We all have our own story filled with chapters about people and events unique to us and I will never forget where my life story took a sudden change of course and brought about my most life altering events with people I'll never forget.
I had a routine operation on my knee go wrong and developed a life threatening infection. I was rushed into the first of many emergency surgeries with a doctor I trust and in the end, am grateful for. I was told later that had we waited just one more day, the infection would have become fatal. There are no adequate words to describe what it feels like when your doctor looks into your eyes and informs you just how close to death you had come. The infection cleared with IV meds and surgical debridement only to return a month later which was a sign of a vicious cycle beginning. He took me into the OR a total of 4 times including the first operation and when the infection returned again, he made a decision that altered my life and one I am most grateful for.
He called in another doctor—a board certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in musculoskeletal trauma, bone infection and post-traumatic reconstruction. My doctor's receptionist made the first call and was told I could be seen in two weeks. My doctor excused himself from the exam room only to return several minutes later saying that he had made the magnitude of the situation known and that we had an appointment with Dr. B. the very next day.
I still remember my first meeting with Dr. B. We'd been to Baltimore only once prior to that day and had no idea where we were going. My oldest sister came along to help navigate and also because I needed her. Dr. B. was kind, patient, and matter-of-fact. He spent a lot of time with us that day telling us about himself, why he'd left Shock Trauma and had started a family late, and explaining what he was going to do to heal me. My family looks back now and laughs at how he hadn't even begun to unwrap my leg and look at my wound when he looked me in the eye and said, "So when are we going to operate?" It was apparent by my face that I'd been taken completely off guard because my mind was spinning and digesting the information I'd already given and I looked right back at him and said, "we're not." He informed me that, yes I would be having surgery and that if we wanted to he could admit me right then and there and operate the following morning. Ultimately, we opted to wait a few days to allow us to get things in order and come to terms with the idea of an external fixator and muscle flap—both new concepts to us.
I remember bits and pieces of that week. I remember having to put off the muscle flap until incredibly late at night and waking up afterward in so much intense pain that I thought for certain I was going to die. I remember getting up on crutches for the first time with the fixator and doing my best not to cry as intense pain ran down my leg. I remember Dr. B. laughing at my hat one day and then calling me "Adidas" the next day after being told by my mother that my hat served as a security blanket for me. The recovery process was long but everything healed nicely and eventually the PICC line was pulled and the fixator was taken off and I was back at physical therapy learning to use my leg again with a relief at knowing that it was over. However, we were all soon to find out that it was far from over.
I awoke one morning to the realization that my leg was swollen, red, and painful. The infection was back. We called the doctor and though he didn't truly believe that it was anything serious, he arranged to meet us at the ER on Saturday to take a look. He did take a look and immediately said, "That's one angry knee." It was tapped and I was admitted.
Surgery after surgery was performed on my knee, sometimes by him and sometimes by Dr. Higgins, while everyone struggled to solve the mystery of why the infections simply wouldn't die. Somewhere in the middle of everything I also learned that Dr. B. truly cares for his patients and that he had done some reading on Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic, progressive, debilitating disease that I suffer from, trying to understand the disease and what effect it might have in the battle against the raging infections. We tried everything that anyone could come up with but the infection wasn't going to give up easily. Dr. B. never once hesitated to admit that he didn't have the answers.
I will never forget the day I hopped into his office, handed him a list to help explain that I wanted an amputation. That decision was perhaps the hardest yet easiest decision of my life. From day one with the first infection my fear had been that I would lose my leg and I didn't think I could live like that. However, time went by, the pain increased to being constant, and the infections refused to stop. I did a lot of research, talked with each member of my family individually, spoke with my family doctor and sat down with my physical therapists. Dr. B. wasn't happy but he had told me before and told me again that he would do whatever I wanted him to do. In the post-op appointment he admitted that he'd posed my case as a hypothetical to other doctors and that the general consensus was that in conjunction with MS, amputation made sense. He eventually agreed.
I wrote him a long letter when all was said and done because I wanted and needed him to know that it was the right decision. I know he had his doubts and fears and so did I. That morning as I sat in the pre-op room looking down at my leg and the Genie drawing saying "good-bye leg," I told myself that I could back out of this. I still had time to cancel the surgery. That moment passed, he came into the room to talk, and as I was pushed down the hall to the OR my last thought was, "this is the right thing." It was. Learning to walk with the prosthetic will be another long haul in which patience is most certainly a virtue but I know I'll get through it and walk again and get back to my life.
I would be lying if I said that I wasn't afraid during all of this time. The fact is that I was terrified every time I realized that something wasn't right and my knee exploded with a full blown infection. I was afraid of losing my leg but mostly, I was afraid of losing my life. Unlike a lot of people, I like to know what is going on and I do my research. I have always been acutely aware of the fact that infections kill and they can kill quickly. When I look at my doctors over the past years, I don't just see my surgeons. I see the men who repeatedly saved my life.
People ask me if I hate my surgeon because he didn't fix the problem. My answer is, "no, I love the guy." Dr. B. went above and beyond to help me and keep me safe. He did everything in his power to fix it and I know the frustration has run deep in him just as it has in me. He put me at ease no matter what hell was circling me. He took his time during appointments to just talk or share a funny story. He came to my hospital room twice and sat down in the chair to stay and talk with me and find out where my head was at, what I was thinking, how my MS was holding up, and what my plans for the future were. He trusted me and my mom. If we called to say that something wasn't right he didn't doubt us and took us very seriously. When his family was out of town he sat in the waiting room with my family and just talked while I underwent another surgery.
Ours is not a typical doctor/patient relationship. In surgery, you fix whatever problem the patient has, you follow up with post-op appointments, they heal and it's all over. I kept coming back. We got to really know each other. I can't thank him enough for everything he has done. There simply aren't enough words in the English language to describe it. When he told me that we had just had our final visit as doctor and patient, it hit me harder than I ever thought it would.
Those are events that have greatly impacted my life and will always stand out. Dr. B. is one of the people who left a mark on my heart and in my life. My many thanks go out to him from the bottom of my heart for everything that he's done and for being in my corner and helping me get to a point where I can finally start to take control of my life and become whole once again.
Submitted by Anonymous