Tuesday, October 03, 2006

fellows and bellows

this sunday, the local paper featured a story about a vascular surgeon coping with life as a quadriplegic following a cycling accident a year and a half ago. while riding his bike on memorial day, dr. fellows struck the side of an SUV when it made a last-minute turn in front of him.

fellows severed his C2 vertebra and stopped breathing 3 times on the way to the ER. now he’s a quad, paralyzed from the neck down. once an avid tennis player, cyclist and windsurfer, he now navigates his life in a wheelchair.

this is the man who gave me back my athletic career after i’d spent 4 frustrating years exploring multifarious branches of medicine trying to figure out why my right leg would lose all power under intense effort. some doctors were utterly mystified; some wondered what the big deal was. “you can still walk. what’s the problem?

fellows and i figured out the problem was vascular in nature, and it was he who carved out 5cm of my iliac artery, replacing it with gore-tex. it was fellows who adjured the residents checking my post-op status to MAKE SURE the pressures in both legs matched. and it was fellows who drove back that night through a driving snowstorm to perform emergency surgery when i clotted my new, strange vessel.

every race i do is a gift from dr. fellows, and i try to not squander it or take it for granted.

this doesn’t mean i’m not a total asshole.

since i’m one of fellows’ more unusual patients (i.e., not an elderly smoker with plaque-stiffened arteries), the article’s author interviewed me extensively and quoted me recollecting:

unlike most doctors, who treat you like you have half a brain and are supercilious and patronising, [fellows] listened to you and wasn’t in a hurry to get to the next patient. he treated you with respect.
i may be in some trouble here – first for harshing on the entire medical profession (okay, MOST, not the entire) and second for dragging out the 11th grade SAT vocabulary.

granted, supercilious depends on context. if you’re talking about dracula, it’s kinda sexy. OTOH, when you’re summing up MOST doctors, it could be construed as a wee bit critical.

-- most doctors are “supercilious and patronising”? D mocked me. only if you’re an elitist, over-educated ivy league brat. you could WALK.

in a town where everybody’s connected by at most two degrees of separation, one of which is usually a dupont scion or capano, i fear my torrid phraseology may have gotten me black-listed in the local medical community. my name isn’t common, so i can’t play the “oh, that must be a different jan brady” card.

i can’t wait for the next time i establish a new patient relationship. “and what’s your name? ah…. yes… um, well, the doctor’s seeing patients in 2009. shall i put you down for june, you judas iscariot??”

i’d quote a wise man and say we get what we deserve, but that doesn’t hold true for fellows at all. he's undaunted, however, and continues to practise medicine as an advisor and educator -- his most important lesson, arguably, that your life can flip in a split second.

carpe diem, friends.


Anonymous said...

I don't know this doctor, but know of him because years ago he was able to save my uncle's life in spite of uncle's ruptured aorta.

The way I remember it you weren't too impressed with him at first meeting, and I also seem to remember that you had to do a buttload of research on your own to find a solution to your problem.
Granted, after the initial contact with him you seemed to have complete confidence in him, and the efforts he put in when you had an emergency are truly astonishing.

It is horrible that such a talented surgeon can no longer use his hands, but I am humbled to hear how he still practices medicine and hopefully I will whine less in the future over my petty little problems.

Please don't beat up on yourself over what the medical establishment may or may not think of the way your remarks looked like in the newspaper. I don't think it came across like you were bashing the profession anyway, most of the emphasis was on what a great job he did for you, and how you stayed in contact with him after his accident.
Besides, the ones you were complaining about are likely too self-involved to notice...

fatmammycat said...

Poor man.It's hard to imagine how to cope with the loss of your body and it just shows his mental toughness.
You're summing up of the medical profession sounds rather on track if you ask me. I ripped my ligaments quite badly a few years ago and my physio was an arrogant bitch who didn't listen to a word I said and as it turned out I was bloody right, there were two smaller tears that had not mended fully. Sometimes they must push you, but other times they must listen, and good doc can do both.
Although you could end up like that episode of Seinfold where either George or Elaine had to resort to using countryside doctors after disagreeing with one of their kind.

Subhangi said...

Oh man.

Humbling story there.

And don't worry about the faux pas, it happens with all of us. You should have seen the letter I wrote to the administrator of our college a few months ago, in a fit of rebellion. The WHOLE college was after me for the next couple of weeks saying "Oh you're the girl who said the administration has their heads up their arses and mentioned the work "fucking"?"

Egads. Sooooooooo embarrassing.

finn said...

hey K, thanks. knowing you read the article and didn't think i came across as a total asshole means a lot. :)

and you're probably dead-on about this: Besides, the ones you were complaining about are likely too self-involved to notice because those ppl will never believe they're anything less than god's gift to the planet.

FMC, i WAS thinking this would be a good seinfeld episode; i didn't know they'd actually done one! was your physio an athlete or sports doc? that seems to make a huge difference.

subhangi, that doesn't sound embarrassing. that sounds downright righteous.

addon said...

hey finn!

good story, well told.

some years ago, i was in a position to influence the choice of consultants and contractors for major construction projects in our State of Queensland, here down under.

i began to persuade my fellow panel members that, basically, each batch of consultants had the same abilities (broadly speaking) and what we should be looking for is those with whom we could have a good relationship and sustain worthwhile communication.

i believe that the result of one's interaction with people depends primarily on the quality of the relationship and the maintaining of strong communication.

that sounds sort of corny stated so formally, trust an engineer to do that! but it is true and i have seen it al over the place, and folk are beginning, certainly on major projects, to realise that the result is going to depend primarily on these human qualities, and not on who has the smartest (supposed) qualifications.

i would rather have someone i can get on with than anyone more qualified that i can't stand.

i must resist going on and on about this. it is one of my pet topics.

once more, thanks for a salutary tale, and you tell these tales so well.


fatmammycat said...

Sports Doc, total bitch. Full of 'I went to med school, I know better.'
I was full of 'Well it's my fucking leg!'

finn said...

i hate that i know your body better than you, mentality. generally, docs who understand athletes are more more flexible and helpful. *generally*.

adam, i am right on board with you! in fact, a month ago when we were vying with another vendor for a cherry account, the prospective client told us that, based on both vendors' proposals, presentations and portfolios, we were tied and they couldn't make a decision. what could we say to undo the deadlock, they challenged. well, on a personal level, which ppl would you rather work with, i asked. because, as you note, that's what it comes down to.

It's about people. It's about connection.

(and we got the account.)

Subhangi said...

Finn -

righteous my intentions were all right, but everyone was paying more attention to my language than to my content.

Adam -

I agree with you.