Food for Thought: The Patient Side of Medicine

07 Feb 2016

By Abigail Forbes

I was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Scoliosis when I was 8 years old. After many years of driving hours away to doctor appointments, the frustration of wearing a back brace as a teenager, and increasing back pain, the decision was finally made for me to undergo spinal correction surgery. The surgeon placed rods on my upper curve during the operation, and unfortunately my lower spinal curve continued to progress over the next year as I grew.  I was still hurting, my clothes still ill fitting, and we were starting to question the benefit, if any, I got from the surgery. Frustrated, my parents and I sought out second opinions regarding further treatment; it was a unanimous opinion that my surgeon should have placed rods on both of my thoracic and lumbar curves.  We were disappointed with the decision by the first surgeon regarding my surgery, because I was going to need a revision surgery to essentially start over.  At 15 years old, I underwent my second major surgery to remove the first surgeon’s hardware for replacements rods spanning a longer area of my spine.

Abigail constructed a sculpture using the hardware from her first surgery.

Now being on the other side of medicine as a physician in training, I have gained a sense of empathy for my surgeon’s judgment call.  As students, we feel inadequate as future physicians if we do poorly on an exam or miss a few questions while being pimped, and it’s easy to feel discouraged. I cannot imagine the toll it must take on a surgeon when the surgeries they perform lead to complications or even failure.

Surely he did not intend for me to have to go back under the knife, give up my position on my soccer team, get behind on months of classwork, and inflict any more pain than I had already endured.  I have now personally seen that medicine is not a flawless science and doctors cannot not be held to a perfect standard either.  As a future surgeon, it is inevitable that I will make mistakes. I must remember to learn from my mistakes and not be discouraged, to seek advice of fellow physicians when I am unsure, and to listen to my patients and encourage their questions.  However, my experience as a disappointed patient, allows me to better connect with my patients and understand their concerns.  An experience that I once viewed as a misfortune, can now be appreciated from both a patient’s and physician’s point of view. This insight, I believe will only make me a better surgeon.

To practicing surgeons, how are you are able to stay positive after a failed surgery or loss of patient?

AF postAbigail Forbes is a third year medical student at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.  She completed her undergraduate degree at Baylor University where she discovered her passion for anatomy and went directly into medical school wanting to pursue surgery.  She is active in her Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Interest Group and helped found the UTMB Association of Women Surgeons student chapter.  Her research interests involve improving patient distress and hypertrophic scarring after burn injuries.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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