Important conversations: Navigating doctor, patient communications

Dr. Charles A. West, associate professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery
Dr. Charles A. West, associate professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery

Alice, my younger sister, or Ms. Alice, as everyone calls her, has spent her life helping other people. Never tiring of her dedication as a social worker, she worked long hours in some of the most distressed situations; caring and interceding for children who were unable to fend for themselves.

She specialized in prevention and intervention of child abuse, and although she experienced situations that were too grievous to share, she often helped those children who were resigned to a life of hopelessness, find the stability to pull themselves from a dark situation to one of light and strength. It was not until she faced her own health crisis that she started taking her own advice.

Shortly after retirement, Ms. Alice, who has lived with diabetes for years, began to feel the effects of her disease. An infection on her foot soon led several doctors to recommend amputating her leg. After months of serious illnesses and hopelessness, she met Dr. Charles West, Jr., associate professor of surgery, division of vascular surgery and endovascular therapy in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.

She immediately informed him that she received distressing information from several doctors, including amputation of her leg. She was now prepared to cooperate with his recommendation.

After careful examination, Dr. West stated that he wanted to try to save her leg. Weary from months of pain, and numerous doctors informing her that amputation was the only option, she was so happy to meet a doctor who believed that amputation was the last option, not the only option. Dr. West was firm. He discussed the treatment options, the possible outcomes, and asked her to give careful thought to his recommendation.

Through all of her professional career, and in some of the most hideous situations that could be described, she found the strength to look for hope for each child with whom she interacted. She found a means to persist toward a successful end for hundreds of children who were assigned to her case load during her tenure as a social worker. Yet, she could find no hope for herself. Now she was the one who was dependent on a caregiver to not give up on her. So she let him help her.

Dr. West performed an arterial reconstructive surgery on the leg in order to bypass around the diseased blood vessels that were damaged. He personally followed up with her both day and night. He interacted with the family, assuring them without any hesitation, that there was hope and that her leg could be saved and she would soon walk and continue to have an active and productive life.

It is true, my sister Ms. Alice is active again. Driving her car, working with grandparent groups she helped create during her social work days, spending time with her daughter Rhonda, her three grandchildren, Anthony, Ashley and Alissa and her favorite cousin, Clara, who resides in Louisiana.

She was fortunate to meet Dr. West, who shared the same characteristics that had driven her during her profession as a social worker – never give up hope, be patient with those you are helping and stay committed to your service.

By Dr. Doris Price, Adjunct Instructor in the Department of Anthropology and Social Science at Houston Community College 

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