By Zoe Kiren Deol, MD, FACS
When my good friend, Amy, called to tell me that her new house in the Chicago suburbs had been broken into, I didn’t realize that was only half of the problem. The other half was that she had also injured her neck and was losing sensation and strength in her right hand. If Amy made a living as a telemarketer, this may not have been that traumatic. However, Amy is a general surgeon. I hopped in my car and drove from my home in Detroit to Amy’s house … bearing dog. I had good intentions. I thought my dog, Lexi, would provide an element of security while waiting for the alarm company to install her new security system.
I got there on a Monday night, and immediately took Lexi to potty in her back yard, as Amy warmed up a couple of slices of pizza for dinner. It was pitch dark, but I could see that Lexi had relieved herself; but, then she rolled over in the grass. I figured there must have been some stinkweed mixed in with the grass, so I quickly pulled Lexi back into Amy’s house. As we got in the door, in the light of the kitchen, Lexi gave a big shake. Excrement flew everywhere like cake batter from a hand mixer gone wild! Lexi had rolled in some other animal's (and let me just add, some very ill animal with GI distress) feces.
It was Diarrhea Grand Central Station.
It was on the floor, on the walls, on the ceiling, on the cabinets, and all over one side of Lexi, from her face to her tail. Fortunately (and I can't believe I just said "fortunately"), Amy had just taken her doctor-prescribed Valium for what was diagnosed as a muscle strain in her neck. She started laughing uncontrollably as I dry heaved for the next two hours while trying to simultaneously baby-wipe Lexi and leave emergency voice mail messages at every groomer within a 50-mile radius. I was offering 100.00 to anyone who would come in at night. No takers. Needless to say, neither of us had an appetite for dinner.
At the dawn of a new day, I hustled Lexi off to the first groomer who returned my call for emergency destinking. Meanwhile, Amy filled me in on the status of her neck. She had first seen her internist, who then referred her to an orthopedic surgeon. She was diagnosed with a muscle strain and then referred to a pain specialist. As the pain in her neck intensified, and the numbness in her hand grew worse, Amy became more desperate. We started brainstorming about the remaining options. Amy had already scheduled her own appointments with: a chiropractor, and an acupuncturist. Having had a similar, but much less serious, episode myself several years prior, I recommended a therapeutic massage and the use of several lifts during her laparoscopic procedures.
As female surgeons, we are burdened with a physical handicap during our laparoscopic procedures. Most, if not all, instruments are made for a man’s height, hand size, and arm length. As a result, female surgeons who are typically more petite, and “vertically challenged”, often find themselves operating with their shoulders constantly shrugged up high around their ears, and their scapulas winged out, as if about to take flight. I imagine that we resemble prehistoric Teradactlys about to attack their prey. Additionally, our fingers are constantly spread wide to span the man-sized grip of the laparoscopic instrument handles. As a result, I had suffered similar ulnar distribution numbness and subscapular pain as Amy was now describing. My choice of treatment was a Polish woman named Evana who knew how to reach the cursed knot under my scapula that inevitably reared its ugly head.
So here we were: two fellowship trained laparoscopic surgeons seeking medical help from people who are commonly referred to as “alternative medicine” specialists. Even more surprising was the fact that we were able to locate all of the above-mentioned specialists in the main allopathic hospital where Amy practiced. When I was training, not only were these specialties not considered a “real” branch of medicine, you had to go to a spa or beauty salon to find them. Yet, when one of my first patient’s in private practice asked me if she could have a Reiki Master perform a treatment on her in the pre-op area prior to her surgery, I was shocked to find that the hospital had one on staff! Upon further investigation, I discovered that there was an emerging hospital model called the “Planetree Model”. This system combines psychologically soothing hospital aesthetics, active patient participation, and alternative medical therapies (i.e. ancient eastern medicine) with traditional western medicine.
This adoption of ancient eastern medical practices is not just taking place in small community hospitals. Michigan’s largest health care system, Henry Ford Hospitals has just opened a new hospital in West Bloomfield built entirely on the principles of feng shui. Although I am not associated with this hospital, I have to admire their use of acupuncture, yoga, and a program called Vita which helps the patient integrate these alternative approaches into their traditional western care. Additionally, they use locally grown, organic produce for their celebrity-chef-created menu that patients order room service from whenever they are hungry. Disappearing are the days where hospital food meant meatloaf or fish sticks. The irony of hospitals serving the unhealthiest foods is fading fast. Instead, as I drive past the hospital in West Bloomfield on my way home, I consider stopping in for take-out (which, by the way, they do offer).
So when did all of this common sense stuff start occurring? When did we start to realize that a form of healing that has been around for centuries may actually offer some benefit? I am not sure, but it could not have come a moment too soon. After Amy was ultimately diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc, and underwent a surgical fusion, I started scanning the hospitals in Chicago for integrative recovery programs that would help her through her post-surgical days wearing the “cone of shame”, as my dog Lexi calls her cervical collar.
Planetree Model: http://www.planetree.org/index.html
Henry Ford Hospital West Bloomfield: http://www.henryfordwestbloomfield.com/body_wbloomfield.cfm?id=50423
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Dr. Deol is a self-employed, board-certified general surgeon.