Patient Perspective: Carol Coffer
I have lived in the Bay Area my whole life – all 62 years. Recently (April 2008), I retired in Sonora, California, and even though that is a few hours away from PAMF, I remained a PAMF patient because I was generally healthy and only required periodic medical check-ups. I am so glad I did. In July 2008, I developed a lung infection and visited a local doctor in my new area. The doctor suspected I had lung cancer (although I am a non-smoker), and while evaluating the condition, found a tumor in my kidney. (My lungs turned out to be perfectly fine.) This physician referred me back "down the hill" to PAMF for kidney cancer care treatment.
In a total panic, I made an appointment with my regular PAMF physician, Dr. Rachel Young, in the Family Medicine Department. She saw me immediately, and while I was in her office, she picked up the phone and called Dr. Keith Lee at PAMF's Urology Department. As it turned out, he was onsite at the same location that day, and I walked down the corridor to see him. Essentially, I went down to Palo Alto to see my regular doctor and before the afternoon was over, I had seen Dr. Lee and knew I was going to be having surgery in the next couple weeks to remove my kidney tumor.
The Planning Process
The whole process (CT-scan, lab work and physical exams) of confirming the tumor, meeting the specialist and surgeon, deciding on a plan and getting the surgery scheduled was incredibly short – a matter of just a few days. The empathy and sense of urgency demonstrated by Doctors Young and Lee were amazing and very soothing. These two people understood how scared I was and worked hard to get this taken care of as soon as possible.
I was given two hospital choices for the surgery: Sequoia and Stanford. I told Dr. Lee that I would go to whatever hospital he wanted – whatever worked best for him, whatever procedure, calendaring or staff fit best for him. He is the expert and I sure wasn't going to try to second-guess his judgment; I wanted him to make that decision. Ultimately, my procedure was performed at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City.
Although I knew that a robot was going to be part of the surgical procedure, I didn't know (and really didn't care) how big a role the robot was going to play in the procedure. I didn't want to know anything in detail before the surgery because I was afraid. I had cancer, I was going to lose a kidney and that was about all the information I could process at the time. Since the surgery, I have done some research on robotic surgery and am amazed that the technology is so advanced. I just want to hug that robot!
Hospital Check-in and Care
My first contact with the hospital was for pre-registration. The process was efficient, fast and friendly – yet professional. Having already completed pre-registration, the arrival and check-in on the day of surgery went very smoothly. This was important because when I arrived for surgery, I was quite nervous and frightened. The staff took such good care of me at every step of the way and literally held my hand the whole time – even as I was being wheeled down the hall to surgery.
As soon as Dr. Lee saw me, he also took my hand and he held it until they put me to sleep. The experience was extremely reassuring – the empathy and care were extraordinary and the patient room at the hospital was also unique and pleasant. After surgery, the nursing staff provided excellent care and frequently checked with me to make sure I was comfortable and to see if I needed any assistance. They were very attentive and deserve a lot of credit.
A Smooth and Speedy Recovery
Due to the ease of the robotic surgical procedure, I was only in the hospital for two days. Both my caregiver and I were amazed and impressed that there was very little discomfort afterward. I have some scars on my stomach where they did the procedure, but the recovery was very easy. Within a week of the surgery, I returned to most of my normal activities, although I was a bit more tired earlier in the day and I had some lifting restrictions right after surgery. I ride ATVs (all terrain vehicles), so I was initially restricted from doing that, but soon that restriction was gone, as well.
I was really lucky. A lot of traditional kidney removal surgeries are very difficult and dramatic. In some cases, they have to make an incision that goes from the middle of your chest all the way around to the middle of your back. And they didn't have to do that to me because of the robot – it was much less invasive and that made for a much smoother recovery phase. I know a woman who underwent the traditional kidney removal procedure and we literally compared scars and stories. She was in the hospital a month compared to my two days – an amazing difference between the two types of surgery.
As part of the follow-up to my kidney cancer diagnosis and surgery, I return to PAMF every few months. I did not require any chemotherapy or radiation after-care. However, I am being considered for a new clinical trial that is taking place at PAMF. Overall, my robotic surgery experience was excellent and any way I can promote Dr. Lee, Dr. Young, PAMF and Sequoia Hospital regarding the wonderful care I received, I am glad to do it!
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