Thursday, February 12, 2009

Four Words You Don't Want to Hear

Lying on the table in the operating room, awaiting the removal of one catheter for substitution of a smaller one. I am fully conscious. My head is turned to one side, sterile gauze across my face. I realize I have a resident or trainee working on me, as I hear another voice instructing him on the procedure. Not much I can do now. The resident is told to remove the catheter. I feel a pull. Then, I hear the resident say: "uh-oh, that's not good." Warm liquid oozing down my neck and onto my shoulders. Two hands quickly start to press hard on my jugular vein. No one is speaking. Nurses are activated, moving about in the operating room. Handing the surgeon gauze or something else. I can only hear, not see. Hands continue to press. 10 minutes? 15 minutes? I don't know. Finally I speak, "How are you going to stop the bleeding, doctor?" The other voice is now at my side, and I realize it is his hands that are on my vein, pushing, pushing. "We'll continue to use pressure. We've removed a larger catheter, your platelets are low, you're feeling some blood on you." I wait. Pressure continues. A few minutes later he repeats himself. I start to shake. I'm either cold, nervous, or both. "Get him a blanket." I feel a nurse's hand grip mine, stroking my arm, calming me. The pressure continues. Finally, he releases. A pause. Some wiping on my skin. The new catheter is now placed by the steadier hand of the more experienced surgeon. The clean up begins, warm cloths on my skin. Sutures. I feel myself relax. A pat on the shoulder from the doctor. "You're a good patient." I respond: "It's better to be a good doctor."

I get off the table. Nurses won't make eye contact with me, but they are looking at each other with expressions of frustration, fear, disapproval--I'm not sure. No one is speaking, unlike the other times I have been through this. No question this was not standard procedure. I want to get out of here. As I am escorted out of the OR, I pass the doctor who I hear instructing the resident on how to properly do the procedure he just botched. In another time, perhaps 5 years ago before all this nastiness began I would have confronted them with a "what happened in there." I don't have the energy. I stop in the restroom. I see blood oozing from beneath the gauze. A return to the Pre op. A change of dressing--15 minutes after the procedure. I am assured the bleeding has stopped.

Yes, that was my yesterday. Today, 7 a.m. I check in for a bone marrow biopsy. I ask, "who will be doing the procedure on me today, because I will not have an inexperienced hand on me today." I am assured my tech is very experienced. He is. The bone marrow biopsy goes as smoothly as the procedure can.

This is my week off. Nothing more to say. The journey continues.


John said...

Great story Dan. I'm glad it had a happy ending.

We all assume Doctors are Gods, yet they are human. Their journeys are as perilous as the patients. For better or worse, that resident probably learned more from what went wrong than he would have from a dozen successes.

You are in good hands.

Larry Schoenwald said...

Dan, the depth and wisdom which you conveyed in your articulate account was remarkable, but I know that you would give almost anything to be less remarkable!
We are rooting for you! Best, Larry

Ingrid said...

And last not least, ... you can still write this story.
Yes, it happens, the more we are in hospitals, the more we see, how Doctors become good Doctors, and as John said, this resident has for sure learnes more from what went wrong than from dozen successes.

But still, it is hard to take, isn't it? Because somehow it is a proof, that you are impotent of what happens to you and what they're doing to you.
It lowers somehow the faith you have in your staff, working on you.

But enough of that now, just wanted to show you, how deeply I can feel, what you've gone through, seconds, minutes, that seem never to pass.

I am so sorry, you had to make also this experience. You have already enough to handle without adding such experiences.

Do you have a psycotherapist helping you with all going on there? Ask, maybe you can get one ?

In the meanwhile, big hug with lots of understanding you,