Vail Doc: The other side of the fence |

Vail Doc: The other side of the fence

Dr. Drew Werner
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –I have been a patient many times. In fact my earliest memories involve medical care for a congenital heart defect, which I had repaired at the ripe old age of 9. Recovering from recent rotator cuff surgery, however has reacquainted me with being on “the other side of the fence.” My experience at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs was excellent. Dr. Liotta, my orthopedic surgeon, was great as well. At my first post surgical visit with him I thanked him for teaching me empathy. Being a patient makes me a better doctor, not by the accident of being on the other side, but by reflecting on and learning from those experiences.

Dear Doc,

I was told I need surgery, and I don’t know what to do! I want to feel better, but I’m nervous about going under the knife.

Nervous in Gypsum

Dear Nervous,

Like any major event, success depends on good preparation. The first part of preparation is finding the right physician. Personal reference, reputation and recommendation by your primary care physician are all important when it comes to choosing the right surgeon. The next step is understanding exactly why the surgery will be performed and what will be done. If you have any uncertainties, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. Excellent communication with a physician, who is willing to take the time to understand your questions and answer them thoroughly, is important. You should understand the risks and benefits of surgery, as well as the risks and benefits of not having surgery. It’s also a good idea to understand who your health care team will involve. This is especially important as there may be an anesthesiologist, physician’s assistant and other health care providers participating in your care. Next, know where your surgery will be performed. The facility in which surgery takes place, as well as the nurses and others who provide your immediate postoperative care, are the first step in insuring a healthy recovery. It has been shown that the quality of the health care team and a healing environment are equally important in good health outcomes.

A patient who feels good about their upcoming surgery will often have a better surgical experience and postoperative recovery as well. The last step is being prepared in advance for your recovery. Many surgeries involve a rehabilitation period, which is critically important to long-term success. Oftentimes that is where the hard work begins. Follow your instructions carefully, take an active role in your recovery and try not to get impatient while the body is healing.

While talking about preparedness is hard not to think of the flu. While there is an almost constant stream of information in our daily news, I would like to clarify a few things.

As you know there are two types of flu, seasonal flu and H1N1. Although H1N1 is present in our community, seasonal flu is not. That means there is plenty of time to get your seasonal flu vaccine. In previous years, most people just started to receive their seasonal flu vaccine in October. This year however, recommendations were for early vaccination and while it is great that so many people have followed those recommendations, the result was that we were taken off guard and shipments of vaccine fell behind early patient demand. Be reassured that more seasonal flu vaccine is coming and you should have no problem getting vaccinated before seasonal flu comes this year.

H1N1 vaccine is just now being distributed. Early shipments are being restricted and given to high-risk patients. We expected that eventually it will be available for everyone, but that may take several months. Watch for public-health announcements and stay in touch with your physician to know when you can be vaccinated.

The best way to stay up to date, especially with things changing so quickly, is by going to our county’s Web site, or by calling CoHELP (Colorado Health Emergency Line for the Public) toll-free at 877-462-2911 for a live health professional who can answer flu (seasonal and H1N1) questions. This line is staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The call center can accommodate both English- and Spanish-speakers.

For the past three weeks, influenza like illness – primarily attributed to H1N1 flu – were at an epidemic level. While not to be underestimated, this is due to both the serious impact of H1N1 flu on young people and the typically low incidence of influenza this time of year.

What does this really mean for you? Stay healthy by eating well, drinking plenty of fluids, exercising, washing your hands, and don’t share food or drinks. Stay home if you are sick and return to work or school 24 hours after fevers have resolved and coughing has improved. Students who have a sick household member should stay home for five days from the day the first household member got sick. This is the time period they are most likely to get sick themselves.

Working together, we can make a difference not only in our own health, but also in the health of those around us this flu season!

Dr. Drew Werner is the vice chief of staff at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and the Eagle County Health Officer. He lives in Eagle with his family. E-mail comments about this column to

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