A long term relationship with a primary care provider is a major part of the healthcare equation
I’m a mother of 3, working full-time in a very demanding job. Like most women my age with children, I always put them first. They had their regular check-ups and all the necessary preventative care, but I couldn’t say the same for myself. I saw an OBGYN annually and found a doctor that would see me and prescribe antibiotics when I had a sinus infection – that was my health care in a nut shell.
I didn’t realize how important it was to have a primary care physician until I started getting shooting pain in my face and jaw about 2 years ago. I had no idea where to go, who to see or what to do and I was pretty sure my OBGYN couldn’t help with this one. I started with my dentist who couldn’t determine a reason for my pain. He sent me to an endodontist who couldn’t find anything either. At this point I was in so much pain, I knew I needed relief. I went to an CHI Health Clinic physician who gave me a prescription to try and ease the pain and referred me to a neurologist who confirmed the diagnosis we both suspected – Trigeminal Neuralgia, also know as the suicide disease. The pain with this disease is progressive so I knew it would get worse over time.
Unfortunately, confirming the diagnosis didn’t fix anything. The medications I took were not effective at all. There were lots of options to treat the pain, and all kinds of opinions available via the internet – very scary ones. The neurologist I saw would only talk about treating the pain with medications and the neurosurgeons would only talk about surgical options, so what I needed was someone to help me navigate the system and weigh my options. Dr. Benes with CHI Health Clinic did just that. She warned me about the horrible side effects of the last drug I could try and gave me the courage to seriously consider a surgical option called microvascular decompression (brain surgery).
At this point, the pain got so bad that it began affecting my daily life in a big way. I couldn’t make it through a phone conversation or meeting at work without grabbing my face to try and ease the pain. I couldn’t help my daughters with their homework at night because it hurt too much to talk and I would scare my 4 year old when I could do nothing but scream into a pillow because of the pain. The final straw was the night I was up late working on the computer and it hurt so bad that my husband caught me crying and banging my head against the desk to try and take the pain in my face away. At this point he realized how bad it was and told me I needed to do something – even if it meant brain surgery.
With surgery as the last option, choosing the care team was next
It’s hard to admit this, but even though I work for CHI Health, when I started looking into surgery, I went to another healthcare organization in town first. To say the least, I didn’t receive the personalized care I expected. I was familiar with the care delivered at CHI Health and expected nothing less. Believe it or not, I felt like the type of brain surgery I needed wasn’t scary enough to excite anyone there. I left feeling more apprehensive than I was before the appointment – it was a giant set back for me.
After this appointment, I took a step back and realized that if brain surgery was my best option to become pain free, I needed to have it done where I was comfortable, where I knew I would receive excellent care from people who cared about me as a person, not just a patient or a big ticket procedure. I worked backwards by deciding first where I wanted to have my surgery - CHI Health Bergan Mercy Medical Center. This was where I had back surgery in college, delivered my last child and saw many family members receive excellent care. After convincing myself Bergan was where I wanted to have the surgery, I found an excellent surgeon – Dr. Doran, who would perform it there. Ultimately, I was putting my life in the hands of these individuals so I needed to be comfortable with the hospital, the surgical team and the surgeon.
Once I had my mind made up, there was no looking back. I knew I was doing the right thing even though I was scared to death. The thought that kept crossing my mind was – “What mother with 3 young children has elective brain surgery?” But I knew the answer was – “A mother that wants to live again and whose children and husband want their mother and wife back.” My family was less afraid of brain surgery than the thought of what would happen to their mom if she didn’t have the surgery.
As you can imagine I was a bit emotional the morning of surgery, but the staff at Bergan had the ability to put themselves in my shoes and completely understand how I was feeling and what I was about to go through. A family friend and longtime surgical nurse, Mary Ellen came to see me before surgery, held my hand and hugged me like I was her own daughter. She assured me she would be with me in surgery and would not let anything happen to me. From that point on, I knew everything would be ok. I don’t remember this very well, because at this point the drugs started kicking in, but I told Mary Ellen I wanted the A team in surgery with me that day and she made sure they were. During my stay at the hospital, the “A Team” even sent me a card they all signed to wish me well.
I woke up from surgery completely pain free except for the spot where they cut into my head – that hurt a little but it was nothing compared to the pain before surgery. I was in the hospital for six days recovering and went from the ICU to a regular patient room. My ICU nurse was a former college friend who I was surprised to see in nursing because she had a business degree. She missed her calling the first time around, but she’s definitely in the right field now. She made me feel like I was her only patient while I was there.
The nurses and aides that cared for me the remainder of my stay were wonderful too. I was a pretty low maintenance patient, but I couldn’t stand just lying around. My being low maintenance was a perfect opportunity for them to just do what they needed to do with me - drugs and vitals and spend more time with their more needy patients, but that wasn’t the case. They stopped in every time they had a free moment and took me for walks – this is what kept me sane! They were all great and fun to chat with during our walks.
What started out as a painful experience for me and my family ended up remarkably. My pain is gone and my life is back. And I truly believe I work for the best health care system on the planet. As a marketing strategist for CHI Health, I write and say a lot of great things about the organization – now I know they’re all true. The people who cared for me had no idea I worked for CHI Health yet they treated me like I was a VIP. I truly believe our caregivers treat everyone who walks through our doors like a VIP - a very important patient.