The Other End of the Scalpel

Having treated thousands of patients, I have developed a great deal of empathy for their physical and emotional challenges. Earlier this year, the tables were turned, and I underwent a surgical procedure for a torn biceps tendon. This event pales in comparison to what many of my patients experience, but I did take the opportunity for introspection. I can never truly put myself in their shoes, but I did gain a little insight.

The first lesson was more of a reminder. No matter how minor of a procedure or condition, when it’s me, it’s major. Small degrees of pain and debilitation rapidly gain significance when you’re dealing with them every minute of every day.

As you could imagine, as a surgeon who specializes in a relatively small variety of procedures, I routinely hear the same questions from my patients. I now have an even better understanding of the importance of these questions. During recovery from a surgery or an illness, it is amazing how quickly logical reasoning goes out the window. And no, I’m not talking about Percocet here. On more than one occasion, I was tempted to call my surgeon because I was “sure” that I ripped apart his repair.

For the better part of six weeks, my usual daily routines came to a screeching halt. I realized how much my career is my identity. And I realized that such a loss of identity is a stressor in and of itself. Now that I am back in full swing, the unpleasant memories fade, and I recognize my true identity is that of husband, father, and friend.