- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
(EDITOR’S NOTE: In a 10-part series for eParisExtra readers, Paris City Manager John Godwin, who received a new heart on July 2, shares a series of short stories/character sketches about his transplant experiences – “doctors, nurses, drugs, my wife, a trainee priest, the night I got the new heart.” He returned to work on Aug. 19 for the first time since a near-fatal heart episode on June 14. Godwin, who has written three historical novels (Hope, 2004; Talisman, 2005; and Of Blood & Faith, 2010), wrote the 10 stories in July and August “while home bored with a laptop.”)
Part V: The Doctors
The young ones look at me like I am a specimen in a jar. I don’t like the feeling. I know it’s a university hospital and they are here to learn. I get that. I even get that to a bunch of interns in training I am a specimen in a jar. But they are rude and tactless and I don’t like it. Not one bit. I like it even less when three of them take turns listening to something unusual in my chest. The third one shakes his head, makes a funny face, expresses his hope “it” goes away, and disappears with the others without another word. Goes away? You hope what goes away? Am I dying? I just got a new heart two days ago, kid! Come back here. What is it? What’s wrong with me? There is no answer. Just an empty room and a closed door.
UT Southwestern is a teaching hospital, so the doctors roam the halls in groups of threes and fours. In addition to the curious, serious young ones, there is a leader in each group. I call them the real doctors. I know that each of them is also a professor. One expects them to be pedantic, eager to show off their superior knowledge, broad educations, and great skills. One expects them to carry their brilliance on their sleeves, using lots of big words and technical terms, always looking serious, even contemplative. But it turns out they are just regular people, from the way they talk to the way they look. Not a bunch of ego-driven, bloviating, eggheads, but regular, real people.
The youngest of the bunch, a Missouri native, looks more like a software engineer than a surgeon, and would look more natural at a kids’ soccer game than at an operating table, which by the way is a good way to see him outside the hospital. He spent two years coaching his young sons’ teams. He has a handsome face in a slightly nerdy sort of way, and jet black hair. A few starkly white ones on the top of his head make him look like he got too close to wet paint. Another of the real docs reminds me of my middle daughter’s high school band director. Professional and knowledgeable, but so very personable, always with a smile, and giving all of the time my family or I need to visit with him. He has a hoarse voice, and during any procedure he tells me in great detail what he is doing and why. Another is an Okie who loves anything to do with Oklahoma Sooner sports, and enjoys outdoor sports with his wife and three daughters. A fourth doctor is a hockey fan, who coached his own sons. Every time I see him, I think he should be an elementary school principal instead of a cardiac surgeon performing organ transplants. He laughs freely and jokes with me, lifting my spirits. He exudes a friendly empathy. The last member of the quintet reminds me of the fourth. Maybe he looks more like a high school science teacher than an elementary principal. He is tall and thin, with blue eyes and a receding hairline, showing more gray than not. He speaks with a quiet confidence, in friendly tones and with a reassuring voice. In my ICU room, he sits on the bed and pats me on the foot. I hear doctors have lost their bedside manner. Not these guys. Despite everything else, they seem to be some of the nicest people I have ever met. I tell one how much I appreciate them being just “regular people.” He smiles charmingly and repeats back that they are just regular people. I hope the young ones are watching, and learning from, that part too. I see a sign that claims the hospital is driven by innovation, yet guided by compassion. I know that’s true. The science is only a means to the end. The end is people.
Late one night, my oldest friend remains in my room to visit and reminisce. We first met in 1965 in our first grade classroom in Marshall, Texas. We marvel at how well I am feeling and at the seemingly minimal effects I feel as a result of a heart transplant only a few days before. I had expected to wake up in significant pain. I had heard those stories about being gutted like a fish, ribs sawed through and wired back together. And even without those stories, I had suffered through someone cutting me open, reaching inside my chest, and quite literally cutting my heart out. Sounds like something from a Rambo movie. Surely that was going hurt for quite a long while. But no. No pain at all. The surgeon sawed my sternum in two, replaced my heart – rather like putting a new carburetor in a car, it seems to me – then glued bone and skin back together. Beginning to end, the surgery took less than three hours. I am amazed at the outcome. And the clean, dry, neatly glued incision is scarcely six inches long from top to bottom. Wow!
My friend, who knew my grandmother, mentions her by name. Think about all the things she witnessed in her lifetime, he says – the car, women voting, the airplane, electricity, two world wars, a man on the moon. And this heart business is something that’s happened in our lifetime. Remember what a big deal it was when those guys were doing all that heart work in Houston, he asks. And a South African too, I add. The Houston guys, Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey devised all sorts of heart treatments and devices and successfully put the first artificial heart into a human in 1970. But it was that South African, Christiaan Barnard, who performed the first-ever heart transplant in December 1967. Today, some 2,000 are performed each year in the United States. My hospital has one of the highest success rates in the country, with an almost 96 percent survival rate after one year and 94 percent after five years.
I consider my doctors rock stars. Assistant Professor Alpesh Amin is a graduate of the Mayo Medical School, part of Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. Pradeep Mammen is also an assistant professor, and is a product of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Assistant Professor Brian Bethea is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. It is Dr. Bethea who performs the initial almost 10-hour surgery that saves my life. Mark Drazner is a full professor and medical director. He earned his medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. And finally, the man who put in my new heart in the early morning hours of July 2, Michael Jessen is a full professor and chairman. A native of Canada, he is a graduate of the University of Manitoba–Faculty of Medicine. I find it amusing that despite some names that might suggest otherwise, Dr. Jessen is the only member of my dream team that is foreign born.
They work as a mutually supportive team, not a bunch of individuals, paying careful attention to every detail of my care. The overall team is big and broad too. Not just surgeons, but a pharmacist, an RN, a PhD, a nutritionist, physical therapists, and a social worker. That’s why their success rate far exceeds the national average and is one of the best in the nation. There’s a lesson to be learned there. The value of a fully engaged, multi-disciplinary, caring team. It multiplies the resources of individuals acting alone. Decision-making improves, output and efficiency increase, innovation is encouraged. Most groups tend to be slow and bureaucratic, as inefficient as the slowest member of the group, and marked by timid decisions and very few new ideas. But a true team is just the opposite, and at UT Southwestern, the team approach is magnificent.
It is something I have always tried to emphasize in my work. We can accomplish so much more as a team than as individuals segregated off into departments and jobs and duties where all we care about is quitting time and payday. As we become a true team, we become more efficient, more productive, more innovative, and even happier with our jobs and the service we offer. I am reminded of the 1970s television show, MASH. Their motto was “The best care anywhere.” I think UT Southwestern should adopt that motto. They deserve it. And in my own work, I want us to be the best city in Northeast Texas. We can do that, working as a team, and our citizens deserve no less.
Next — Part VI: The HumanTouch
For other “Transplant Experience” stories in the 10-part series, go to: