So it is Monday morning and I’m not going to the office today. I am exactly one day shy of two weeks since having elective surgery on my neck. Why one would elect to have surgery on their neck is a curious notion. Suffice it to say that I “elected” to have surgery sooner rather than later to prevent further problems down the line.
My experience as a patient has been a poignant reminder that to be a truly caring doctor, one must be both empathetic and compassionate. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Compassion is the sympathetic awareness of another’s distress together with the desire to alleviate it. Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experience by imagining what it would be like to be in their situation.” Well my dear friends, I am walking in the shoes of a patient (actually they were more like slippers) and know firsthand the angst and anxiety of anticipating treatment as well as the actual aftermath of spinal surgery.
Some years ago, I was told that I had evidence of spinal stenosis developing in my neck. I took the news in stride. As gruesome as it may sound, it’s actually quite common; one does not reach middle age without some form of arthritis. Remember that old football injury? Well, I didn’t play football but, thirty years of dentistry and lugging around this big head of mine (no, not my ego, I actually have a big head) had done their damage. Thankfully, I had no symptoms to report…..that is until I sold my house, began the never ending remodeling of our NYC apartment (15 months and counting) and slept on a Murphy bed for four months. Talk about STRESS! OH MY ACHING NECK!!!!!!!
Physical therapy and chiropractic care helped control the pain. BUT, who has the time to run for treatment four days/week for months and months? Well, you make the time! And so I did for more than six months. As a patient, I was burning out on the endless run of office visits. I was frustrated by the incremental improvement. I felt imprisoned by my predicament and I have no doubt that I was losing an important part of myself i.e., my joie de vivre.
So, after two MRI’s and two EMG studies (not the most pleasant experience having electricity shot down your nerves), I consulted with three surgeons. I elected to have Dr. Michael Neuwirth, Head of the Spine Institute at Beth Israel Hospital, perform conservative surgery on the back of my neck. Strangely, once I made the decision to have the surgery, I began to feel better. Literally, my symptoms all but disappeared, which certainly speaks volumes about the mind/body connection. The problem still existed, but perhaps the mental and emotional relief of an imminent “fix” reduced the muscle tension that was exacerbating my condition. I knew rationally that I was doing the right thing despite my fears of “going under the knife.”
So it’s been said that life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. I was planning on and looking forward to being in the office today. Ha! A” funny” thing happened on my way to recovery…I developed an infection, had to be readmitted to the hospital and had more surgery on Saturday.
So instead of taking care of my patients, it is I who is the patient. And, I can say that I am being cared for very well. I feel very fortunate to be in the hands of such wonderful healers. I don’t use the term healer lightly. There are doctors, nurses and therapists who perform their duties responsibly and competently. Then there are those who go above and beyond reasonable expectations and care for you because they really CARE FOR YOU. Healers don’t do anything TO their patients, they do whatever they can FOR them to help them get well. I am so lucky to be in such wonderful hands. This medical set -back could have been a disaster if it were not for the dedication, compassion and quick action of my healers.
While this experience as a patient has been a literal pain in the neck, I do believe that the insight I have gained will help make me not just a better doctor, but a more compassionate healer as well.
I hope to be back in the office soon. In the meantime, cards, letters, flowers, and snacks are welcome.