Doctor? No, I am the Patient!

83

A famous saying states, “You’ll never know a person well until you walk a mile in their shoes.”   I have heard it from my church leaders, my mother as I grew up, and many others.   This saying has taken on a whole new meaning over the past 5 weeks.  The shoes I’m wearing, ironically, now belong to a patient named Mike Leddy.  In late October, I suffered a significant injury to my left lower leg as the result of a fall.  Since that time, I have been hospitalized three times for a total of thirteen days, and have had three surgeries to reconstruct my leg.  Needless to say, it has been a challenging task for the doctor to become the patient.

There are a lot of things you can do in two seconds.  You can hit the winning shot or throw the winning pass; you can thank someone for helping you out; you can have your three-year-old tear up a room you just finished cleaning.  Or, a rung of a ladder can break and you fall 15 feet to the ground.  That’s where this journey started for me.  I was lucky enough to have my partner Terry Texada close by who took charge of the situation.  I arrived as the patient, not the doctor, at St Francis Cabrini Hospital, a facility where my orthopaedic group has taken ER call every single night since 1991.  I was met there by my wife Andree as well as several of my Mid State Orthopaedic Clinic partners.  One of the hardest things about being an orthopaedic surgeon is to possess the clinical knowledge of an injury like this.  You know what needs to be done, all the good things that come from treatment, but you are also aware of the complications and long-term outcomes.

Seeing an external fixator on my leg was not what I wanted to wake up to.  I knew that more surgeries lay ahead and that my job and other responsibilities were to be put on hold indefinitely.  Fixing and healing my leg would be a slow process.  Significant swelling meant that I had to keep my leg elevated at all times.  I was fortunate to have an edema nurse help wrap my leg to improve the swelling problem.  It took one week from injury until I was ready for a second surgery to stabilize the back half of my ankle joint and leg fracture.  After that, it started all over again to get the swelling down and the leg ready for the third and final surgery to stabilize the front of the leg fracture and reconstruct the ankle joint.  Seventeen days after my fall, I had this final procedure.

I also began to realize that even the smallest tasks would require help—getting a cup of coffee, something to eat, and getting in and out of bed.  I’ve also had to learn to walk on crutches, bathe while keeping my left ankle dry, and sleeping on my back—something I have never done before.  Probably the worst feeling was realizing that because of my condition, I could not go anywhere, not even church.

Being an orthopaedic surgeon, I was able to understand and prepare myself for the wound care and dressing changes, the muscle spasms and pain, and the therapy.  What I wasn’t ready for was that essentially every task that I wanted to do required the help of someone else.  It is difficult having your day revolve around which chair or couch you sit on, and that all sleep is uncomfortable and interrupted.  Watching your family do things and realizing you cannot participate or help around the house puts a strain on your self-confidence.  For someone as active and independent as I am, it was a very helpless feeling.  It has been five weeks now since my fall and things have gotten better.

I’ll begin seeing patients again on Friday December 3rd.  Returning to work is a huge accomplishment, something many thought impossible in such a short time.  The one major benefit of this injury is the quality time spent with my wife and children that normally would not have occurred because of work.  However, out of everything involved, what I was least prepared for was the huge outpouring of support from our community.  Friends, colleagues, patients and many others have expressed their concern for me, come to visit me, and offered their thoughts and many prayers.  This support from you has been humbling and comforting.  I am truly blessed that in just three years you have accepted me and my family into yours and this community.  I cannot thank you enough.  Do I have a better understanding of what it’s like to be the patient rather than the doctor?  Without a doubt.  Will it change my perspective while treating patients? Absolutely.