We are Patients Too...a Personal Story

Posted on Feb 12, 2019 by Debra Allen

Solutionreach employee Debra Allen received surgery and learned lessons in the processTwo years ago, I was diagnosed with Parathyroidism by my family physician. He sent me to an Endocrinologist who, after several tests and biopsies, recommended that I have surgery to remove the small gland in my throat behind my thyroid that regulates calcium levels in your blood. The doctor referred me to one of his colleagues in the same office who was an ENT and could perform the surgery.

Without any investigation, I scheduled an appointment to see the ENT. He seemed like a nice doctor and explained the procedure and the surgery. When I asked him if he had performed this surgery before, he said, yes...a couple of times a week. So I thought he was very experienced and capable, so I decided to have the surgery. In hindsight, I wish I would have been more thorough in my questioning and less trusting of this doctor. 

My surgery was only supposed to last 45 minutes, but 2 1/2 hours later, the doctor came out and told my husband that it had taken more time because he couldn't find the Parathyroid gland and he had to really "dig around" to find it. 

When I woke up, I was sore but able to go home and start the healing process. I knew that I would be hoarse for a few days, but after a week, when I went to my first follow-up visit, I could barely speak in only a whisper. The doctor told me that this was normal and sometimes it could take up to six weeks before it healed. After five MONTHS of my voice not coming back, the doctor now said that it could take up to a year before my it came back. Sounding like a 12 year old boy (as my dad always said!), I decided to start trying to find a specialist that could help me heal my vocal chords.

I found someone in the Salt Lake City area that was world renowned in helping people with voice disorders. However, my insurance would not cover his office visits except when he would see patients at a specific clinic once a month. Of course, his schedule on this "once a month" visit to the clinic was very full and he was booked out several months in advance. This was very frustrating to me. All of this time, I was becomingWaiting to be seen in the doctor's office causes frustration very self-conscious about my voice and doing my job was difficult because I could not project my voice on the phone or as I tried to speak with clients at meetings or trade shows where the background was loud. My colleagues and manager were great at work and assured me that my job was not in jeopardy, but I kept feeling like my job was at stake because I could not communicate the ways I used to.

I was finally able to get in to see the specialist. He was so caring and thorough in his exam. He had requested the records from the ENT who performed the surgery and we were both surprised to read in his notes that he had to lift the thyroid out of my throat in order to find the parathyroid and, in the process, had probably severed the laryngeal nerve. He also had removed several other lumps that he thought might be the parathyroid but, as they tested the tissue, they realized they were not the parathyroid gland. Needless to say, this was all very evident to me that my surgery was performed by a doctor who was not experienced in this type of surgery. In my research (after the fact), I found that there are specific ENT doctors who do this type of surgery regularly, but I had not taken the time to find this out prior to my surgery. I trusted the doctor because he was a doctor and did not ask enough questions. This made me feel angry and frustrated at myself and with him.

The specialist recommended that I have surgery to place a Gortex implant into my throat that would push my vocal chord closer to the other one in order to increase the vibrations and hopefully increase the volume of my voice. We did some nerve testing and scheduled the surgery. A few days prior to the surgery, the specialist called me. During our call, he said, "Your voice is sounding better. Do you feel like it is?" I realized then that the healing had continued and my voice had improved enough that he could hear a difference over the phone. I decided to wait and hold off on the second surgery. Over time my voice has returned. I'm not sure if I was one of the rare patients who take over a year to heal or if I experienced a medical miracle, but I am grateful that I am feeling better. 

I have since learned my lesson about how important it is that I do my research before selecting a physician. I have a desire to become more engaged and empowered when it comes to my own health. I wish it had not been such a tough lesson to learn!

Learn more about how to help patients become their own advocates in "3 Pieces to a Great Healthcare Education Program."

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Debra Allen

Debra Allen

Experienced Business Development with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry. Skilled in Customer Support, Customer Service, Account Management, Sales, and Direct Sales. Strong business development professional graduated from Brigham Young University - Idaho.

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