Monday, June 24, 2013

Experiencing the Sharp End of the Knife

Years ago, I had my first surgery and recently a second and then a third, 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.

Over the past few months, I have had three more hospitalizations. During the first, I had a bedside procedure, while the last two have had more major surgeries. The most recent was the most major.

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.

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.

Similarly with my most recent surgery, I had far more pain than was expected. I had an epidural placed for pain control. But it didn't work. Medication could be pushed into the catheter with no resistance, but it did not relieve the pain. And then I got a rash over much of my back, which only added to my discomfort. The first few days it seemed my pain was always 10 out of 10. I didn't want to go on. I thought about my kids. I knew that I had to survive for them. Finally, they gave me a PCA pump which helped with the pain, but didn't eliminate it. I was glad that a friend who is a nurse stayed with me through the first night and came to visit several times to help me with things as mundane as bathing. In my pain, these things just didn't seem important, but I know that I felt better each time she helped me.

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.

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