Patients Change Our Lives Too

Located in The View From the OR (click link to see other articles).

Sometimes, patients change their doctor’s life more than we change their life.

Early in my career as a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon, I treated a patient who changed my life professionally and personally. She was a 35 year old nun who was studying at the nearby university.  She was a midwife in Africa where she lived but came on a scholarship to the United States to become a doctor herself.  Unfortunately, her studies were suffering due to heavy menstrual bleeding and pain from multiple fibroids.

I performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy to help alleviate her symptoms.  During her surgery, I had to remove a number of fibroids from her uterus first just so that I could complete the hysterectomy.  As she was taken to the recovery room and I’d started to dictate my surgical procedure notes, I suddenly lost my breath.  I realized that I’d inadvertently left behind a 5 cm fibroid in her abdomen as it was buried in her bowel.

Never in my young career had a made such a huge mistake. I felt like a failure, but I knew I needed to make this right.

My heart sank and I approached her family and friends to tell them the truth.  Together, with the patient, we agreed to return to the operating room to remove the fibroid specimen, which was retrieved without further difficulty, again using laparoscopic techniques.

Two weeks later, my patient came to my office and gave me the largest thank you card I have ever seen with the kindest message. She felt remarkably well after her surgery and was impressed by my medical skills even though I still felt like a failure.

Her warmth gave me strength to carry on as a young physician. It also inspired me to look at ways that I could change my surgical technique to prevent fibroids from being lost in the abdomen. My surgical team and I have since developed an award recognized technique that has not allowed me to lose any more fibroids.  This technique has not only benefited me, but it has also changed the way that hundreds of other surgeons perform their surgeries. When I teach this procedure to others, I always start by telling them the story of my patient and how she inspired me as a surgeon.

Many patients speak about how their doctor changed their lives, but believe me, patients can truly change our lives too.

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Last updated on Sep 29, 2023