Saturday, September 30, 2017


 Above duty and beyond calling     

A few weeks ago my wife and I noticed a strange, whitish crust on my right ear—right on the lobe. “Squamous cell,” she said.

I knew right away what that meant for me. A visit to the Dermatology Department for diagnosis.
Sure enough, a nurse diagnosed it as squamous cell and signed me up for surgery. Oregon Health and Sciences University Department of Dermatological Surgery, a favorite department of mine for the treatments they’ve given me.

Yesterday (Friday, September 29, 2017) was surgery day. My surgeon, Dr. Anna Barr, well, she’s treated me several times, most notably for a cancerous condition on my scalp. She’s energetic, vivacious, skilled, upbeat, and manages a highly coordinated team of health care workers. They are dedicated!

After all the prep. work, which included care by a medical assistant (incidentally an immigrant from Mexico), Dr. Barr used her scalpel to cut out the offending cell. She sent it to the lab for Mohs inspection.. I’ve been through this routine several times.

The result of Mohs analysis: the surgeon needs to cut out more. So back in the surgery I went. Then back to the waiting room while the specimen (I prefer to think of it as a slice of my ear) went the lab for Mohs inspection.

All these people worked hard and efficiently.

The cutting out was over. Good! But at this point I got a surprise. The excision was large enough to require a skin gift.

Another M.D. took over for this phase: Dr. Blake Sampson. He worked and swiftly too. When he completed his work I asked for a photo of the incision he’d made. It was surprisingly long.


NOT such a big deal, RIGHT? Well. . .

Finally, it seemed, an assistant wrapped my wound and by noon I was off to home by about 1 p.m. 
Woe! My pain level rose during the afternoon. Not a sharp pain, but an intense, dull throb. I figured it to result from my ear lobe bent back over my behind-the-ear hearing aid. I took pain reducing meds as prescribed but the pain just kept moving up the pain scale.

The first wrap: the painful one

Finally, around 4 p.m. I called the clinic and asked, if I come in right away will someone be available to re-wrap the wound?

Answer: yes, if you come in right away.

I gathered everything together immediately and my wife and I were off in the car via back roads to avoid traffic slowdowns on Highway 26. I walked in to the department about 5:10 p.m.
One of the receptionists linked me up with Melita Sheets. Melita rewrapped the wound.  I was able to leave the office at around 6 p.m. relieved of the worst of the pain.

  The new pressure wrap. I look like a Martian from the movies but I feel a lot less pain.

Which do you like best, first or second wrap?

I want you to know that these three staff people—Melita and two receptionists, Mallory and Elizabeth-- put me above their own normal departure time at the beginning of the weekend.

I recognize them as heroes of healthcare.

They aren’t alone. Heroes deserve the title worldwide. All over Africa, people come to clinics and hospitals for Western-style medicine. Each continent, each nation has its heroes.

My point is that the hero is not always the physician but more behind-the-scenes staff, including janitors. Heroes include my daughter, a nurse who now expedites hospital departures, making certain that discharged patients get the care they need.

In my case yesterday, “hero” included two front-desk receptionists and a medical assistant who stayed on to help me, even though it meant starting their weekend an hour or two late. I call these three people “heroes of health care” for putting patient care before their own leaving from their workplace on schedule. Thank you! I mailed a letter to the head of the dermatology department calling attention to these medical heroes of mine and thanking them.

And now: who are your medical heroes? How can you support them in their high-tension, difficult work?

The good news for me:  this morning, a dozen hours later, I’m quite comfortable.

But still, I can’t wait for next Friday when one of my heroes will remove the pressure bandage.


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