Some lessons I’ve learned on and off the operating table
Any way you look at it, modern surgical technology is astonishingly complex and almost magical. In the last three years alone, I have had body parts, replaced, repaired and removed.
For a man who cringes at the thought of getting a flu shot, this is a very big deal.
Simply put, I’ve allowed four complete strangers to take my life into their own hands (literally) and manipulate, rearrange and even create new, fully functioning replacements for worn out or infected pieces of me.
How cool is that?
Even more remarkable, I think, is the fact that my mastectomy, double hernia, skin cancer surgery (and soon-to-be knee replacement) can all be over and done with in the blink of a magical eye, by folks in blue jumpsuits who promise to get me home before half the day has passed.
Those of us with cancer know a lot about doctors, nurses and hospitals. We become informed and aware of the methods and procedures in our own cancer world because we have to.
When I was first diagnosed with male breast cancer I was numb. And because of that, I was quiet. I knew nothing about cancer, or breasts or surgical options. I was like a deer in the headlights, looking not only alarmed, but searching for someone to trust who could tell me that they knew exactly what I needed.
It never occurred to me ask about which surgeons were available, or what options I had. I never asked what would happen if my lymph nodes were involved or how many would be taken out.
All I had at the time was “a very good feeling” about the woman who was to open my chest and remove my breast. I only knew what the nurses and hospital staff had to say about her. There wasn’t time for anything more. Besides, I was too blinded by those headlights.
Now, with another major surgery lined up for me in October, I have a new perspective to guide me. I have lots of questions and have interviewed dozens of men and women with new knees. I have the Internet to advise me and in many cases, to dredge up a whole list of new questions.
What I have learned in these three years off and on the operating table, is that “having a good feeling” about our surgeon is indeed an important prerequisite to a positive outcome. If they have multiple surgeries scheduled on the day I’m being operated on, I ask them if they prefer morning or afternoon appointments. I believe that it’s not so important what works for me, but what works best for them. When is their peak performance time? I’m not much of a morning person. But maybe my surgeon is.
Do they work best on Mondays or Fridays? There are subtle ways to ask these questions, and in my view, these are all legitimate queries.
Intuition can be a powerful tool, and if nothing else, it’s a great tranquilizer for people like me who don’t do well in hospital settings.
I now take my list of questions along with me when visiting a potential surgeon and make sure that all are answered. I also make it a point to talk to others who have had experiences with the physician I’ve chosen.
But ultimately, it’s that “gut feeling” that lets me know how this procedure is going to go. Once they have my complete trust, my work is over. And that’s when they can perform their magic.