After my experience with a few very unprofessional medical people earlier this year in a renowned hospital in Munich, I was a bit apprehensive about my upcoming surgery last Monday. Although I knew the surgeon who was operating on me , I had never heard of the clinic before. The website of the clinic wasn’t too detailed so when I arrived on Monday morning, I was a bit nervous.
The clinic turned out to be small, modern, minimalistic and only for outpatient surgical procedures. Finding a parking spot wasn’t much of an issue and the lady at the reception was not only very professional and competent but warm and friendly too. After a bit of a wait in a nice waiting room, it was my turn to go in for surgery. The surgeon had told me that the operation itself would last about 30 minutes and so I wasn’t too worried about it (my worries were more about the post-operative care, since I wouldn’t be able to use my shoulder for a while). So I very calmly told Bernd, who had driven me to the clinic, that I would see him in a bit, since he wasn’t allowed to accompany me into the operating room, and I followed the receptionist to the surgery rooms.
I then met the anaesthetist for a pre-op briefing. I hadn’t met him before and after going through the questionnaire that I had filled out, he explained in detail about the two types of anaesthesia that he was going to use, the pros and cons of it and the possible side effects. He was going to use a local anaesthesia to numb the shoulder and then a general one so that I could sleep through the process. He was very professional, friendly and since I hadn’t had any adverse side effects from the general anesthesias that I had had in the past, I wasn’t too worried.
Then it was time to change into the OP gown, I was picked up by two male nurses and brought to the pre-operation room. What has always irritated me is that during my previous operations (I have had a couple in the past four years!), nurses always asked me all sorts of personal questions while wheeling me into the operating rooms. Since I don’t look very German, people in Germany promptly ask me in the very first few minutes of meeting me where I come from, how long I have been here etc. even when the occasion does not call for or require such information. Needless to say it irritates me, since I do not see what my “origin” (as they like to call it) has to do with the fact that I am there either for a surgery, to pick up a parcel, to buy clothes or even to register my husband in the hospital…but that is a topic for another blog. So I found it an unusually pleasant and relaxing experience to “only” lie there and make small talk with the nurses about whether I had slept well, if I was cold etc.
Then it was time for the local anaesthesia. This was a pretty unpleasant affair since it is injected in the neck close to the carotid artery. What struck me was that the anaesthetist kept informing me about what he was doing and explaining the process both for my benefit and that of the assistant anaesthetist. When they were done and I had to wait to be wheeled in to the operating room, the nurse kept checking on me and kept me informed that it would be a few minutes etc. In the meantime I heard the surgeon come in and he was immediately surrounded by nurses wanting to ask him all sorts of questions. Interestingly he stopped them and told them that he wanted to greet me first. I was touched because that is something I am not quite used to – most surgeons just rush into the operating room, do their job and might check on you later, very often one doesn’t even see them on that day because the anaesthesia has already taken effect when they arrive. The surgeon not only greeted me but laid an assuring hand on my shoulder and said something like “so let’s fix that shoulder”. A few minutes later, I walked into the operating theatre which was just a few steps away. I was already a bit woozy by then, couldn’t feel my left arm at all and the nurse helping me over realised that I was fumbling with my operating gown, trying to hold the open back together while I was making my way to the table. He told me to try to make it to the table and he would hold the gown together for me while helping me across – this was another pleasant surprise since my experience so far with nurses has shown me that they are not very sensitive to how a patient might feel with these open backed operating gowns.
It took some time to get me in the proper operating position and even in my woozy state I was secretly amused (and a wee bit flattered!!) to hear them talking about me being “too small and skinny” for the operating table, the anaesthetist double checking with me if I really was the weight I was telling them and not lighter…..and then I dozed off.
