Earlier today, I picked up my journal and leafed through to read some of what I’d written shortly after being released from hospital. I was somewhat startled to see how much anger and cynicism I’d harbored towards my primary orthopaedic surgeon, Dr.J., and the medical establishment. Take this entry for example:
Orthopedic Surgeon: def. Glorified body-plumber. Throw him a bone and he will know what to do with it. Throw him two or more bones and he may still have a clue. But (lord help us), expect him (or her) to connect the dots between bone, muscle, nerve, tendon and ligament – and you will be sorely disappointed. Just try adding the word ‘muscle’ to any of your questions, and you will be at once re-directed to a physiotherapist. Ask him to explain how you are healing, and he will say something along the lines of “your heel fracture should heal between 8-12 weeks after injury” – the textbook response, but chances are he will steer clear of talking about your other fractures and injuries. He won’t bother explaining that, due to the severity of your injuries and interconnectedness of all the damaged bones and muscles, the timeline for healing might be longer than forecast; or that, although a bone has healed per se, it has not healed back into proper alignment…
After reading that entry, I paused and remembered a couple of scenarios that had been a source of frustration back then: During one of my follow up visits to Dr J., I’d asked him to check a purplish-black mark on my buttock, hoping that he would explain and allay my concerns. Sitting on the edge of a chair right by the door, he seemed to recoil at my request and only begrudgingly leaned in for a moment to take a look. In an almost dismissive manner, he simply said, oh, it’s nothing I’m sure, it will go away soon. And that was that.
The second scene that came to mind was the time Dr J’s resident, Dr M. visited me while I was still hospitalized. After asking me a series of perfunctory questions, Dr. M. was on his way out the door when I asked if he could check my rectum, as I’d been suffering from particularly severe pains in the preceding days. With a look of horror on his face, he stumbled for an answer: Uh… no, maybe I’ll send in a nurse. That’s one of the reasons I went into orthopaedics instead of general surgery.. And with that, he was out the door.
What was it with these physicians, I’d wondered last year, these medical specialists who acted like well-trained body-shop mechanics and checked their care and compassion at the door? Who were these guys that could no more understand what it takes for the body to heal from traumatic injuries than if I’d asked them what ingredients go into making chicken soup – other than a chicken.
What’s become clear in these intervening months is this: perhaps they’ve never studied and understood what lies beyond and beside a bone.
Just because Dr. J. understands bones and can recite the textbook time-frame for a fracture to heal; and just because he might be a trained surgeon, does not mean that he sees the bigger body picture. If orthopaedic surgeons specialize in bones to the exclusion of everything else that it takes for a body to heal – surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia and fluid – then perhaps they ought not to shoulder all the blame.
After seeing Dr. J. and yet another surgical resident several more times; after hearing worst-case scenarios recited over and over again, I resolved to listen respectfully but not pay too much attention. You might tell me the odds are that I will walk with a limp for the rest of my life. But in my heart I will know you are mistaken; I will forgive your narrow-mindedness, your glass-half-emptiness and your lack of insight into the body’s healing capacity. Because I now know what I did not then: that my body is comprised of much much more than bones.
Note to self: Never trust a doctor that disguises his fortune-telling as sound medical knowledge. Instead, forgive him his tunnel vision, his jaded advice and his lack of empathy.
My advice to you is this: Forget the odds. Go for broke. Bet on hope.