Friend and patient

Dr. Gary Davis and Dr. Jeff Terry are excellent friends. They have known each other for about 10 years and spend time together at ballgames, Sunday school and other social events around the Gainesville, Georgia area. Dr. Terry specializes in Internal Medicine and serves as primary care physician to Dr. Davis and his wife. But, very recently, the roles reversed and Dr. Davis became the physician and Dr. Terry became the patient.

Dr. Davis is an orthopedic surgeon with Specialty Clinic of Georgia in Gainesville and Dr. Terry had just torn his distal biceps tendon.

Dr. Terry calls the injury a “masculine thing” and says, “We have a pool table in the basement. About 10:30 at night, I decided that the table needed to be repositioned. It is crazy heavy and I realized it was too big of a job for one person but that didn’t stop me. I lifted the table and had to slightly torque my arm to slide it to the new location. This strategy worked about eight times without a problem. However, number nine was unlucky. I felt and heard the left biceps tendon pop and felt a sudden and searing pain in the fold of my elbow. Soon there was bruising in the same area and I noted my biceps was retracted into a ball over the upper arm. I knew right then what I had done.”

He immediately texted Dr. Davis and then they spoke on the phone.

Dr. Davis says, “When he called me, he asked me what the treatment options were. I gave him the options and the prognosis and relative risks/benefits of each. He is very evidenced-based in his clinical practice and he understood what the options were. Ultimately, he asked me how I would want mine treated and we proceeded. From there, we were always in complete agreement.”

Rather than making things more difficult, Dr. Davis feels that it helps to have a colleague as a patient. He says it allows for more frank conversations and the use of anatomical terms that would not have meaning for the patient without a medical background.

Dr. Davis says that many patients have anxiety when they see a doctor.

However, when treating another physician, it is not usually the case. He says, “I do have to be careful though to make sure I don’t assume they already know about the prognosis/treatment/recovery. We all have a certain level of knowledge in our own specialty and I always want to educate my patients on their diagnosis regardless of their baseline.”

Dr. Terry adds that while he had complete confidence in Dr. Davis, the diagnosis and the agreed-upon treatment, he was still a little nervous on the day of the surgery. He says, “I felt slightly nauseated before leaving home which means I was nervous. I pride myself on not showing nerves but can always tell when it hits me by the nausea/vomiting scale. I remember dry heaving when my wife told me she was in labor with our first child.”

Dr. Davis also admits to a slight case of nerves. He says, “The decision and diagnosis were easy. The emotion was a little tougher. I was a little nervous thinking about it right after it happened but ultimately it’s still a surgery I’ve performed numerous times and feel comfortable doing. My job at that point is to restore the anatomy and give him a great outcome. I was probably more emotional that he is my friend rather than my doctor. You want your friend to have a successful surgery regardless of whether it’s you or someone else operating on them.”

This experience also gave each doctor some essential insights into the patient’s perspective. Dr. Davis says, “My family, as all families do, have been through illness and injury. This time though, I was able to see the orthopaedic part of it. I stayed in touch with Jeff before and after the surgery and tried to get a handle on how he was/is doing. I don’t normally get to see the daily grind that my patients tackle when they are recovering from a debilitating injury/surgery.”

Dr. Terry was also very circumspect. He says, “Every person feels vulnerable when he or she is in the patient role including physicians. You are placing your health and life into the hands of a physician who is, in many instances, a complete stranger. The most valuable lesson that I learned is the importance of communication between the physician and patient. It is easy as a physician to forget that the patient is often scared and fearful of what is occurring and what hardships may be involved with treatment. It is imperative for the physician to explain the work-up, diagnosis, treatment options and recommended procedures in detail to allow as much comfort as possible for the patient.

Dr. Terry adds that because he is so well acquainted with Dr. Davis, he had limited fear of the procedure since he has seen many patients who have had excellent outcomes after being treated by him. He did have to take a bit of a leap of faith when he had to put his life and health into the hands of the anesthesiologist, a doctor that he was unfamiliar with.

“But,” he says, “I assumed that Gary would not have someone working at his surgical center that did not have proper skill to treat me well and to the best of his abilities.”

Dr. Terry sums up the experience up by saying “He (Dr. Davis) put his faith in me to take care of his wife and him in my specialty of Internal Medicine. This is definitely a role that I do not take lightly. I demand excellence in myself with the care of my patients and I know Gary demands the same. It is very comforting to have someone with the same ideals caring for me with my injury. Knowing him and the way he practices did not make it difficult to transition from the role of good friend and colleague to patient.”

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