14 July 2008

Prove it

One of the hardest things, I think, in medical practice, is attempting to prove to a patient that you (as a specialist) are in the right, when, in fact another surgeon in your specialty has proven some other thing to said patient. (still with me?)

So, last Thursday, I was called, nay, paged, by the medical assistant of Dr X, who frantically told me that I have to do surgery on patient TB. I had to stifle a laugh and ask her to slow down, as I explained to her, "I never do surgery on a patient that I have never seen before. And, by the way, please explain to me, again, why, if Dr X has determined that TB needs surgery, she will not be performing it?" She took a breath, and, rather confused, affirmed that, "Of course, you should see the patient first. You see, the patient does not speak any English, he only speaks Spanish, and I have no idea how he got your name, but he did. And Dr X saw him yesterday and said that he needs surgery ASAP, but she cannot do it, as the hospitals that she goes to don't take his insurance."

For a myriad of reasons, I have a weakness for patients who are not fluent in English... whether it is the time that I spent in my fellowship in the South Bronx, or my own immigration into the States, but there you have it. So, I told the medical assistant to have the patient come to see me on Friday.

That is where the fun started. First off, Friday decided to be hell-day. I did not see that many patients (19 in all), but I felt like I saw about 50, and like each of them whipped me one-by-one. I did a few procedures, which added to the craziness. So I digress, back to TB:

My Spanish is mediocre, at best. It was learned on medical missions in Guatemala and in the aforementioned South Bronx. It has been slightly bettered recently, as I have been dating a Hispanic man, but still, it is not conversational. I was ready. We have several Spanish speaking people in our office, and I had alerted my ~favorite~ one that I would need her help. Alas, I got the man into the office, and he started speaking... perfect English. huh? I asked him where he got my name (as Dr X's medical assistant was in a quandary as to how that had happened), and he evenly stated, "Dr X provided me with your name, as the hospitals she goes to don't take my medical insurance." come again? (now I was wondering what language I spoke to that MA in...)

OK, fast forward to... the man had had a close run-in with his lawn mower. Apparently, he managed to stick not one, but BOTH of his middle fingers (and a tiny bit of his left index) into the blades while the motor was still going. "I didn't hear it," was his defense. No one else involved, just one man and his mower. ehem.

One really lucky man, I might add. Here is what he got: a left distal phalanx fracture (a tuft fracture), and a right mallet deformity. (Look here for dealing with mallets--Dr Bates gives a great tutorial.) The mallet was due to an avulsion fracture of the dorsal distal phalanx, but he also had some tissue loss (with ER repair/ coverage 2 days before I saw him) of the volar surface of the finger tip.

Problem was, that he had a tremendous amount of edema at the right finger. You see, fingertip injuries without bony involvement (which this, in effect, was), can often be treated very conservatively. They heal GORGEOUSLY--often with no scar. But, as soon as you start mucking with trying to tightly re-approximate skin to skin (remember: re-approximate, don't strangulate!!), you can cause enough edema for cell death. Cell death equals ischemia and, well, skin death. So, TB was looking at skin edges that didn't look so healthy, and a surgeon (moi) that did not want to touch him with a twelve foot pole. As far as I was concerned, surgery is not indicated! And he had so much edema, that if I did any sort of grafting, it would certainly fail. (This, by the way, was one of the surgeries for which Dr X had apparently booked TB. That, and something for the other middle finger... in other words, surgery on BOTH hands at the same time. YIKES!!)

Now, I was quite comfortable with my treatment plan (get the edema down, treat the mallet, treat any skin death as it happens--it usually sloughs off like a scab), but I had to convince the patient, his wife (who did not, in fact speak a lick of English), and his brother-in-law (whose grasp of English was somewhere between the two). So, how do you (I), a relatively young surgeon (at least 10 years junior to Dr X) who does not speak their native tongue (Dr X does) convince these people that I am in the right? By standing my ground, repeating myself as many times as necessary, explaining and re-explaining, going over the x-rays, and, above all, showing them that I care.

I still do not understand Dr X's approach. You might ask why I do not just pick up the phone and call. It may sound awful (to me it does), but there have been many affirmations that much of what Dr X does has to do with inflow of cash... and a bullshit excuse might just put me over the edge. I really do not, am not ready to, hear it. I mean, really, both hands... at the same time?! Only in extreme, extreme circumstances.


Oh, I wanted to mention how honored I was to be mentioned in this month's edition of SurgeXperiences. Please make sure to take a look at the nicely written conglomerate as soon as you get a chance!

1 comment:

rlbates said...

Thanks for the compliment. Could I encourage you to submit this post to SurgeXperiences? I'm hosting the next edition (will be up July 20).