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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Expectations of surgery: She's grateful, But

Alina Tugend's story
My father recently had his second knee operation in a year.  The first time, things went poorly.  His rehabilitation was difficult and months later, he still could not walk well or, even more important to him, play tennis.

He had the operation a few weeks ago, and he's already doing much better.  Different doctor, different outcome.  And perhaps, most significantly, different expectations.

"The first surgeon just raised my expectations unrealistically," my father said.  "He told me that in a few weeks I would be out on the tennis court."

I started thinking about how we manage expectations after my father's operation and after a friend, Amy, told me she recently had her cancerous thyroid removed.  The cancer was contained, but one of her vocal cords was paralyzed.  

She wasn't warned about this, but has since learned it is a common side effect of such an operation and can last up to a year.  It makes talking, eating and drinking difficult.

"It's not what I bargained for," Amy said.  "I'm grateful to be alive, but if I had just known, I would have been more prepared before and afterwards."

Advice to people considering surgery:  Consult a professional patient advocate, or read about the experiences of older and wiser patients on the Internet, before consenting to surgery.

Read a story about a man's ill-informed consent for surgery.  Thanks to Alina for her article, "What Did You Expect?  It Makes a Difference," excerpted here from the NY Times of Jan. 14.

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