Is the grass greener? Life on the other side of the curtain…

Dr. Nathan Everding Blog Post


“The grass is always greener on the other side.”  We have all heard that before, regarding many different situations.  Sometimes people take the leap and embark on a major life change to take the chance and see if it is true.  People move, change jobs, change friends, buy expensive things, because life is about the pursuit of happiness, whatever it takes to get there.

Despite this, I would be willing to wager that most physicians and surgeons don’t consider the grass to be greener on the other side of their profession.  We all know that being a patient, whether it’s something as simple as the common cold, or something as terrible as cancer, nobody wants to be a patient.  This is where bedside manner plays such an important role in medicine.  Empathy is the psychological identification with, or vicarious experiencing of, the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.  A principal trait a physician requires for good bedside manner, to connect with patients, and deliver better care.  Many physicians are smart, talented, and skillful, but the best are those that have the innate ability to empathize with their patients.  How do we gain this ability?  Are we born with it?  Do we learn it?  Who knows?  But we all know that not all of us have it, or sometimes it doesn’t show in every patient encounter, for whatever reason.

Certainly one way a physician can gain the ability to empathize, and share the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of their patients, is to experience being a patient themselves.  Some of us have spent time on the “other side of the curtain” and some of us haven’t.  Some of us have spent that time before becoming physicians, and some of us after, but I would be willing to bet that no physician ever thinks “the grass is greener on the other side of the curtain.”

As a youngster I spent some time on the other side of the curtain, as a patient broken arm, sprained ankles, minor surgeries, and etcetera.  I will attest that I was frightened every time.  Also, as a physician I have spent time on the other side of the curtain with family members dealing with much worse, again frightened, saddened, yet keeping that to myself to be strong for those involved.  I know that all of these experiences have shaped who I am and have hopefully improved my ability to empathize and be a better doctor.

As we live and age there will undoubtedly be something that lands us in our doctors’ office, the hospital, or the operating room.  Most of the time we won’t be expecting it and we will likely have some feelings of fear, uncertainty, sadness, and pain.  I can tell you for sure that I wasn’t expecting it recently as I was doing a backflip into a pool and certainly wasn’t doing a backflip to find out if the grass is greener on the other side.  Simply just trying to cool off on a hot day and make my kids laugh at the same time. 

POP!!!!  There went my Achilles tendon and once again I was about to be behind the curtain.  Except this time it was very different.  My knowledge base, skill, and expertise are in orthopedics, and now I have an orthopedic injury.  I have repaired Achilles tendons myself many times, and I have treated some non-operatively (I don’t anymore, I leave that up to my partners that specialize in that --- that’s part of the beauty of SOS; specialized, well-trained, experts; I stick to hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders).  I knew at that moment I had torn my Achilles tendon so as I swam out of the pool many things went through my head.  How bad is it?  Should I have it fixed?  Should I treat it non-operatively?  How long will I be out of work?  What will I do with all of these patients that need to see me if I have to miss time?  Oh my….my staff will have to call so many people and move their appointments!!!  The list goes on.

I talked to my family, friends, mentors, and partners and decided on treating it surgically.  With this injury, it can be a toss-up, but I felt this was the right way to go.  There are different risks involved either way and rarely is there a clear cut decision in orthopedics.  That is why it is important for your physician to educate you on your injury/ailment. 

Who would fix it?  Where would I go to have it done?  Outside of Syracuse, I have worked and trained in Boston, The Cleveland Clinic, and Florida, and that was actually not a question in my mind.  SOS of course, not because I work there, but because we are the most talented group of orthopedists in the area and I would put us up against anybody in the country.  I also knew where I wanted it done, Specialists One Day Surgery Center (SODS).  Many of us operate at different places in town, but the opportunity to work at SODS, and now be a patient at SODS is a privilege.  It is by far the best operating room I have ever worked in, and all of our staff delivers excellent care and works just as hard as the surgeons themselves.  Sure I was nervous to have surgery, but I knew I was getting top notch care, from the nurses, to the surgical technicians, to the anesthesiologists, and the surgeons.  I had comfort in knowing that, when I kissed my wife goodbye and they wheeled me into the OR I knew I was in good hands and would be better when I woke up.

As I sit here trying to be a good patient, with my leg up in the air, I knew I had made the right choice.  (By the way, if you are offered a regional block before surgery, take it, the pain relief is excellent, don’t be worried about the needle).  I hope I can use this as one more experience to make me a better doctor.  I know that the grass is not always greener on the other side, but I know where to find the greenest grass.

By the way, I hope you were nice to the Hand Center staff when they were rescheduling your appointments.  Looking forward to caring for you soon.