I went by my mailbox the other day to clean out the usual accumulation of useless fliers and advices from the administration (a new administrator; a new policy; a hospital picnic), and was astonished to find a card in the box.

It was from a woman whose husband’s hand I had sewn up back in March. It wasn’t the most horrible injury I saw that month, but it was certainly sickening to people, like the man and his wife, who hadn’t seen anything like it before. It had taken me some effort to talk him into letting me take my time and do things carefully. Once I got the anesthetic in it hadn’t been that bad. I think the previous ER where he’d been had tried to do a digital nerve block and failed. I got it right (for the first time ever, to my own surprise; but I didn’t tell them that), and then he let me cut and sew as I saw fit.

Anyway, the card was to say that his hand was working well, and the doctors thought the nerve would grow back in time, and it was nearly as good as new. This was not a short card; it was a big hallmark card, filled up with writing. I think I started crying in the hallway. I’ve had people say thanks before, but to take the time and effort to write a whole card and mail it to the hospital – unbelievable.

A few days later I ran into the wife of the man with really the worst injury I saw that month, the one that I could barely stand to look at. (Broken bones turned all wrong-side-out really turn my stomach.) I didn’t recognize her, but she stopped me and started exclaiming about how well it turned out, and how the plastic surgeons in the office had said I’d done the right thing, recognizing how much tissue was viable and should be repaired, and removing what wasn’t salvageable.

I don’t know what to say about any of this. I’m disturbingly surprised to hear that my hand surgeries turned out well, and touched by the patients’ gratitude. Getting this feedback is even more satisfying than simply looking at the hand when I was done and thinking I had done well. This is what it must feel like for the attendings in their offices, to have people come back and say that they’re better and the surgery helped them. This could be fun to keep doing.

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