January 11th, 2011
Without a doubt, there is great value in orthopedic surgery and with the ever-expanding array of techniques and new technology available to surgeons like myself, there is a lot we can do to ease people’s pain and give them back their lives. That being said, I have also found that, unfortunately, while it can correct many problems, there are some things that orthopedic surgery cannot fix. Some things just aren’t fixable.
So you know, that was a hard lesson to learn and one that in all my years of training was never clearly addressed. We are surgeons. We fix things. That means we make things better, improve situations and conditions using knee replacements, hip resurfacing, and elbow surgery via synovectomy.
Well, yes—much of the time. But not all of the time. I have been a practicing orthopedist for over 23 years—and that doesn’t even include my six “training” years after medical school. With all of that training and experience, I, like almost all other orthopedists, wanted to believe that I could fix any orthopedic problem. The bottom line is… we cannot. It took me almost four years of practicing orthopedic surgery before I was finally able to provide my patients with honest, realistic and probable predictions of how well surgery would work for them. Part of this lag was due to my lack of maturity and experience.
But what it really came down to was my unwillingness to face or admit, to my patients or myself, that I simply could not promise or achieve full restoration for every patient in every case. Having realized that my ego, among other things, was keeping me from admitting that I couldn’t fix everything, and knowing how important it is to be straight with my patients about their anticipated recovery results, I felt obligated to disseminate the information in my book.
The fact that a surgeon can’t fix everything is as hard a pill to swallow for patients as it is for doctors. But as a responsible patient, it is your job to find out what results can be expected in your case. Remember, anything is possible, but some things are more likely than others. And while not everything is fixable, in the right hands, most situations can be improved. The surgeon and the patient must be realistic and aligned in their expectations, so an open avenue of communication is of paramount importance.
So to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this blog, “Am I going to fix you?”
There’s a good chance.
Then, your next question might be, “Will I be as good as new?”
I discuss that in a future blog.
Until next time,
|About the Author: Dr. Stuart Gold, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who has 23 years experience specializing in sport injuries, joint replacement, arthritis and limb salvage. As the Director of the Orthopedic Institute, Dr. Gold recently published The Patient's Guide To Orthopedic Surgery to help patients better understand the challenges, risks and opportunities of orthopedic care.|