From Doctor To Patient

From Doctor To Patient

By Dr. Hector Valenzuela



Last year I developed hearing loss due to calcified bone in my ear canal. As most doctors do, I put off the surgery to correct the problem. I had patients that needed my care, which was the best excuse to avoid surgery.  I hated to admit that the real reason was I was scared.

In the New Year I decided it was time to watch over my health, I started to schedule my surgery. The surprise was that in order to fix my internal ear they first needed to make sure that the passage between ears and nose was permeable. It wasn’t. It turned out that I also had a deviated septum with an internal bone callus blocking 90% of my left nostril. So now instead of one ear surgery, I had to first undergo a larger surgery.

Let me just say that becoming a patient and facing a surgery from the other end of the scalpel was a turning point in my medical practice. The first thing I can remember after surgery is telling my wife that I wanted to write about this experience. Maybe it is because anesthesia makes one sensitive, but there were several things l acknowledged then that happened around that time, some of them funny and some of them not so much depending on one’s perspective.

A week before surgery I had a phone call from a funeral home in Guadalajara saying that it was the discount month for doctors, and that it would really be a great idea to make arrangements now that it’s cheaper. Of course I felt completely disturbed by the fact that they called, but decided to go the polite way and see it as a “funny” coincidence and gently thanked them for their kind offer, but I wasn’t planning to hang up my lab coat just yet. It may have just been a coincidence, but it really got me thinking “What if?” 

I have a young beautiful wife and a two-year-old daughter who deserved a mature and smart choice from me, so I decided to call an insurance agent and bought myself life insurance with funeral expenses included just in case. I did not give in to fear of death but certainly as a Surgeon I know there are no 100% risk free procedures. Now thinking about it makes me chuckle!

Surgery day is when the real experience started, I was asked to remove all of my clothes, and then young nurses came into the room to start an IV and administer the prescribed meds. l am not a shy fellow but, it really feels uncomfortable knowing that a bunch of strangers were going to be looking at my privates.

As usual with patient/doctors, things are complicated and it took them four attempts to find a vein. I was ready to take the nurse’s needles and start the IV on myself, but just before that they finally got it so l kept my cool.

Then my anesthesiologist–the one I work with for my patients, and my surgeon who also is a friend and partner came in the room smiling and greeting everyone as if there was a reason to be happy, not for me! But it was nice to see them relaxed and well rested. When they asked me if I had any questions before we started, l had all the questions in the world but couldn’t find the words to ask them.

Basically it all came down to, is it going to be alright? And then I just realized, these were two professionals picked by me in whom l trust completely, and l knew things would be great.

When I arrived in the cold operating room in my very short and slim gown I thought at least I would get a nice buzz out of the experience, but to my disappointment I don’t remember it. The next thing I know I woke up in the recovery room in some pain, but managing to withstand it like a champ, because I promised myself I wouldn’t be a pain in the butt to my surgeon and complain as little as possible.

That attitude lasted as long as the remaining anesthesia, then the real post-operative pain kicked in. I thank God for IV pain killers and morphine, and also for my Anesthesiology resident brother who came home to administer a couple of extra shots on the following day.

They did a great job and l had great care before, during and after my surgery by everybody involved in it: doctors, nurses, family members and friends. And even so, it’s made me realize a bit of what patients go through when dealing with even more severe conditions and greater invasive surgery.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for all the responsible and courageous people that make a smart call and choose to do something in favor of their health, despite the discomfort and changes in routine it may bring, and they have my infinite gratitude for trusting their health and their precious life in my hands.

This experience has humbled me.


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