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Marolt: Cutting to the basics of health care

Roger Marolt
Roger This

I figure that if a surgeon can’t meet with you face-to-face, makes his diagnosis by an emailed X-ray, and won’t even talk to you directly on the telephone before he schedules surgery to put two screws through a ligament in your foot the next day, he’s too important or you’re not, and either way, both are excellent reasons to seek a second opinion.

That’s partly why I found myself at the Vail Valley Surgical Center in the next major river basin to the north instead of at our shiny, new hospital just up the road in Aspen.

No, I didn’t mess my foot up so badly that I needed that kind of operation. It was far worse than that. It was my wife who needed the knife.

I’d tell you how she tore her Lisfranc ligament, but I love her too much. Suffice it to say that whether you are an NFL quarterback and a 300-pound lineman falls on your foot as you plant it to throw a 45-yard bullet or you trip over the dog walking into a dark bedroom, it hurts just the same, and you have to have it repaired and you have to be completely off that foot for a long time, and it’s a real pain in the butt, more so if you live in Aspen and the summer is beautiful.

While they were getting her ready to go under, I sat next to her bed giving moral support while sliding a finger across my iPad. It sounds like I was distracted, and that was by mutual understanding as they poked her with needles and threaded what looked like yards of thin tubing into her thigh to block the nerves there. She’s OK with that kind of stuff. I’d just as soon peruse the online version of this newspaper by trying to figure out the new format.

I would say that it was by odd chance that the saga of Drs. Bill Rodman and John Schultz was the lead story on the high-definition screen of my mobile app that day, but since the ugly details of that spat have been protracted, the odds were in my favor that it would have been just about any day of the past month.

A lot of people want to take sides on this one. Not me. Whatever the issues are for everyone else in this town regarding patient care — lack of choices, draconian doctorial contractual arrangements, a good-ol’-boys network at the hospital, lack of parking, etc. — it seems like the thing that keeps rising from the festering wounds inflicted upon each other by the two doctors in the middle of the fight is all about who is the better surgeon. Within the past year my family has had procedures performed by each. We are happy with both outcomes.

The thing about deciding who is the best technical surgeon is that people’s opinions are pretty much beside the point. I hope that none of us has had enough of the same kind of surgery with enough different doctors to form any meaningful comparisons. Surgeries are to fix problems. If you come out of one and you have less pain than when you went into it with and the busted body part works better than when you went into the operating room, I’d say the surgery was a success. Maybe the surgery was complex or maybe an amateur boxer could have fixed it with his gloves on — how would you know? And, even if whatever was worked on still hurts and doesn’t work right, that doesn’t mean the surgeon was bad. Maybe nobody could have fixed it.

So, in Aspen we have a big, fancy, monumental new hospital and big-talking doctors and more fighting than necessary over everything to do with local health care. It’s enough to make what I am about to tell you all the more incredible. Just as they were about to wheel my wife off to the operating room, her doctor walked in and made a simple request: “If you don’t mind, before surgeries, I like to say a little prayer.”

Mind you, this comes from the mouth of one of the most renowned foot surgeons in the world, who wouldn’t tell you that, but it is easy to discover with barely any effort at all. Aloud, head bowed with his hand on her foot, he asked God to guide his hands and mind along with all the others’ helping with the surgery. He asked that Susan remain strong and heal quickly. He asked that I, our family and friends be comforted. It was an incredible act of humility, and I’d never felt more at ease in a hospital.

Roger Marolt has mixed feelings about having met his family’s health insurance deductible this year. Contact him at roger@maroltllp.com.


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