Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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The Other Side of the Stethoscope: Sunday musings…3/31/19

A physician is no more or less human than any other person.

It’s comical to watch the reactions when a doctor calls in sick for whatever reason. A lovely minority of patients rally to the side of the physician, offering words of caring and affection. Of course that means that the majority of others who share a particular doctor’s professional orbit exhibit some degree of displeasure, at least on first blush. Annoyance at the inconvenience of one fewer hand on deck from the co-workers all the way to personal affront on the part of some patients. It’s an extension, at least in part, of the well-known (to healthcare workers) phenomenon whereby patients and non-provider workers such as insurance operatives and various managerial types feel permissioned to treat medical staff members of all levels as if they were some sort of lesser version of the species.

The stuff people say to a medical receptionist laboring under the added challenge of being short-staffed due to illness would be considered hate speech if directed at the cashier at a 7-Eleven.

With this in mind I’ve been trying to observe and feel every bit of my experience now that I find myself on the other end of the stethoscope. As I’ve gotten older I’ve had all manner of run-ins with the world of medicine as a patient. Most of them have admittedly been pretty short trips over which I’ve been able to exert quite a bit of control as a physician myself. Even my carpal tunnel surgeries in 2003, potentially career-threatening for a micro-surgeon, didn’t really seem like all that big of a deal. Maybe it was my relative youth (43) at the time. I don’t know.

A couple of years ago I had a triple hernia procedure performed by a hot-shot 30-something general surgeon who could have been my time-traveling surgical soul twin. Literally every step of the way was choreographed by the docs and nurses in such a way that I was barely even inconvenienced. I was escorted to a private area pre-op where I was visited by pretty much everyone I knew as if we’d just happened upon each other at a restaurant. Back at work after a long-weekend off. In all honesty the only time I felt like a patient was when I woke up to some incisional pain.

Perhaps that’s why my upcoming hip replacement seems so different. I’m older, and unlike both my carpal tunnel surgeries and hernia repairs, a hip that’s worn out from a lifetime of use can’t be shrugged off as genetic misfortune like you can do with, say, a family history of weak pelvic floors. Nope, for whatever reason this particular medical adventure is the first time I’ve really felt like a regular patient. This is as close as I’ve ever come to being just another person putting on one of those ridiculous gowns that hang open in back.

My age-worn old man’s flat ass looks just like anyone else’s in one of those stupid gowns.

Because I am the only surgeon in my eye group choosing the date of my surgery was a pretty big deal. I’ll be out of the OR for about a month. The date made the best sense for us as a group and I made sure to vet it with my orthopedic surgeon, a personal friend. Our entire year’s schedule for all 4 doctors was now tied to April 8, 2019. My first clue that I was now more or less a regular patient came a couple of weeks ago when the surgeon’s office called to let me know that he’d changed his schedule and would be out of town during the week of my surgery. My first reaction went something like “NO NO NO! It’s GOTTA be THAT day”, among other (non-profane) strong statements about why.

But I’ve done that a ton of times over the course of my career. Changed an OR day or week that is. My friend would never have done that if he’d remembered that he and I had chosen that particular day, and just like me it never occurred to him to check his records to see who might be on the schedule that morning. I can’t ever remember doing that when I’ve made a change in my schedule; why would anyone else do that just because it’s my date? Is there really any difference between the effect of a schedule change for surgery between a doctor and anyone else? Of course not. Such a change, for whatever reason, is hard on a patient and everyone around him who will be affected by his need for care and his hiatus from whatever it is he will not be doing because of the surgery.

But my doc is human, too. He needs a bit of a break and saw a window of opportunity. Trust me, once I got over the shock of the potential upheaval in my own schedule I totally understood what had happened and what was going on. In my case a little bit of creative manipulation of the calendar will make everything turn out as it should. My surgery will go off as planned and my surgeon will jet off to care for his own well-being as he should. My lesson is two-fold. First, I am a patient and as such I won’t control the process. Second, all of the efforts that my colleagues and I have made to improve how being one of my patients feels are more than worth the time and expense we have dedicated to them.

Little stuff is interesting. Although I’m pretty healthy for a middle-aged guy I still had to go to the hospital for Pre-Admission Testing or PAT. Everything could have been handled by mail or on line, with a quick trip to the lab to have some blood drawn. The likelihood that anything would be uncovered that would derail the surgery is really, really small, but one must always remember the two-pronged priority of hospitals in the U.S.: mitigate any risk possible, and maximize the payday. A hospital gets paid for PAT and makes a profit on it. So there I was on a Thursday morning meeting a series of quite lovely people, all of whom could not have been nicer or more efficient. In and out in an hour, much to my surprise and delight.

So where am I now? A week out from surgery with standard issue instructions on how to clean my buttox before reporting to the OR at 0Dark30 and a promise of meeting the PT wizards who will visit my home and shepherd me back to functionality. There are still some questions floating around, but I’m kinda reluctant to call my buddy, or even his staff, to ask. I have this little nagging feeling that a lot of folks probably have similar questions (for example, can I poop before surgery that occurs so close to my pooper?), and I know that because I’m a doctor all I have to do is pick up the phone. Still, it seems like if I did I’d be invoking a kind of privilege that any other patient might not have.

Then again, maybe not. It’s Sunday and I just got off the phone with a patient of mine who’s had a concern for 4 or 5 days. They “hated to bother me at home on Sunday” but knew that there’d be nothing between me and them but a good story told to the answering service. While this kind of thing doesn’t happen to a lawyer, accountant or stockbroker, it does definitely happen in healthcare. No, I won’t be calling my surgeon to ask him my silly questions, and I won’t be calling anyone at all on a Sunday to ask them, either. But I’ll for sure ask someone sometime this week, because that’s what I’d want one of my patients to do, and I want to be a good patient.

As I spend a week being mostly a doctor in preparation for a few weeks as mostly a patient I’d very much like to thank my surgeon, his staff, and the folks at the hospital for making my journey to the other side of the stethoscope a pleasant ride. A thank you as well to all of my patients who have wished me well, and to my own staff for not telling me any stories about those folks who forgot that their eye surgeon is gonna have to be human, too, for a little bit.

I’ll see you next week…

 

 

4 Responses to “The Other Side of the Stethoscope: Sunday musings…3/31/19”

  1. April 2nd, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    Rosco says:

    Good luck with your hip replacement surgery Bingo. Prayers flowing your way.

  2. April 3rd, 2019 at 8:25 am

    Bud says:

    Bingo – Echo Rosco’s comments. Keeping you in thoughts and prayers. Hope all goes according to plan. You have an amazing way of sharing experiences and thoughts. Keep it up.

  3. April 3rd, 2019 at 11:58 am

    drwhite says:

    Hey Bud! Thanks for the kind words. Looks like I’m gonna have plenty of time to write over the next couple of weeks. Hope you are happy and well!

  4. April 3rd, 2019 at 11:58 am

    drwhite says:

    Thanks Brother!

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