I awoke a bit later to hear the nurse asking me how I was feeling. I couldn’t feel my arm at all, was a bit dazed, didn’t feel too good and just wanted to sleep. Shortly after that the surgeon came by and told me that the injury had been much more severe than what they had seen on the tests. Instead of the planned 30 minutes, he had needed an hour and a half to repair the damage but now it was done and fixed. To say that the hours after that were not too good would be to put it mildly. I tried to eat something, couldn’t keep it in, tried to get up was too wobbly and so it went on. Normally when one is in the recovery room, a nurse checks on you every once in a while. However here the nurses were constantly checking on me and the other two patients that were there. Plus the anaesthetist kept coming in to check on me too. Other than the fact that I wasn’t keeping much in and I couldn’t feel the shoulder, I felt OK. After napping a bit in between I felt better, thought I could get up and so the nurse came to help me get dressed. What struck me again was his professionalism and the kindness with which he helped me – he practically had to dress me and even put on my shoes for me, because I couldn’t use my operated arm at all and was a bit wobbly overall. One could say that it is their job to do so but I have not experienced such professionalism before (I have had nurses commenting on my “lovely dark skin”, my clothes etc…..while helping me dress!!) I got out of bed, walked a few steps and realised I wasn’t going to make it far. The nurse immediately led me to a special reclining chair where I could lie down..and so it continued for a while. During this time the surgeon came by once more and told me I didn’t look good at all and that I looked very pale. You might again think that this is normal but it isn’t for me. Since I have “darker” skin, I get to hear (even from doctors and nurses!!) that I always look so healthy and its difficult to see when I am unwell. Not so here – the doctors and the nurses could obviously see very clearly that I did not “look good” at all and was very pale.
In the end I was there for another good two to three hours in which I kept making an attempt to get up, walk a bit, throwing up, getting drips and lying down again. Somewhere in between Bernd was allowed to join me and kept following me the few meters between the reclining chair in the recovery room and the bench outside at the reception.
During this entire period, there was always one of the medical personnel around following me, watching me, keeping an eye that I didn’t collapse on the ground, handing me a bowl when I looked as if I was going to throw up and keenly observing the colour of my skin.
I am known to have a very strong will power but that day my body just didn’t listen to what my mind was telling it to do. The surgeon came by once more before leaving to check on me, spoke to Bernd too and told me he would explain what he had done in detail to me the next day in his office since I was obviously not fit enough yet (I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for the next day). Before leaving he reassured me once more that my shoulder was now “fixed” and the reason I was not feeling too good was probably due to the side effects of the anaesthesia.
Being an outpatient clinic it was getting close to the end of their working hours, the other patients (who had been operated upon after me) had already gone home and I still couldn’t make it a few steps without throwing up. Most clinics, hospitals, doctor’s offices (or any other offices for that matter) keep to their working hours and rarely make exceptions. Normally an outpatient clinic would have sent me to the next major clinic where they would have kept me overnight, especially since I hadn’t been in a state to leave the past three hours or so. Not this clinic. I am not sure whether the anaesthetist sensed that I did not want to stay overnight in a big clinic (maybe I mumbled something to that effect…). He told the nurses and the other staff to go home (which they did but not before they wished me a speedy recovery before leaving), assured them that he would close the clinic, decided to stay on personally and give me some more time. I must have been there for another good 40 minutes or more (somehow I lost count of time that day). During this time, the anaesthetist kept an eye on me and discussed with Bernd what the options were (send me to an overnight clinic or drive me home and reckon with the fact that I would throw up on the way..). Never once did I get the feeling that I should hurry up and make a decision so that the anaesthetist could go home, I had the feeling that I could take all the time I needed. A good deal later I decided I felt well enough to take on the drive home and the anaesthetist told Bernd that if I continued to throw up two hours after reaching home, I needed to go to the next clinic and get medication through IV. He then gave me his business card with his mobile number and told me to call him in case I felt worse and/or if I had to go to a clinic close to home and they needed to know what medication I had received. To say that this is very unusual would be an understatement-normally the doctor would have sent me to an overnight clinic and had I insisted on going home, I would have got some papers about the medication I had received and would have been told very clearly that I was going home “at my own risk and responsibility”. Plus a senior anaesthetist/doctor would have been one of the first to go home once his work was done and would have left one of the personnel, if at all, to close up and let me out. Just as we were ready to leave, the anaesthetist decided to accompany us downstairs to the car to ensure personally that I didn’t collapse on the way down. He told me that he would remove the needle for the IV only after I was seated in the car (in case I collapsed before and needed another infusion), which he did after ensuring that I was all buckled up and still felt that I wanted to take on the long ride home.
