During my fall break last week, I (finally) got my torn meniscus repaired. Having surgery on my knee gave me an interesting opportunity that I haven’t had in a while–a chance to be a surgery patient.
I’ve had surgery before, but this time, as a medical student, it felt a little different. I understood a lot more of what was going on with my procedure and who was involved in my care. And of course I thought about everything that could possibly go wrong during surgery. Even though the meniscus repair was a pretty minor procedure and not very invasive, with any medical procedure there is always potential for something to go wrong. So naturally I found myself feeling a little anxious about all the possibilities for a bad outcome.
Getting surgery was a reminder of how overwhelming, stressful, and anxiety-provoking being a patient can be. As I sat basically naked under a hospital gown and blankets, doctors and nurses came in and out of my room to talk to me, started an IV, asked me questions, marked the site of surgery…. I verified my name and birthdate I don’t know how many times, and explained over and over to various people my idea of what was going on (arthroscopy of the right knee and repair of the lateral meniscus) to make sure everyone was on the same page.
It was a lot.
I felt lucky to have my parents there with me pre-op, which helped me feel a little more relaxed (even though they may have been more nervous than I was). I also felt lucky that I had a general awareness of what role all the various nurses and doctors played in my care and a good understanding of the procedure itself.
But I realize not everyone has these comforts going into surgery. Some people may show up for their surgery completely alone (especially if it’s an emergency situation), and many may not have a solid understanding of the procedure. I can only imagine that in either or both of those cases a patient’s anxiety would markedly increase.
Being a patient while in medical school was particularly interesting because one day, pretty soon, I will be on the other side of things and be a doctor taking care of my own patients. I’m thankful I was able to have some moments of introspection and reflection about what it feels like to be a patient because I think it can be easy for physicians to just view patients as a constellation of disease processes, injuries, or symptoms instead of as a whole person with feelings and fears. In the future I want to always keep in mind how I felt as a patient: vulnerable, nervous, restless, unsure. I don’t want to lose sight of what that felt like, because I’m sure my future patients will have those very same emotions–and many more.
I thank God that my surgery went well. The care and attention I received before and after my surgery was absolutely wonderful. (And I’m sure I received great care during the surgery as well because I’m recovering fabulously.) I couldn’t be more proud to be a student at an institution that really values patient care. (Sounds cliche but I really mean it.)
Now time to get back in the gym!