With a prolonged period of enforced, homebound rest, one begins to notice, and in some instances, really appreciate, the little things in life.
Take this blog for instance. It’s been built it up entirely during my month long recovery period; and truth be told, I have enjoyed every minute of it. Whether it was composing a post or reading a favorable comment or simply waiting with bated breath for a spike in the number of ‘hits’ after uploading new material!
Every email is now swiftly accessed and thoroughly read. Previously shot off, hurried, one-line replies, are now lengthy, multi-paragraph essays, meticulously edited to read just right!
Mumbling, monosyllabic disjointed conversations have evolved into lengthy, fully focused, in-depth discussions even on the most mundane of matters!!
But, (and mercifully for you, as this post was getting ominously loopy), apart from my personal life, it has opened my eyes as a doctor to a different aspect of patient behavior.
I remember sitting with a patient of ovarian cancer just after her surgery. Choosing my words carefully, I spent the better part of half an hour, gently trying to get her to understand the nature of her disease. Throughout that period she kept butting in with what appeared to be her prime concern: How was she ever going to drape her sari over the stitches of her abdominal wound?!
On another occasion I was deeply engrossed in explaining the significance of her pathology report to a breast cancer patient on whom I had recently performed a mastectomy. Tumor size and grade, nodal status, hormonal receptors…and all she seemed to be worried about, was getting rid of that persistent itch just lateral to her surgical suture line!
These were just two of many occasions where patients stressed on what I thought were frivolous matters when there were far more major issues at stake. Each time I felt a sense of exasperation. It took a real effort to control myself from snapping: If your disease progresses the way it is, you won’t need to wrap your sari or scratch you side!
And then they found this blood clot in my skull and I became a patient.
Being a surgeon, and having treated such cases in my residency days, I was well aware of the gravity of the situation.
But honestly, looking back, if I had to prioritize my problems, the severity of my illness was surprisingly, not on top of the list. Of course it was a worry; how was it all going to pan out? Would I survive? Would there be residual damage? That was always on my mind, but it seemed to be more on a backburner, so to speak, rather than up front, in my face.
Immediately after surgery, for instance, I had this dangling drain, (a tiny plastic bottle that sucked out the collected blood from my surgical wound via a foot long piece of plastic tubing). Each time I moved my head the bottle would swing and pull on the sutures. It had this unhappy knack of wedging between my pillows, causing my head to jerk painfully whenever I turned. I can’t begin to tell you the sense of relief I felt when it was finally removed a couple of days later!!
And how can I ever forget my trismus; a post operative effect that caused me to have difficulty in fully opening my mouth. This symptom only lasted a couple of weeks. But for a person who enjoys eating, trust me, it was a SERIOUS problem to contend with!
Even when I got home I was more concerned about how I was going to get rid of the glitch (a combination of blood, disinfectant and ear wax) that was deeply embedded, as a result of surgery, in my right ear, rather than whether or not my sutures were healing properly.
Today marks exactly a month since my discharge from hospital. The professional part of me is amazed at my preoccupation with those small insignificant problems. As a patient however, I realize now, that the so called ‘minor issues’ that were troubling me, were real at the time, and as important as the ‘serious stuff’ that may or may not happen later.
I did my CT angiography scan a couple of days ago and it was reported to be normal. All the ‘serious stuff’ that could have happened, thankfully, did not. But I did pick up some important lessons on the way.
Lessons that I hope I will carry with me when I resume my role as a ‘hot-shot-know-it-all’ surgical oncologist!
PS. I’d like to dedicate this particular post to the memory of my Mother.
One of her favorite songs, one that she just loved to sing, was titled: ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’.
Now, after all these years, it needed a couple of drill holes to get what she was trying to say to finally penetrate through my thick skull!