Today was the two-year anniversary of my second hand surgery. This anniversary almost came and went without me noticing (confession: I started writing this before I actually remembered), but it has certainly been on my mind recently. Although it’s hard for something like this to be far from your thoughts when you see a physiotherapist and chiropractor on a regular basis. Plus I can’t help but notice the scars on the backs of my wrists. The phrase, “I know it like the back of my hand” actually means something when I say it.

However, my experience as a patient has been particularly on my mind these past weeks because my hand surgeon recently led the first upper limb transplant in Canada. He also was on the team that did the world’s first hand transplant. Basically he’s a surgical rock star, and my scars are permanent autographs.

My dear friend Sarah (a fellow researcher and The Master Patient blogger extraordinaire) was my support person for my first hand surgery back in 2013. I felt like it was some sort of medical remake of Freaky Friday; the master patient was the support person, and the nurse was the patient. This did not escape Sarah. She took the role of “Surgical Cheerleader” very seriously, and entertained me while I waited by critiquing every hospital brochure she could find. Eventually anaesthesia came to take me away, and I was told to leave my glasses with Sarah.

Worst part of the day.

I couldn’t see where I was going as I tried to keep up with the anaesthesia resident on the long walk to the Block Room where they’d give me a nerve block so I wouldn’t feel the surgery despite being awake. I just kept praying that I didn’t trip or get my foot run over. I was already a patient of the hand clinic; I didn’t want to join a foot clinic too.

I made it to the Block Room unscathed and with all of my toes still intact, but I was completely overwhelmed as soon I sat down on the stretcher. I had multiple people introducing themselves at once, and talking over each other to explain what was going to happen. Normally I probably could have handled this, but I couldn’t keep track of who everyone was because I couldn’t see their faces, and their scrubs were all the same colour. I was being swarmed by these nameless, faceless blobs who were poking me with sharp instruments and slathering my shoulder in subzero ultrasound gel.

This – understandably – made me extremely anxious. I wanted my glasses. Why did they need to be taken away so stinkin’ early? Was there any way I could have them back? How soon after surgery would I have them back? I distracted myself by picking up and dropping the deadweight that was once my right arm, which earned me an extremely stern scolding from one of the blobs.

A sense of calm washed over me once I was in the operating room (OR). Now this could be because the entire team took the time to stop and introduce themselves one at a time, or it could have been the generous dose of sedative that the anaesthesia resident (and at the time, my new BFF) had just given me. I still wasn’t impressed about not being able to see, but the OR team was much more accommodating. I had told the anaesthesia resident that I wore glasses, so everyone constantly reintroduced themselves to me. The resident even came in a little closer when we were talking, which allowed me to see her face.

Apparently I was very appreciative of the team’s efforts because I thanked them numerous times. I can’t be certain of how many times because I kept nodding off, waking up, and profusely thanking everyone before falling asleep again and repeating the cycle. Even as I was being wheeled out I said to my surgeon, “Thank everyone for me.” Because apparently I hadn’t thanked them enough.

What I took away from the whole experience was the importance of not getting so caught up in the monotony of my day that I forget that patients (or anyone, for that matter) are human beings. Just because something is routine for me certainly doesn’t mean it’s routine for someone else. The little things the OR team did for me – like taking the time to introduce (and reintroduce) themselves by name and profession – made such a huge difference. The power of empathy, compassion, and mercy should never be underestimated.

And if I ever begin to forget this lesson, my permanent autographs will always be there to remind me.

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