The drive home was about an hour and we made it with one stop on the way. I of course threw up again on reaching home, crept into bed immediately and refused to eat or drink anything. I woke up a few hours later, drank a glass of water and kept it in, ate a huge bowl of blueberries and fell asleep again. I did not take any of the painkillers since I had been told that they would probably add to my nauseousness and I should take them only if the pain got unbearable.
The next day I had to go to the surgeons office in Munich. I awoke feeling better but the hour’s ride to his offices didn’t do me much good. I couldn’t make it on my own to his offices on the third floor and had to be taken up in a wheelchair. Fortunately there is a general practitioner who has her offices in the same building and she was called in to have a look at me. She put me on a drip, we spent two hours in there, decided to take some blood samples, gave me a painkiller, my wounds were checked, the drainage removed and we went home. The surgeon’s assistant doctor decided that there was no point in discussing more with me, I was just not in the state for it and we agreed that we would discuss more next week. I was told what I needed to do for the next days (take it easy!!) and start with physiotherapy a few days later.
The GP called me the next day and as she had suspected, my blood values were a bit messed up by the long operation and some of them had dropped dangerously low. She prescribed additional medication and since then I have been feeling much better. To mine and everyone else’s surprise, I am able to do a lot with one and half hands and I have started pushing myself to find creative solutions for the things that I have a difficulty with. I am proud to say that I can shower alone, dress myself with very little or no help, chop veggies, wash dishes, brush Jaden, braid and even wash my hair!
In all this, I am extremely grateful and amazed by the exceptional people that I met during the surgery. As I have mentioned, the surgeon is a renowned shoulder-and-knee specialist in Munich. Normally such specialists are “gods in white”, very convinced about their abilities, quite proud, snobbish and impatient with anyone who asks too many questions. He was recommended to me by my physiotherapist (another remarkable person, but that is the topic for another blog) and I had my apprehensions about being treated by such a famous and “in” doctor from Munich. I was however never even once given the impression that my worries or fears were not important. In-spite of a full waiting room, the surgeon always had time for me, treated me with respect and kindness, has a great sense of humour and realised very quickly that I was a very strong willed person who pushed herself to limits 🙂
Having had quite a lot to do with hospital personnel in the past years, I was very surprised and touched by the experience I had with the medical personnel at the clinic. One tends to expect professionalism from nurses and doctors but this is not always the case – either the doctors are good and the nurses aren’t or vice-versa. At this outpatient clinic everyone from the receptionist to the doctors were not only professional and competent but what stood out was the kindness with which they treated and took care of me. I was never treated as an object to be operated on but as a human being, where the colour of my skin did not lead to curiosity or unnecessary gossip and “interrogation”, where the personnel were sensitive to whether I wanted to be left alone or whether I needed help. The surgeon and anaesthetist went way beyond what was expected of them and left me with the feeling that they truly cared for me and my wellbeing – both as a patient and as a person. Normally doctors of that calibre, reputation and seniority go out of their way only for patients they know very well, or if these patients are famous or rich – not for normal patients they hardly know like me 🙂
The road to recovery is going to be longer and more challenging than what I had thought since the injury was much more severe than expected. But I am very grateful and feel very blessed to have had such exceptional and kind people who stood by and helped me during one of the crucial and difficult phases of this journey , a phase in which I felt and was very vulnerable. My heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Christof Burghardt, Dr. Alexander Brederode and the team at the OP Centrum Giesing for making a difference in the lives of their patients – you certainly did in mine!