Friday, August 31, 2012

Talking to my Surgeon

Another dialect I don’t speak – Surgeonese.

I went in for my 4-month checkup after mastectomy.

I never wear the paper costume. It wastes trees. I wear a front button blouse when I have medical appointments.

I’ve been to this office about a dozen times now. Still when I arrive, the assistant or the surgeon instructs me to take off my clothes and put on the paper costume.

I skipped the explanation. Went into the room. Removed my bra with the prosthethic and put my blouse back on unbuttoned.

The surgeon entered the room.  She didn’t ask how I’m feeling. She just told me to lie on her paper-covered examining table.  I didn’t see any way around wasting that paper, so I did it.

The surgeon told me to raise my arms over my head.  I told her that hurts. She said I need to stretch more.  This surgeon didn’t ask me what stretches I do. She didn’t suggest any specific stretches.  


I hang by my hands from a chin-up bar and do a set of 15 abdominal curls at least once a day

I do a back bend over a ball and use my arms to push my weight up off the ball

I do downward dog

I lie lengthwise on a 3-foot long by 6 inch diameter foam roller, and do snow angels with my arms

I do arm / leg opposite lifts

I do upper spinal floor twists in which I let gravity pull my shoulder to the floor

I put my hands behind my head and push back with my elbows

I’ve been swimming half a mile almost every evening for the past 3 months. I do mostly freestyle, but all swimming strokes stretch both chest and arms.

I don’t know any other stretches. And I doubt my surgeon even imagines I’m doing this much. But I don’t know how to get her to help me. If “that hurts” doesn’t elicit any helpful advice, I don’t know what would.

She felt both my breasts and was about to leave the room, without comment.  I figure if there was a problem, she’d have told me, so I didn’t ask about my health.  Instead, I asked about the scar. It looks like a gathered skirt. I asked if this was normal. I’d already checked the web.  Other women have asked this question.  The only answer they get is that it is caused by the stitching and that it will go away when the stitches dissolve which usually takes about 8 weeks. But it’s been about 18 weeks and I’ve still got that tight feeling puckered look.

The surgeon told me that I have forgotten how swollen the site was after surgery.  Like I could forget having to come in every week for about a month to have her jab a needle in and suck out tube after tube full of red fluid which she squirted down the sink drain.  I didn’t see any point in telling her that I do indeed remember.

“Is there anything that might help?”

She stared at me, and then said, “You could try massaging it. Some women say it helps.”

Then she left.

This surgeon was difficult to talk to before the surgery. Her main redeeming feature is that I’ve seen the lab reports. She got all the cancer out. I’ve heard other people say similar things about their surgeons.  Surgeons seem able to do their cutting and cleaning up, but they don’t know how to talk to people.  

Either the rest of us need to learn surgeonese, or surgeons need to hire somebody to do their talking for them.  Healing requires more than just surgery. 

1 comment:

  1. My surgeon was a fantastic carpenter. He had a PA in the hospital who was a fantastic explainer. Surgeons like anesthetized patients who can't talk back or ask questions which is a shame b/c you are SO right - "healing requires more than just surgery."