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The Sound A Duck Makes

by Stephen Lautens


October 24, 2003

A few weeks back I told the tale about breaking my arm after a simple slip and fall. A quick trip to my local hospital and I was rushed through and out the other end with a sling and a handful of painkillers. I was told the break in the shoulder joint would sort itself out in a month or so. Frankly, I was relieved that nothing more drastic was required to set things right. After all, like most men, I am a big sissy when it comes to these things.

By chance I saw a friend of mine the next week, who commented that I looked terrible. He actually used another expression, but this is a family newspaper so I can't actually repeat his exact words. When he asked what kind of medical advice I was getting, he reminded me he was on the board of an excellent hospital that specialized in fixing broken bones and suggested I get a second opinion.

As luck would have it, I ended up seeing one of the best shoulder surgeons in the country, who took one look at me and asked me if I was free for surgery on Monday. It wasn't really a question, since he said without the surgery my nickname in future could well be "Vegas", as in home of the one-armed bandits. Without surgery the best I could hope for was an arm that did little more than dangle, and the worst would be having to alter all my jackets to remove one sleeve. Of course on the bright side, my cuff links would last twice as long.

The long and the short of it was that after three hours of surgery and the addition of three shiny new screws from Home Depot in my shoulder, I am now really on the road to recovery. Plus I have a scar that would make me a shoo-in for a part in Pirates of the Caribbean.

All I can say is thank God for second opinions and Toronto's Orthopedic and Arthritic Hospital. I'm still scratching my head how the first hospital could have been so wrong. And I didn't just see them once - I was there for a follow up and new x-rays and passed through the hands of at least three doctors. They all suggested I basically "walk it off".

My problem is I have a lot of doctors as friends. It's a mistake to get to know doctors too well, because that's when you realize how little many of them actually know. It's like the old joke: What do you call someone who graduates at the very bottom of their medical class? Answer: A doctor.

The whole experience made me think of all those people who trust their doctors and follow their advice without question, or who are intimidated or don't speak English very well. How many other people end up misdiagnosed or being sent home with bad advice?

The icing on the cake for me is a side effect from my shoulder surgery. For the past 20 months I've also had terrible sinus problems. There would be whole months when I couldn't breathe through my nose and had symptoms like asthma. I coughed all night and blew my nose constantly. I was a joy to live with.

I saw specialists who literally shoved cameras up my nose and down my throat. I was hooked up to machines that looked like scuba gear and told to breathe until I was blue in the face. I was finally told it was a chronic stomach problem and prescribed pills that cost two hundred bucks a month. Plus I had to cut out beer, pop, chocolate, peppermint, spicy food, onions, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, lemons and anything else that had any taste.

Lo and behold, when I woke up from my shoulder surgery it took me a few hours to realize I was breathing freely for the first time in almost two years. It turns out I must have had a simple sinus infection all along and the whack of antibiotics they gave me for the surgery (about three dollars worth) cured me. And at no extra charge.

I suppose it’s only fair that they sometimes cure you by accident too.

© Stephen Lautens 2003

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