Learning from Illness (10) Picking a Surgeon

How do you go about picking someone suitable for poking around in your innards? Well, ideally, they should have a medical degree and some training in surgery, and if they have a well-publicized mistake in their history, well, that’s just a bonus.

No, mistakes aren’t a necessary part of a surgeon’s CV, but they are as good an indicator as any that you have the right man (and it’s usually a man) or woman. My own surgeon had the misfortune to have had a well-publicized case in his past where he had made a mistake which wasn’t his fault, and that sort of thing a person wouldn’t want to repeat. So that made him as good a choice as anyone else.

I looked at the record of the case and particularly his responses to the incident. He wasn’t (as might be the case were he a politician) blaming someone else and excusing himself. He had owned up to the mistake (though it wasn’t his mistake) and he had what seemed to be deep regret about it. That’s the kind of person I wanted – someone who realized the enormous responsibility of what what he was doing, and took that responsibility seriously.

You are completely in the dark regarding this of course. There is no criteria you could use for choosing a surgeon any more than there is for choosing a banana. They all look pretty much the same. In my case, it came down to who was available and who was doing a list in the near future.

More importantly, after going through the charade of attending him for the private consultation for the operation my VHI wasn’t going to fund because it would have to take place in a private hospital (where I would have to stay at least one night), I was now going to have day surgery in the public hospital.

Now, perhaps unusually, I felt good about this. While I am as anxious as the next person that I get my ‘fair share’ of whatever goodies the government literally ‘doles’ out, I also like to think that in some areas – especially health, common sense will prevail over stupidity and people won’t necessarily be hospitalised when there is no reason to do so.

There was no reason why I should spend time in hospital – taking up a bed that might be badly needed by someone else – and so I was happy to be a day patient. I also hate hospitals – with their bitter memories of lost loved ones and institutional food.

So the situation was working for me – I could have my operation and still be home that evening with my feet up on the couch enjoying the comforts of home. And there would be no need to be hanging around in hospital with all that implies.

We left home early in the morning and I got dropped at the door of the hospital while my partner then took the kids to school. I found the day ward and they equipped me with a hospital gown and a bed. Since it was early in the morning, I lay down and decided to snooze, but that wasn’t going to last.

One by one, everyone involved in medical care in the hospital came up to me every few minutes and asked me three questions: my name, my date of birth and whether or not I was allergic to anything. Now, given that my surgeon had been given the wrong patient which led to the afore-mentioned unpleasantness, I didn’t mind that they checked over and over again that they had the right person. And they didn’t mind either and kept asking.

I believe in the concept of medicine. I believe in scientific answers to problems, and that means research. I suppose I also believe that all of us have a responsibility to aid research whenever we can, so when a doctor asked me if I’d like to participate in a research project, I agreed wholeheartedly.

I suppose it’s no surprise that he wanted to know my name, date-of-birth and allergies, but for the purposes of his research, he needed to ask me a hundred different ways if he could take a small sample of blood and tissue during the operation. I assured him that it would be fine and he asked me again if my name was what it was and when I had been born. And on it went.

Eventually, I was given a sedative and wheeled up to the theatre. I was waiting outside the theatre for a few minutes and then as the various doctors assembled, the ones who would be operating on me came over to say ‘hi’. Well, to say ‘hi’ and to ask me if I was indeed the person referred to on my wristband, if I knew my birth date and was I allergic to anything.

Finally, a doctor whom I guessed to be the anaesthetist came around and asked me how I was doing. He said I looked worried, which I wasn’t particularly, and that he would give me something to relax me.

If you’ve ever had this experience, you know more than most doctors, sociologists, parents or teachers why people take drugs. He injected something into the cannula that had been placed in my hand earlier, and immediately a warm something entered my bloodstream and life became very good and relaxed for a few minutes.

The next thing I knew was that I was back on the ward with some slight pain, but loaded up on painkillers so I didn’t notice. An hour or two later I was heading out the door to be picked up and brought home.

It was like walking away from a terrible car accident unscathed. You feel lucky. Glad it’s all over. Glad to be getting on with life. Elvis has left the building.

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