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Zorba Paster: Meet With Your Surgeon Before A Procedure

The Best Care Is When The Doctor And The Patient Are On The Same Page

David Goldman/AP Photo

Dear Doc: I need help. I’m a health care professional who, on my way to work a few months ago had a horrific car crash—fractured rib, lots of pain, a slow recovery.

But that isn’t the problem. I have cancer. When they did the CT scan of my kidneys because I had blood in my urine, they found a kidney tumor. This was by accident. I didn’t have any kidney cancer symptoms, no blood in the urine, no pain. It was an incidental finding, for which I am grateful.

My problem is with the surgeon. He wants to use the robotic technique for my surgery. From what I read that’s just fine, but what bothers me is that he never discussed the pros and cons.

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I’ve seen him several times but each time he brushes me off, hurries in and out of the room. He’s always looking at the computer screen when he comes in, with no time to discuss the things I really want to know about.

Any comforting words for me? I’m actually a super-strong person, but just like everybody else, I need comforting words that he just doesn’t give me.

P.S. I love your column, hardly ever miss it. — L.M. from Jacksonville

Dear L.M.: Ah, the perils of modern medicine. When I started practicing as a doctor, we didn’t have the CT scans we have today. In Madison, a great city with a great university and great hospitals, we had two CT scanners, one at UW Hospital and one at one of the other hospitals. Each scan took 30 to 60 minutes, which meant we only did the ones that were absolutely necessary.

But now, we can scan whenever we want and whoever we want. The technology is there—a great bonus for you—but the warmth of medicine for some doctors has gone out the window.

You want some answers and some reassurance. You’re knowledgeable, you’re an intelligent consumer, but you just can’t get the answers you need out of your doctor. This is a dilemma.

The robotic technique is clearly the way to go for this type of surgery. The CT technology saved you. The electronic medical record will help your doctor keep track of your medications, your allergies, your whole body. But still, to quote the Rolling Stones, you can’t get no satisfaction.

I have a suggestion: make an appointment to see your surgeon before the surgery. Bring someone with you—that always helps to slow things down a bit. Bring a list of questions you want answered. And tell the nurse or medical assistant before the doctor comes into the room that you need help. You need time to get your questions answered.

I bet if you just got a good 5 to 10 minutes, you could get everything wrapped up. You would feel better, and if your doctor is a good doctor, they’ll feel better, too.

And guess what, you’ll feel better after surgery because you’ll be more relaxed before you go in.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re rolling your eyes and saying, ‘Wait a minute, it isn’t that easy.’ Maybe it is for you to say, but who wants to confront their doctor before they slice you open with a knife?

My answer: The best care is when the doctor and the patient are on the same page. And any surgeon worth their weight in scalpels will tell you the same thing. Stay well.