The Other Side of the Knife

By Paul Pender, MD

The surgeon becomes the surgical patient. That was my summary thought after discussing my vision problem with my former partner, an ophthalmologist well versed in treating cataracts. Despite having performed eye surgery on thousands of patients in the course of my own professional career, the “privilege” of being on the other side of the knife was not without some anxiety.

Two factors helped limit my concern. First, I trusted my surgeon implicitly. After all, we’d worked in the same practice for many years, so I knew he was not only very experienced but also had a wonderful bedside manner. There is nothing like feeling safe when putting yourself in the hands of people who know what they are doing. I understood the risks and the benefits of the proposed surgical procedure—I had explained them countless times to my own patients. Although, yes, there is risk in any surgical procedure, cataract surgery had improved greatly over the years and I had been gratified that my patients could see better within hours, rather than days or weeks as had been the case for cataract surgery when I began my ophthalmology residency in the late 1970s.

The second factor that helped alleviate my anxiety was knowing the nursing and support staff who would be there for me in the operating room. I had performed LASIK surgery on Linda some 20 years ago to correct her nearsightedness, and I had trained Tashia years ago as she graduated from a medical assistant to a scrub tech to a certified surgical assistant after attending night school. Linda would circulate during my surgery, while Tashia would assist my surgeon with the actual procedure. Roxanne coordinated my pre-op preparation and post-op recovery. She easily placed my IV line and, as I rested until my surgery was to begin, Linda and Tashia parted the privacy curtain and gave me words of encouragement and support.

The nurse anesthetist greeted me and learned about my connection to the surgical team. Understanding that this might add some emotional pressure for all, she assured me that I would be comfortable for the surgery—which is exactly how I felt. The only words I recall before hearing that everything went fine were Linda’s admonition to anesthesia: “Snow him!”

Like that of most patients, my surgical experience was stress-free with little post-op discomfort. I am immensely grateful for the skill and compassion of my surgical team of all-stars and am proud to speak in glowing terms about my stint on the other side of the knife.