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A History of Complications

A tonsillectomy at age nine that led to hemorrhaging and a return to the OR. An operation on four impacted wisdom teeth at age sixteen that kept me in a coma for three days. A hysterectomy at age thirty-six that involved the wound opening up, internal bleeding, and two additional hospital admits.

There’s more! A seemingly simple procedure on a damaged toe at age fifty-two that produced a stubborn infection, immobilizing me for months. Five jaw surgeries, the third of which, at age sixty-three, necessitated that the maxillofacial surgeon call in a general surgeon to stop the hemorrhaging in my stomach, where tissue had been taken for my jaw.

My surgical history reads like a poorly-written Stephen King horror novel. These days I have a profound fear of surgery—and hospitals, IVs, and even routine visits to my primary care physician, whose office happens to be located within a major local hospital. When I fell July 2 in New York City during a visit with my daughter, I would not let her take me to the nearby emergency room. My angst about entering a medical facility and possibly needing surgery overrode my common sense of having a physician examine me. After returning home, the excruciating pain left me no choice but to seek professional help. I sighed with relief when the diagnosis was “only” a fractured pelvis, an injury that heals with time, not surgery.

While innocently rubbing cream over my dry skin several weeks ago, I discovered a hard nodule on my abdomen. A doctor’s appointment set off a domino effect: a contrast CT scan to ensure no stomach tumors, an at-home test to check my colon, and an upcoming meeting with a surgical oncologist to rule out any type of cancer. The entire process has turned me into an emotional wreck. Although I worry about a cancer diagnosis, I am more focused on the surgery that would be required to determine whether the lump is benign or malignant.

If only I could delete the word “surgery” from my personal lexicon—and life.

Ronna Edelstein
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania



4 thoughts on “A History of Complications”

  1. You would be the perfect candidate to provide the patient perspective on surgical quality improvement initiatives and healthcare provider education that focus on trauma informed care. I recognize that this would be leaning into the word surgery rather than deleting it from your lexicon; however, working to improve the system can sometimes be cathartic for those participating. At a minimum, your stories may impact individual healthcare providers in such a way that they change how they practice medicine.

  2. Sara Ann Conkling

    Ronna, I wish I didn’t understand your piece as well as I think I do. I don’t think anyone (besides us, maybe), is talking about the real PTSD that ensues when these procedures (and sometimes the people performing them) go bad. When we have a fracture and we are determined to avoid the ER, someone should be caring about why that is, because it certainly isn’t normal, and we may be hurting ourselves by that decision. I wish there was a lot more attention/research/training devoted to how to care for patients who have been traumatized by iatrogenic injuries. We’ll never see that happen, because the culture of medicine is all about burying mistakes and not taking responsibility when something very bad happens (at least, that has been my experience, and it may also have been yours). Taking the next step to actually care appropriately for iatrogenically injured patients is probably too much to hope for. I wish you the best in your recovery!

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