Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The sharp end of the knife

As a surgeon, it is a difficult position to be a patient. Perhaps this is why there are so many comments about doctors and nurses being 'bad' patients. We know too much.  Enough to be scared. We know about risks.  After all, we talk about them everytime we consent a patient for surgery. We review complications and deaths with our colleagues in the attempt to improve care for future patients. And perhaps some of us went into medicine in the hopes of cheating death. But, everyone of us is human and subject to illness and death just like every other living being on the planet.

Years ago, I had my first surgery and recently a second, though I am soon to have another more major surgery than either of the previous two. Each time, I have known that there was really no other reasonable choice. The day before my first surgery, I was talking to two colleagues. I commented that, up to that point, I had maintained a 'double standard' about surgery. One of my colleagues, looked stunned. He was Black and thought I was referring to race. I explained that it had nothing to do with race. I tried to treat all patients the best I could, but rather it had to do with the fact that I had done surgery on thousands of patients but no one had ever done surgery on me. I felt scared. I really didn't like the thought of being on "the sharp end of the knife." Or at least, I didn't feel comfortable as a patient, I didn't know how to feel, while I had become quite used to being a surgeon. His expression changed and he said that he certainly could understand that. That surgery went very well. I was home the same day and back to exercising within the week.

My second surgery didn't go as smoothly as anticipated. Hospital stay and pain were both far more than I had anticipated. But it was still necessary and has helped to heal me.

Since my recent hospitalizations, I have seen several of the people who took care of me. All have commented that I seem to be doing well. Again, during the hospitalizations, I had some times that I was scared. While in the emergency room, I was placed in a private room. I'm sure it was done to give me some privacy since I was a staff member. But it was scary for me to be alone. I was in pain and my blood pressure was quite low. I had yet to have any significant treatment. I thought they would just leave me there alone as things got worse. I thought that I might die. I worried about my children, still far too young to be on their own. I called for help, more than I truly needed it, but I didn't want to be alone. I was happy when friends and colleagues came by to visit.

Being a patient, or the family member of a patient, is certainly important for medical professionals. It can teach us a huge amount about how the patient feels and how the family feels. It can teach us how to be more compassionate as caregivers. It can help make our care better for future patients. But, the process is far from enjoyable.

Friday, April 12, 2013

AANS Neurosurgeon – Interview with Dr. Sarah Woodrow

Here is a recent interview I did with Dr. Sarah Woodrow who worked in Ethiopia, helping to train neurosurgeons there.

AANS Neurosurgeon – Interview with Dr. Sarah Woodrow

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A brush with mortality

Seventy one years ago, my grandmother had appendicitis. She was one year older than I now am. Her presentation was not typical, leading to initial misdiagnosis and thus delay in treatment. Her appendix ruptured. She developed peritonitis and died. 

While I never met her, I feel close to her from the stories I heard about her and the photos I have of her. I recall meeting her youngest sister when I was nineteen. She had not seen my grandmother since she left Poland for America in her late teens. My great aunt insisted on calling me by my grandmother's name, which is my middle name, because I looked so much like her, though she said it looked like I had been dunked in bleach since I am a bit fairer than she was. She also commented on similar mannerisms and speech patterns, though I knew little Polish at the time and my grandmother knew no English when she left Poland. Others, too, have commented on the similarity, mistaking a photo of my grandmother and mother for my mother and me. 

Perhaps this connection has led me to trying to learn more about my family's past. So, in a sense, my grandmother has led me to researching and writing histories of relatives who were not able to tell their own stories. And that has lead to this blog.

A few weeks ago, I almost followed my grandmother. I had appendicitis though thought I simply had the flu. Unfortunately, my appendix also ruptured. But, fortunately for me, antibiotics are now available to treat the resultant infection, so now I am home recovering. While I was in the hospital sick with the infection, I thought of my grandmother who died of the same disease. A friend who didn't know my grandmother's story, but who also is exploring her family's past, commented that if I  had this happen to me during WWII, I likely would have died. My grandmother did die during WWII, not in Europe or Siberia, but in Ohio. I thought, too, about the 19 year old sister of one of my teachers, who also died of appendicitis during that time, at a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming.

I am indeed lucky. I have never experienced such hardships as so many others have. Instead, I have lived my life in freedom. And, when I got appendicitis, I was treated with antibiotics and am now recovering. But, I can't forget the sufferings and stories of those who were not so lucky.