MY BRAND NEW LEG
Dear friends, it has been a long time since my last posting and I must say, I have missed you. The end of 2013, the Year of the Snake, had a few surprises in store for me. The biggest surprise was the aneurysm found in my lower left leg.
I had always assumed that it was a painful Baker’s Cyst, something that I have seen and treated many times. Well, I will not fault myself for not having “ultrasound” eyes but it was in fact, the pain that came with standing for many hours that brought me to my primary care physician, Dr. Robin Liu. After some investigation and observation, Dr. Liu sent me to the vascular department at OHSU thinking that the varicosities on my left leg were the probable causes of my pain. The vascular surgeons performing my ultrasound that day discovered that the “Baker’s cyst, “was in fact my lesser saphenous vein and that it was 21.3 millimeters in diameter. It was almost the size of a golf ball. Ergo, it was imperative that we remove the vein in question, which allowed me to experience life on the “other side of the table.”
Friends, I learned a lot. I was in good hands. Indeed, Dr. Timothy Liem is an outstanding, award-winning vascular surgeon. However, vascular surgery is nothing that I have experienced before. I was a bit pensive, mostly about the recovery. I love what I do and I am not myself if I cannot do it. How much time would I have to take off? I admit to most people that I am really terrible at sitting still. (Most of my patients respond with an unsurprised look and some even ask me if I have ADD.) I also tend to feel guilty for not going to the gym in every spare moment I have. How would I get through 10 days of lying about?
My patients were so supportive. One told me that I could speak with my anesthesiologist before the procedure. After my appendectomy in 2005, I had terrible nausea. I hate feeling nauseas. That was one of my big fears with this surgery. So, she coached me on what to say and even what kinds of things that I could expect as I was waking up from my synthetic sleep. Another spoke about the 4 types of behaviors most people exhibit after being under. And finally, several patients assuaged my fears about being “lazy” by encouraging me to give myself permission to “rest and recover.”
The surgery was a huge success. I lovingly joke to my patients that Dr. Liem was my “OCD” doctor; checking, double-checking, then re-checking the sharpie lines on my leg to make sure that every incision would be effective. I had complete trust in his competence and desire for perfection. A patient’s dream doctor.
And recovery was better than I expected, though I stayed in the recovery room so long that I thought they would start charging rent. My surgical nurses said that I was telling science jokes the whole time, and I faintly remember that. I also had to use a bedpan. Oh, I was mortified of course. But my nurses made me feel so comfortable about using one, that after 5 minutes of having a bashful bladder, I was done. And, let me add, the bedpans these days are plastic, not that hard, cold metal that I was expecting and dreading.
And my 10 days of recuperation turned out to be 11.5 but who’s counting? I also learned a valuable lesson about “patient compliance.” I have a lot more respect for my patients who have been on my “Pre and Post-Surgical Protocol.” People, I commend you for taking those herbs and supplements. There are several, yes, but they helped me look less bruised, have less pain, need less help with daily BMs, and they allowed me to not have to take so much of my prescribed pain medication.
So, what did I learn, you may ask? I learned 7 things:
Medical intervention requires trust. Being a patient requires bravery. Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you don’t ask, no one will be able to help you. Patients need and like to be listened to. It helps us. Be as compassionate and kind as possible. No one can really know the struggles of another person, so give them the best care and the benefit of the doubt. Be obsessive about perfection. That is reassuring and who cares if you have to fix something. It’s better to do things right than be careless. Laugh with your patients. It’s less messy than crying and it helps both the patient and the practitioner feel better. This blog is dedicated to all of my lovely patients who sent well-wishes, prayers, flowers, cards, and chocolate. Your thoughts and prayers made for an incredibly (and surprisingly) good experience.