MRIs, I had nerve conductor tests done. The MRIs were, to me… I mean, I’m not a criminal, I’ve never been in jail, but I could just imagine what it’d feel like being inside a cage, ‘cause you’re in this little tube, and you can’t move, and-and you have to sit there for 30, 40 minutes, sometimes longer, sometimes it’s shorter. It was kinda nerve wrecking. The nerve conducting test that I had was so painful, all I could think of was I couldn’t be a spy, because they asked me the questions, it was like, “Okay, we’re gonna pinch you.” [LAUGH] I’ll tell it all. It was painful.

So, after that, when the conclusion came back that it was what it was, I had to have the surgery. I’m not the type of person that wants to have surgery, and for me to have surgery, it took a lot. My wife kept saying, “What you gonna do? Just go over there and have the surgery.” And I was fighting it. It was one of those things where you can keep living with this chronic pain, or we can try and relieve some of it. And I had the surgery, it was probably the best thing I ever did. The day of my surgery, I was pretty nervous, ‘cause, you know, everybody have heard some type of story about you don’t wanna get back surgery. Like, the worst surgery in the world.

The day of surgery, I was pretty nervous. I went in early that morning, and I could say by that afternoon I walked out of the hospital. I had my surgery. When I came to, my wife was there, and I didn’t feel any pain, and they let me see the little incision I had, which was maybe half an inch incision. And I had a cup of water, and I was ready to go. [LAUGH] The complete recovery from start to finish probably was six or seven months, probably longer than normal, I don’t know, but I have a more of a demanding job, a more physical job at times.

Post-surgery, just take it easy. I mean, act like you on vacation. You know, you don’t have to be nowhere, don’t rush to go nowhere. Just get your rest, R and R. Rest and relaxation. And that’s what I did probably for the first two, two and a half weeks. Just took it easy. One of things was I had to take the kids to school, so I really was enjoying that. [LAUGH] My house, I have two flights of stairs, so I had to take my time going up the stairs. And there was one time I think I may have aggravated a little bit trying to do too much, it gave me a setback. And one of the things you have to remember about having this particular procedure is that you have to take it easy, because everything around your joint is swollen.

I don’t go to work, sit behind a desk, so if you have a job like that, you probably could be back to work in a few weeks, a month or two, providing you don’t aggravate your injuries. I know I look good at 49, but my body is… I’m 49-years-old, I’ll be 50 this year, and-and I feel it. I’ve had maybe five or six different surgeries throughout my lifetime since I’ve been on the job. And with those surgeries, they-they take their toll on you. Physical therapy went on for six months or so. I haven’t done it in a couple weeks, but I’m waiting on another prescription for more physical therapy.

And physical therapy for me now at this point is just trying to strengthen the core muscles around the area, and keep doing the exercise that-that they’re telling me I need to do. It’s demanding. Going there is not like a little picnic, you think you gonna go there and relax. When I come out of there, I’m sore, I’m hurting, but you know, after that go away, I feel a lot better. You gotta go in, you gotta give 100 percent, because if you don’t you-you’re not gonna feel better. I can remember at the beginning, I was still in a lot of pain, so, you know, I was trying to take it easy. And they would tell me, “Oh, you need to do this,” and I would half-ass do the job, per say. And after about maybe a week of that, I was like “I gotta do it.

“You just gotta fight through the pain.” And it wasn’t really-really painful, but it-it’s kinda uncomfortable. Maybe that’s a better word. Uncomfortable, not so much as pain. ‘Cause they-they don’t want you to be in pain. But they want you to be a little bit uncomfortable. I-It’s all about strengthening those muscles that you haven’t used, or don’t use. And once you get through the-the initial couple of weeks, I enjoy going to physical therapy now. One of the issues that I think a lot of people don’t think about is your loved ones around you. My situation with my wife, she was my caregiver for-for some time now, even prior to having surgery when my back would go out, you know, she was, “Go take a pain pill.”

And I’m the one that don’t like to take a lot of medication, and I will always fight it. Sometimes it creates a little animosity between us, because I’m complaining about my back pain, and she thinks all I need to do is go take a pain pill to make it all feel better. And that’s not always the case, ‘cause sometimes you take that pain pill and you don’t feel better. Or after the surgery, I-I needed her, I needed my kids, because, for me, making this decision was life-altering. I mean, I could’ve went under there, and it-it could’ve been just the opposite. Could’ve came out of there, could’ve been a lot worse. And they tell you that prior to having your surgery that it’s not 100 percent guaranteed.

I’ve had maybe two flare-ups in the past year. That’s because I was overexerting myself, trying to do more than my body will allow. A lot of times, I’m trying to do things that I probably would did at 30, 35, and I’m 49. Body tells you, “Slow down. [LAUGH] You’re not 30 no more.” Other than that, haven’t had any other little issues. With-with my line of work, they do give you medical pension when you have these type of injuries. Medical pension for me was out of the question. I have young kids, and it’s not conducive to my lifestyle or what I wanna do. And that was part of the reason for having the surgery. It’ll do something that will keep me working. If you couldn’t return back to work within a year, they will pension you off. So, that’s a big deal for law enforcement. With my time on the job, this is not a big issue, but for somebody, a rookie, or five years, 10 years on the job, and you injure your back, and it happens all the time, you can find yourself getting a medical pension, and stuck making 30, 40,000 dollars for the rest of your life.

Follow your doctor’s orders. Doctors tell you what you need to do, and-and if you follow the orders, you’ll be okay. To be honest with you, after the first week, I felt like I can do all those things. You really do. But you just can’t do it. And I think a lot of people reinjure themselves because you’re actually feeling that good. I could run. I could run up these stairs, but it’s a no-no. Don’t do it.

One of the things I did before this procedure, is did my own little homework on the doctors who’s performing these types of surgeries. When I finally went and saw my doctor, uh, I was comfortable with him. You know, he came in, he made me feel like he cared. He wasn’t one of these doctors come in, look at you, and wouldn’t have a real conversation with you. He found out what was bothering me, and we did a lot of little different physical activities in the room, so he could see what my limitations were. So, you gotta be comfortable with whoever you’re gonna use, and when I did have my surgery, I was confident that he could do the job.

I thought I’d be a year, year and a half, dealing with trying to get this thing right. Well, you take nine, 10 months, and then you look at 17 years, I did the math [LAUGH], so it took me 17 years to deal with this pain, and, come on. Nine months of just having surgery, and now I’m-I’m feeling 100 percent better, and wishing I did it a long time ago, wishing they had this procedure a long time ago, wish they did it back in the 90s and early 2000s. At least I didn’t know about it. No regrets, feeling good, can conquer the world now. [LAUGH]

More Related Videos


HIPAA disclaimer:

Remember that your posts are public. Please do not include information in the text of your comment that personally identifies you, such as your your location, financial information, or other private information.

Other disclaimers:

PatientTalk reserves the right to delete comments that are vulgar, offensive or abusive, or which incite violence or contain fraudulent info, spam, porn, personal attacks or graphic images. Individual comments and responses do not necessarily reflect the views of PatientTalk.