Is There Anything I’m Missing?

by Real Surgery on November 27, 2012

I’d like to share a personal story about why I helped start Real Surgery. If you’ve read my work background, you know I’ve worked in the healthcare industry a long time. But this is more about my personal background. It’s about why I think patients need to have thorough information and to be able to make their own surgical choices, especially since the right medical path can be uncertain. This story is about why I believe so strongly in choosing to become a well-informed patient, an empowered patient.

I am completely deaf in my left ear. I’ve had this comparatively minor but still frustrating disability for a long time. People who know me sometimes forget about this because I’ve learned to live with it. Plus it’s not a “visible” problem. Even so, it can be difficult. Noisy restaurants or other loud settings can be exhausting. If there’s an unexpected sound, I usually can’t tell where it’s coming from – that takes two ears. At social gatherings I can easily miss things others are saying if they’re on my deaf side. So I have to be careful not to inadvertently offend people who may think I’m ignoring them but really I just don’t hear them talking to me.

My one-sided deafness is the unintentional result of small but devastating scalpel slip during a surgery. 20 years ago I had to undergo a scary and complicated craniotomy (commonly called brain surgery) to remove a benign tumor. Although small, the tumor was in a hard-to-access location. I went to one of the best medical centers I could choose, and my surgeons were well-respected. Although the doctors considered my procedure mostly “successful”, during the operation an assisting surgeon accidently cut a tiny artery that fed the cochlea, the innermost part of the ear that enables hearing. And, just that quickly, I was permanently deaf on my left side. Recovering from surgery was very hard and took many months. Needless to say, adjusting to hearing loss made it more so.

Despite the obvious problems, over time I discovered blessings within this loss. I certainly don’t take hearing for granted anymore, so I greatly treasure a simple joy like hearing my daughter sing or just chatter away. I must pay close attention when people are talking to me, so I’ve become a better listener. I know in my body that unplanned losses happen, so I feel more grateful day-by-day for blessings I receive in my life. In time, my deaf ear evolved into a gentle, ever-present teacher. It always reminds me to ask myself “Is there anything I’m missing that I should listen to?”

I believe passionately that it’s important for people to know as much as they can about their medical options, or at least as much as they want, in order to make their own right choices. With hindsight, I might have done things differently if I had known more. What did I actually do? I rushed in. Surgeons I spoke with had suggested that I should get surgery pretty quickly. And I did. As it turns out, other options were available. Some options were nonsurgical. Others involved alternative surgical techniques. Still others involved simply waiting a while, putting surgery off for a period. But I really didn’t explore much about these choices. Plus, I was utterly frightened.

If you’re facing choices about your own surgery, consider this idea. Assuming you have two working ears, pick one. Now stick your finger in it. Now listen. Doesn’t that sound weird? Now pretend that’s how you’re going to hear for the rest of your life. Your body needs you to use your best decision-making skills. Ask yourself “Is there anything I’m missing that I should listen to?” If it were my choice, I know what I’d want to able to say: “I feel fully informed, and now I’m ready.”

 

(As originally posted on RealSurgery.com)

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