Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at June 23, 2005 12:31 PM
“Sort of looks like a bag of marbles, doesn’t it?”
So began my latest life adventure. A surgeon said that, with a laugh, to me a little more than four weeks ago. He was holding an ultrasound image of my abdomen that, indeed, showed a gallbladder that looked exactly like a bag of marbles.
Stones. Several of them. Options? Live with the possibility that an emergency situation could present itself at any time, or get rid of the whole bag of marbles altogether.
Hoping to avoid a medical emergency during an upcoming vacation to Mexico, I elected to have my gallbladder removed. Life goes on normally without it and its a guarantee that the marbles are gone forever. I had the surgery on Monday and am enjoying (yes, enjoying) a little recovery time at home.
So where’s the rethinking? It’s in the procedure. A little history gives some perspective:
Just after that initial consultation with the surgeon, my 80–year old grandmother told me that she had her gallbladder removed when she was 20 years old. And her father (my great-grandfather) had his removed before she was born.
The scar from her surgery is still visible…its a long track across her abdomen that leaves no doubt that a surgeon was easily able to fit both of his hands and likely several instruments inside her belly to complete the process. In fact, the thing looks like it conceals an incision large enough for two surgeons to work in there.
And she tells me that her father’s was even worse (she also swears whiskey was used for an anesthetic, but that’s an entirely different post…).
Not me. I am the direct benefit of modern medicine. The surgeon was able to do my procedure laproscopically. No “incision” was necessary. Instead, I’m now the proud owner of four “stab wounds” as the nurses call them. Each of the four provided access for an instrument during the procedure and is no larger than a pencil in diameter. My jokester surgeon explained it this way: one for the gas (the abdomen is insufflated during the procedure), one for the scope, and two for “chopsticks.”
See the rethinking? You might readily see one level of rethinking…someone was brave enough to rethink surgery and, at some point between my grandmother’s procedure and mine, invented laparoscopy.
I see another level, though. Someone was brave enough to convince the medical establishment that the new procedure should be the standard (laparoscopic cholecystectomy was endorsed by the NIH as a safe and effective procedure in 1992).
The second level, the convincing level, took more rethinking than the first. Imagine trying to convince an industry, a powerful and staid one at that, to all but eliminate one of its tried and true methods for some new-fangled approach. I’m willing to bet that the convincer(s) were initially met with loads of skepticism (“What? You’re telling me that you never actually cut the patient open? Have you been playing with the ether again, Doctor?”)
But, as I’m learning, rethinkers tend to be a brave lot. I’ve got four stab wounds to prove it.