‘Fine’ is a matter of definition. Do surgeons downplay recovery times?

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    Dave Mozeleski waves at the camera after undergoing a major sinus procedure at Chestnut Hill Hospital in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Jennefer Mozeleski)

    Dave Mozeleski waves at the camera after undergoing a major sinus procedure at Chestnut Hill Hospital in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Jennefer Mozeleski)

    “How long until I feel normal again?” In this week’s “Pain in the Neck” segment, we attempt to interpret doctors’ recovery times.

    ‘You will be fine in a week’

    David Mozeleski had surgery to have his adenoids and tonsils removed, and his deviated septum fixed. “The doctor called it the ‘Roto-Rooter surgery,'” he recalled.

    Mozeleski was told that he’d have surgery on a Friday, take a week off work, and that he’d be fine after that. But, it didn’t work out like that.

    “When I woke up on the Sunday before I was supposed to return to work, my throat was on fire,” Mozeleski remembers. “I was freaking out; painkillers weren’t helping.” His wife called the hospital, and the doctor on call told her that they should have warned her husband that recovery time would be two weeks solid.

    “That Sunday, it was the worst pain in my life,” recalled Mozeleski. “I thought something was wrong, I thought I had an infection.”

    Do surgeons downplay recovery times?

    “I think it’s true, it’s real, surgeons really underestimate what will happen to patients,” said Dr. Jo Buyske, associate executive director of the The American Board of Surgery.

    During her more than two decades of medical practice, seeing patients before and after surgery, she says she learned some important lessons about recovery.

    “It takes lot out of you…even minimally invasive surgery,” she explained. “It sets off a catabolic response, where the body perceives itself has having been attacked.”

    She says that a lot of patients feel very tired, experience pain, become depressed, or experience a loss of appetite for about six weeks. After six weeks, they are usually back to fully feeling like themselves.

    But why do surgeons not tell their patients?

    Buyske said this is not really taught in medical school. Many surgeons don’t see their patients in what she calls the suffering phase, so their remarks on recovery times are “somewhat uninformed.”

    Here is her advice when it comes to recovery time:

    Listen to others who have been through a similar surgery, and ask them about their recovery
    Count on it to take longer to recover than you thought it will
    Relax and let nature take its course; you can not win by pushing
    Generally speaking: After a surgery, it will take two weeks before you go back to work, and six weeks before you are truly yourself again

    What’s your “Pain in the Neck”? We want to know what really annoys you about doctor’s offices, hospitals, insurers or whatever? Email us, at thepulse@whyy.org.

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