I had just started in solo private practice in Port St. Lucie, on the east coast of Florida. I had been working for 6 months, and I was busy and loving my life. Then I developed severe back pain. It was unconventional because it did not respond to any treatment. An MRI and CT scan revealed that a tumor the size of a cantaloupe was pressing on my spine, causing all the pain.
NOTHING IS EASY
Flash forward 6 weeks: neurosurgery at the University of Florida. I underwent an 8-hour surgery that entailed debulking the tumor and the untethering of my spinal cord. I spent 2 weeks in the hospital and went home with some big issues to face and some hard tasks ahead. I had to learn to walk again with bilateral foot drop. I also had a neurogenic bladder. Nothing is ever easy in rehabilitation.
As all of this was happening, a 20-year-old established practice in Venice, on the west coast of Florida, offered me a position. I decided to join this practice, and I was excited about moving back to the west coast of Florida. I had grown up in Clearwater, just 1.5 hours away, and all of my family was there.
But at the same time, I knew that what was ahead for me was going to be challenging. How was I to operate? I needed both feet to do surgery, but I was unable to use my left foot at all. I had to adapt. The solution I arrived at was that the surgical scrub nurse would keep my microscope focused, and I would use my right foot for the phaco pedal. This was extremely scary. I thought I might have to give up doing what I loved most and had worked so hard to learn, ophthalmic surgery.
STILL ON THE JOB
That was in 1989. Twenty-nine years later, I am still doing surgery. I have had some other setbacks with my feet and ankles. Almost 18 years ago, I slipped on a wet floor and sustained a compound tibia-fibula fracture, which required major surgery and more rehab. But it kept me out of the OR for only 3 weeks. I had no real problems until this past year, when some hardware had to be removed and I could not bear weight for 3 weeks. I survived; I just made it part of my vacation. My feet are numb, and some days are better than others, but life is like that.
I have incredible office and OR staffs that make it so easy for me (Figure 1). They know just what to say and do to make my days run smoothly. I am blessed to have a supportive family and friends that never make me feel handicapped, and I never let myself feel that way either.
It is pure will that keeps me going and doing the job that I love. It’s all about adapting to your surroundings and making the best of a situation. I was always taught that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. I have to say, I have put my mind to it and have never looked back. I’m not handicapped, I’m just a born adapter!