It’s been a trying week for our family. You learn things when your people need healthcare. It’s an entirely different perspective. I am doctor; I’ve been a patient, but this was the first time being “the family.”
Without going into details, (see her guest post), my wife Staci came to need the best that American healthcare has to offer. Let’s say it was a non-preference-sensitive decision to proceed with a major surgery.
As I write this, things are stable and well here at home.
Here are some observations of the experience:
People in the business of delivering healthcare are good people. Early on in the course, before it was known we were doctors, people treated us with compassion and kindness. Simply put, our caregivers delivered care. After it was known we were doctors, the experience changed—that may not be right, but it is fact.
Although there was a true need for surgery, the surgical approach was preference sensitive. In this case, there were multiple surgeons available, including the doctor on call, a specialist in group A, and a specialist in group B. These were not insignificant choices because the three surgeons approached the fix in three different ways. This is tricky; how one chooses in these situations highlights one of medicine’s great challenges: picking the best doctor for you. Dr. Kevin Pho recently wrote about the thorny topic of rating doctors in the USA Today.
Here I am an experienced doctor who has worked in the same medical community for 18 years, and I truly didn’t know. Ultimately, we relied on another doctor, one who was in the field, to sort it out for us. She was careful with her words; no, she didn’t speak down about any colleague, but her preference was clear.
Now that the surgery is over, and successful, it’s clear we made the right choice. Our surgeon was reserved but confident, clear of words, respectful and he performed skillfully. An aide came in the night before surgery and told us that our chosen man would be her third choice. We stayed with our pick. Now that I have had time to digest the experience, read more about the surgeries, and talk with our surgeon, it’s clear why an aide might have thought our surgeon was the third best option.
Another observation comes from the anesthesia experience. Our anesthesiologist texted me before the surgery and asked if he could do the case. We had worked together before and I think highly of him, as both a person and doctor. Assessing things after, what most stood about his care was not his skillful delivery of anesthesia, but his compassion, delivered through words and deeds while doing his “job.” Remembering how he talked, and cared, brought tears to the eyes of his patient. “It matters,” was what Staci said about the way we treat people.
Yet another new perspective came from the experience of waiting in the OR waiting room. When they take your one soul mate away and you get to go sit in a chair in a big room, thoughts pop to mind. Big thoughts. (I could say existential, but I won’t.) Life flashes before you. As in: what was, and, what might be in one hour. Then a text message came: “the intubation went smoothly, incision made, everything is stable.” Those words were huge. A pressure was relieved. Then another text: “getting ready to close; still stable. See you in 15-20 minutes.” Again, tension was relieved.
The thing I learned about being a family in the waiting room is that although everything is “normal” for us as caregivers, it’s not so for the families. I’m going to work on doing better at communicating to families out there waiting for their loved ones. EP studies can be long.
A few other little things: Loud voices out in the hallway of hospital wards are really disruptive. The speed with which transporters whip beds around matters. Patients who are in pain or overcome with nausea are especially sensitive to
car bed sickness. Speaking of transporters, conversation is one thing, but noting that what he sees most of in our emergency room is people with blood clots, is s a little spooky when one has a surgical disease.
I don’t wish illness on any caregiver’s loved one. But when it happens you learn a lot. #perspective.