A few years ago, i broke my leg. Though it was mostly a miserable experience, especially crutching across the ice in winter, two good things did come from it. One was a kind joke my editor made about how my contract should have contained one of those clauses that forbid the Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolies of the world from skydiving and water skiing (or, in my slightly less glamorous version, coed rec-league soccer). The other was renewed faith in the healthcare system—though, first, that trust was thoroughly tested.
The fracture had damaged my knee, and its range of motion wasn’t returning as quickly as expected. My surgeon broke this unfortunate news in a follow-up appointment and then rushed out of the room so quickly that I literally cried out, Wait! to make him come back. What else can I do? Offhandedly, he suggested an injection of such-and-such drug. Does it work? No conclusive evidence, he snapped: Did I want to try it or not? (When my decision resulted in no noticeable improvement and only a very large out-of-pocket bill, I realized the crucial question I’d neglected to ask…)
Each week, my physical therapist threw the force of her body weight into bending my leg as I yelped in pain and she measured the angle with a protractor. If I couldn’t get to her (well-out-of-reach) target soon, I’d have to go back to the hospital and be anesthetized so they could give the joint one good wrench and rip through the scar tissue. I left the office in tears.
A friend of a friend on a national orthopedic surgery board recommended I see a doctor at Mayo Clinic. When I called to make a new-patient appointment, the receptionist put my birthdate into the system—lo and behold, I popped right up. When I was a toddler and lived near the clinic, my mother had called to ask for advice about a fever; remarkably, the record remained. After months of being passed between various medical practitioners like, well, a soccer ball, I took this as an omen. “Welcome back,” the receptionist teased.
Before my visit, Mayo mailed me a packet of information that included my appointment schedule (check in, x-rays, doctor consult), walking directions between each location, and the exact price, down to the penny, I could expect to be billed. Small details, sure, but the worst thing about the healing process—more than the inconvenience or even the pain—can be the uncertainty of it all. Clarity in any form was comforting.
When I met with the doctor, he wheeled his stool right up to me, leaned in, looked me in the eye, and asked, “What do you want to make sure you get out of this appointment?” He then patiently talked me through all the nuances of my injury, answered my questions, and confirmed I was on the right track. Physically, I would have healed just fine without the visit. Emotionally, the reassurance was priceless.