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My View from the Stretcher? One to be Proud of

By Dr. David C. Pate, News and Community
January 3, 2012

My recent experience as a patient at St. Luke’s reminded me of Sy Sperling’s TV commercials, where he would declare, “I’m not only the Hair Club President, I’m also a client!” More about that in a minute.

Many of you know that a year ago, I decided that if I was going to be an advocate for health improvement, I should walk the talk.

I started out to change my lifestyle, not just start an exercise program or diet. The distinction was important to me. Every time in the past when I’d gone on a diet, I’d temporarily succeeded, but always failed in the long term. Similarly, I had never been able to stick with an exercise program.

I knew that I had to do things differently, that this could not be treated any other way than as a lifestyle change if I was going to have any chance at long-term success.

Well, it worked. I have lost 63 pounds, and I have worked out nearly every single day for an hour for the past year.

But the stress on a long-standing tear of the medial meniscus of my left knee became problematic. I was able to get periods of relief from injections. But recently, while getting up from doing push-ups, my knee locked. Surgery looked necessary.

First, I had to select a surgeon. We are blessed at St. Luke’s to have an extremely strong orthopedics service and sports medicine program. You can see the great ratings and awards we have received from HealthGrades on their website.

However, there is much less public data when picking a surgeon. I wanted a surgeon who would be conservative, who practiced in an evidence-based manner, and who had a commitment to our quality and safety processes. Through reputation and speaking to many colleagues as to whom they thought best fit the bill, I had a surgeon in mind.

The deal was sealed when I spoke to the therapist who does the rehabilitation therapy on patients after knee surgery and who would treat me afterward. She indicated who she thought was best and with whom she had the best working relationship.

I realized that surgery is only one part of the process. The best outcomes result from a team approach, and I wanted to know that my care after surgery would not be fragmented, but rather coordinated. Since the name she gave me was the same as the one I had already come up with, I knew that would be the surgeon I would see.

So, off for an MRI. The folks there were terrific. They explained about the noise, and tried to make me as comfortable as possible, including giving me a warm blanket. The techs were expert at their job, efficient, and very nice.

Having reviewed my exam and the MRI, my orthopedic surgeon reviewed my options, and I chose to proceed with surgery. I went to the hospital for a screening pre-op EKG. Chelsea greeted me at the front desk and was really nice, and Mike registered me. He just started working at St. Luke’s in February and is doing a great job. He’s got a great sense of humor, too.

Robin performed my EKG, and I got a free chest-hair waxing as the electrodes came off! She has worked at St. Luke’s for 27 years, and I was especially pleased to see her use two patient identifiers to ensure I was who I was supposed to be and that the records would be correct.

My surgery was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 20 at the St. Luke’s Orthopedic Surgery Center. At 2 p.m., I checked in at the front desk. Nikki registered me, then I changed into my gown and met with Michelle, the nurse assigned to me. She started my IV, then shaved (technically, clipped; this, too, is a patient safety measure to reduce wound infections associated with surgery) my lower thigh, knee, and upper leg. Yikes!

The anesthesiologist was next. He discussed what I wanted from the anesthesia. Now, that’s patient-centered care! Because I wanted to remain awake for the surgery as long as I could, he performed a nerve block on my leg, and gave me a short-acting medicine that knocked me out while he did the block. Great job!

I was awake for most of my procedure to see how bad the meniscus looked and some underlying arthritis. My surgeon touched different portions of my knee to determine whether the pain was coming from the meniscus or other abnormalities. They knocked me out when the discomfort became too much, and I regained consciousness in the recovery room, where the team explained everything to me, showed me cool pictures from the surgery, and gave me my discharge instructions.

I felt great the next morning. The pain was under control, and I was already up on crutches and looking forward to my first rehab session the next morning. When my dressing came loose later in the day, I returned to the surgery center. There, Michelle and Melanie removed the old bandage, cleaned the site, and applied a new bandage. Everything looked great, and I was already having less pain than I had before the surgery.

The next afternoon, I started rehab with Valerie and Laurie at St. Luke’s Elks Rehab. Valerie told me to bend my knee. I thought I might be able to bend it 10 to 20 degrees, but was shocked when I bent it 99 degrees!

Then she had me get on a stationary bike. I didn’t think I would be able to bend my knee enough to go for even one complete rotation. To my surprise, I was able to ride the bike for a full five minutes.

Back to my opening comment about the Sy Sperling ads. One of the most profound experiences of my administrative career occurred in Houston, when the president of an HMO in town called me to ask if I would recommend a physician to him for a check-up.

I told him I would be happy to, but that I was pretty sure that none of the physicians I would recommend were on his HMO plan. He said that he wasn’t surprised, and that that was fine.

I was in shock. I wondered how a man could sell a product to others that he would not use himself.

One day, our family members may be recipients of our care. One day, we may be; I was. I am glad that here at St. Luke’s, we have focused on hand-washing, patient safety measures, and pre-op checklists. I felt a lot better observing all of these in play from my stretcher!

I am proud to not only be the president of St. Luke’s Health System, but also a patient of this wonderful organization of highly trained professionals who were concerned for my well-being and safety, and who were very caring.  Thank you to all who participated in my care, and to all of you who care for each and every patient we are privileged to help. I appreciate your efforts.

About The Author

David C. Pate, M.D., J.D., is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System, based in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Pate joined the System in 2009. He received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.