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How Do You Know If Elective Surgery Is Right For You?

You may have been diagnosed with a medical condition and are presented with a variety of treatment options, some more aggressive and invasive than others. Different doctors have given you different paths to take. You may even be confused. Some have suggested elective surgery. How do you know which treatment is best for you?

Try to think of all possible therapies, medicines, surgeries, and any other interventions offered you as having a certain value on the broad spectrum “scale of control.” On the low end of the scale, you will find less invasive treatments, such as psychotherapy or counseling, with high degrees of self control and a generally soft approach. On the complete opposite end, you will find highly invasive treatments, such as reconstructive spinal surgery or organ transplantation, where you have absolutely no level of self control and are sedated and deconstructed on the surgeon’s operating table.

It is important to imagine this scale and analogy as an inherent and unspoken of value-based system, or bartering mechanic, between your body and your treatment. In this kind of exchange, the more invasive treatments take more from your body’s vitality — at least temporarily — in order to be performed, whereas the more “conservative” methods take less and are easier to accept.

Think of the “conservative” approach like dancing. Here, your partner takes you by the hand and gently leads you in a purposeful direction. If he or she is a good dancer, your combined movements will be so comfortable and fluid together that you won’t even realize you’re being led toward a pre-determined conclusion. Conversely, think of the “surgical” approach like wrestling. It can produce the same positional outcome, but the process is quick and manipulative, without your sense of awareness, control, and possibly even… your acceptance.

Oral steroids, epidural injections, stabilizing braces, platelet rich plasma therapies, fentanyl patches, implantable TENS devices… They all have differing “values,” when you consider each one’s degree of invasiveness, and differing “costs,” when you take into account how much self control you will be giving up in the process.

No one way is inherently bad. Fentanyl patches get a horrible rap in the media, but this drug helps many people crippled by bone cancer pain live a somewhat functional life. Everything has risks and side effects — addiction, chronic organ damage, immune suppression — that need to be carefully considered when deciding how aggressively you want to treat your pain or disability.

Conservative is the only way, you might be thinking.. Who wants to go under-the-knife straight out from the start, right? You’d be surprised…

It happens all the time. Patients have their opinion of what’s best for them and the doctors have theirs. The real expertise is in the dance — the psychology of interaction —while trying to meet the patient halfway in order to get the best outcome. And sometimes… it’s just not a good match.

Perhaps the only thing more foolish than failing to try all of your easiest options first, would be trying them all when it’s not the appropriate time.

There is an old Chinese adage that warns physicians not to “pet the tiger” when treating serious conditions. This basically means to avoid wasting precious time using gentle approaches that do nothing, when the ailment grows more and more aggressive as each day passes. Think about the obese, diabetic man suffering from golfball sized ulcers on his feet but refuses to take insulin because he thinks he can manage his blood sugar with stevia!

Of course, if there’s trauma — a car accident, a war wound, a bone sticking out of your body — you’re going to have surgery. What I’m talking about here is having a choice.

Surgery can transform lives in a way that was unimaginable years ago. It can take something crooked and make it straight again. It can take away disabilities and give people a life worth living.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, surgery — along with it’s accompanying anesthetic technique — is generally considered a “reducing” type of treatment. There’s a reason that some egotistical doctors can develop within themselves a “God-complex.” It’s partly understandable. These physicians are taking the body God gave you at birth and either removing, repairing, or realigning the pieces that no longer work properly. In a way, they are playing “Creator,” by re-arranging your God given anatomy.

Reducing does not mean “bad,” simply because it implies that something is taken away. When there is an excess of swelling, traumatic deformity, scar tissue, fibrotic plaques of cholesterol blocking blood flow in an artery — you want a reductive technique.

Of course, there are surgical procedures that add to your body — pacemakers, heart septal occludors, brain stimulators — that build upon a patient’s baseline condition in order to make it better. Even in giving something, there is something intangible, immeasurable, that is taken away.

In most cases the long term benefits out way the short term consequences of the recovery process. However, the more surgeries you do, especially for the same problem, the harder and harder it is to come back to a normal semblance of homeostasis, or internal balance… especially as you get older.

Maybe there is now a stubborn stiffness, a tightness, a minor deviation of the way your body looks. Maybe there’s a new nerve numbness, or pain issue. Hopefully, there’s nothing significant enough that you care not to notice it, and the surgery, medication, or procedure was worth it. Nothing comes for free.

Risk and reward. Cost and value. Control and surrender. A spectrum…

So, if one end is going under-the-knife and being cut open, then the other end would be sitting in chair and having a meaningful conversation. In the healthcare industry there is a term for this type of hands-off therapy. It’s called “patient education.” And it certainly comes complete with it’s own full set of insurance billable codes.

Yes, medicine is such an “industry.” But in all honesty, there is a true value in just speaking with your patients, listening to their story, instilling hope, and encouraging them in the right direction.

In ancient times, medicinals and cures were herbs and wines, barbers were the bloodletters, and much, if anything else, of the healing process was done with philosophy and laying on of hands.

Today, we have a lot more options. Treatments can be much more sophisticated and powerful, but they also have the potential to be more physically and emotionally disabling. Talk with your doctor about all the possible treatment options available to you. Seek a second opinion. Understand the risks and benefits of acting now or waiting later. How does the treatment empower your sense of control over your life and your body, and how does it take away?

The healthy body wants to heal on its own, and you may find there are multiple ways to come to the same conclusion. How aggressively you choose to pursue a correction depends upon how you view your own infirmity and how you view your potential to heal.

If you would like to speak with Alté View about finding a doctor that's a great fit for you, please reach out to us here and we'd be happy to help point you in right direction.


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