National Doctors Day is March 30, and I am encouraging readers who have doctors whom they respect to take time to send a note to them. Your response might be, “Their job is to take care of the health of my family, and they are paid well, so why should I?”
Competent physicians make a difference in whether we live or die, in whether we are seriously compromised or are able to lead our lives with relative normalcy. Their jobs are high-stress ones, and their education is expensive, demanding, and time-consuming.
I have been blessed to have quality physicians since my childhood when Dr. D. M. Fields, my Uncle Doc, both delivered me and tended to my assorted childhood illnesses. A two-inch scar on my right wrist is a memento of the time someone shoved me through a door pane at the gymnasium at Cumberland High School. I just walked from school to Uncle Doc’s office and told his receptionist/wife, “Aunt Matt, I got a cut at school today.” Could you imagine a school being so cavalier about such an injury today?
I was well-served in Springfield at what is now the Regional Medical Center, when, as a young woman, I fractured my second cervical vertebrae in an automobile accident on my way to teach at Urbana College. In 10 days, I was out of the hospital and finishing up the semester. In six weeks, I was out of the brace and swimming at Kiser Lake.
I’ve had the usual assortments of breaks and knocks, but on this special day of 2017, I want to thank a Harlan, Ky., surgeon Dr. Fazal Ahmad.
Each year, I am invited to lecture to graduating students in the Physical Therapy Assistant program at Edison State Community College (congratulations to the most recent graduating class and their faculty on the 100 percent pass rate on their licensure examination).
In those lectures I always use my experience with Dr. Ahmad and the physical therapists at Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital as examples of positive life-altering medical care.
Back to my story. On a Sunday afternoon when I was president of Southeast Community College, I severed three fingers of my right hand on a kitchen knife that had no guard. I was in shock as the fingers hung backwards, inches down from their normal position and with a significant blood flow. Dr. Ahmad opened the three fingers from the base to their tips in a jigsaw pattern, took tissue from my wrist and expertly reconnected the tendons and nerves before suturing the layers of skin. After completing the two required surgeries, he said regarding my little finger, “We’ll just leave this one up to God.”
Since adulthood, I’ve always believed that God counts on human beings to be His intellect, skills, voice, hands, and feet to address the world’s issues. And Ahmad was His instrument to provide what I needed.
For months, from my elbow past the tip of my middle finger, I was in a paddle-like device that the hand surgeons at a Louisville hospital designed to keep the tendons from rupturing and to make my fingers mobile and strong as they healed.
The contraption was ugly, and my hand strongly resembled the work Dr. Frankenstein created from the remains of corpses he retrieved from graves: black sutures, finger three times their normal size, and discoloration.
Some are curious about the injuries of strangers, and I began to get the query, “What happened to your hand?”
I told some that my sister and I were tag-team wrestlers and at a particularly difficult match in Montana, a monster of a female wrestler bit off my fingers. I told others that I had gotten too close to a caged bear in the Great Smoky Mountains, and a bear had bitten them off. Whatever story I told, the strangers seemed to believe.
No matter how much I joked, I was worried: When the contraption came off, would I ever be able to use my hand? From my childhood, I remembered a beautiful, well-educated woman with a prosthetic hand. She was always dressed perfectly and wore gloves. I always wondered what her substitute for a functioning hand looked like.
I was in my first presidency at the time of the injury, and I felt sure future boards would not want a president with a hand short of three fingers.
One day my physical therapist was harsh with me, “You talk with your hands, Dr. Blevins. Quit hiding them and use them as you always have, weird contraption and all. “
For at least two years afterward, I was obsessed with hands and the important role they play in our lives.
In my career in education, I’ve made well over 100 speeches to groups at local, state, and national levels, and I’ve always used my hands to communicate. And, at times, I’ve used my accident to bring home a message: about the need for quality professionals in remote areas such as southeastern Kentucky as well as the need for quality health care for all-regardless of where they live or the amount of their income.
I’ve also used the incident to discuss the ways in which some of our life experiences, often unwanted and threatening, give us new understandings about the human condition. Each of us has our own share of obstacles, and some threaten our ability to work and carry out functions that we normally take for granted.
So, Dr. Ahmad, thank you, again, for being there for me on the Sunday afternoon you were called in to perform emergency surgery at Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital. Thank you for giving me back a strong hand that functions beautifully.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.