We came across an article in the New York Times about Operation Mend. It’s a program to help service members who have been injured in combat. It uses the staff at the UCLA Medical Center, the resources of one of the best reconstructive surgery centers in the world, and the military to rebuild these battlefield heroes after they’ve been severely burned in combat or battle-related accidents. Many of them have lost limbs or other body parts due to their injuries. Most, if not all of them will undergo weeks, months, and years of surgery, therapy, and rehabilitation in an attempt to put their bodies and lives back together. The Operation Mend website tells some compelling stories, and there are some pretty graphic before and after pictures of some of the vets who have been helped. We couldn’t help but notice the many smiles in the after pictures.
The article (and our limited medical knowledge) made us wonder about one aspect of dealing with medical crisis: There is such a thing as surgery fatigue, and you don’t have to be a burn victim to have it.
Anyone who has had a catastrophic injury may need repeated surgeries to repair what has been damaged. This could be for shattered bones, to repair nerve damage, or to replace a damaged organ.
Perhaps the crisis is the result of a genetic anomaly? Do you remember our friend from Belize? She had a series of surgeries over the course of seven months to correct a birth defect that restricted her ability to walk.
If you’re someone who is getting an organ transplant, you will probably have to endure a series of procedures before, during, or after getting your new lease on life. Heaven forbid that your body rejects your new organ. It will be back to the drawing board.
This says nothing of the physical and emotional effects of having to endure multiple procedures. Your body develops scar tissue, you develop a resistance to certain drugs and medications, and some have developed life-threatening allergies to things like latex. A recent report in Pediatrics points to a possible link between multiple exposures to general anesthesia and learning disabilities.
How about the emotional fatigue? You wake up in the same rut every day. Still sick, still tired, still scared, and it’s already tomorrow. It’s like Groundhog Day, but instead of waking up in Punxsutawney you’re packing for another trip to the hospital. You lose your appetite, you have a constant apprehension, and healing becomes that much harder.
People in the medical profession know these things. And they want to help. The doctors who volunteer for Operation Mend, the orthopedists who worked on our friend from Belize, and the therapists that work with many of our guests have one goal in mind: get you healthy and home.
Science is coming up with some wonderful tools to speed this process. The military is doing amazing research into the use of artificial skin and special bandages to promote healing and fight infection. A program at Rush University in Chicago is developing a growing prosthesis that allows children with bone disorders to have fewer surgeries. An implanted bone can be adjusted to grow with a young patient. Fewer and less invasive procedures!
If your loved one is seemingly trapped in this cycle of treatment, you can help.
Everyone should know what is coming up. There should be a realistic expectation of the procedure, how long it’s going to take, and what it’s going to feel like afterwards. Will there be a cast? Will there be a long period of bed rest or limited activity? How long will it be before we can swim or play? Will we be able to bathe or brush our hair?
There may be pain, and we’re going to deal with it. It may just be a little stick, or perhaps a pain that requires medication. People dealing with pain will need to know how to deal with it and how to communicate their level of pain. There is no such thing a too brave to admit to hurting. And knowing that the pain will get better can be very reassuring.
If your loved one is in medical crisis then everyone becomes a patient. The stress of procedures and treatments puts stress on the rest of the clan, too. They may not need the same level of care as someone who is sick, but they need the same level of attention.
Lastly, just be there. Some of the most difficult aspects of going through a series of procedures are the uncertainties, fears, and the disruption of life. Pack a smile as a part of your wardrobe, keep laughter on your daily menu, and make tomorrow #1 on your things to do list!