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May 18, 2017

When the Surgeon Becomes the Patient

May 18, 2017

For 36 hours in March, general surgeon Michelle Helms found herself on the other end of the stethoscope.
From left, Kim Gibowicz, RN, Holly Michaelson, MD, and John Noviello, CRNA, with Michelle Helms, MD. In March, Michelle had emergency surgery to fix a perforation in her small bowel. Her CDMG General Surgery partner, Holly Michaelson, performed the surgery and was assisted by anesthetist John Noviello. Kim Gibowicz was one of the nurses who took care of Michelle while she was a patient on North 3. “It’s one thing to take care of patients; it’s another thing to be a patient yourself,” said Michelle.
From left, Kim Gibowicz, RN, Holly Michaelson, MD, and John Noviello, CRNA, with Michelle Helms, MD. In March, Michelle had emergency surgery to fix a perforation in her small bowel. Her CDMG General Surgery partner, Holly Michaelson, performed the surgery and was assisted by anesthetist John Noviello. Kim Gibowicz was one of the nurses who took care of Michelle while she was a patient on North 3. “It’s one thing to take care of patients; it’s another thing to be a patient yourself,” said Michelle.

It was a typical “on call” Saturday night for Cooley Dickinson Medical Group general surgeon Michelle Helms. She had operated late into the evening and managed to catch a few hours of sleep before dawn. But when she woke up, she knew something wasn’t right.

“I had persistent abdominal pain that wouldn’t go away,” recalled Michelle.

Following Doctor’s Orders

Michelle called Dr. Holly Michaelson, a general surgeon and her partner at Cooley Dickinson Medical Group General Surgical Care. Holly offered to take the on-call pager so Michelle could get the mysterious belly pain diagnosed.

When she checked in at the Emergency Department, Michelle was just another patient. “I was roomed quickly. The ED staff were very attentive. Everyone told me what was happening throughout my stay,” remembered Michelle.

A phlebotomist drew her blood. A tech performed a CT scan. With diagnostic results in hand, ED physician Whitney Scholz evaluated Michelle’s condition and determined all tests were negative. Whitney discharged Michelle with instructions to rest. Yet Michelle knew from her years as a surgeon that a “negative” CT scan doesn’t always show what can be developing in the abdomen.

By the next morning, the pain had become unbearable. Michelle went to see Holly, who performed a physical exam. When Holly gently palpated Michelle’s abdomen, Michelle nearly jumped off the exam table. “It was intense, unbearable pain,” said Michelle.

Acting Fast

Within the hour, Holly had performed emergency surgery to remove part of Michelle’s small intestine. Using a laparoscope to see inside Michelle’s belly, Holly was surprised at what she saw. The source of the pain was a small pouch, or a diverticulum, within the wall of the small bowel that had become blocked. The blockage had created weak points in the intestinal wall and the lack of blood to the area caused a perforation.

“In my years as a surgeon, I have never operated on a patient with a small bowel diverticulitis. It is very common in the colon, not the small bowel,” said Holly, noting this rare occurrence was something unique to Michelle’s anatomy.

Receiving “Attentive, Personable Care”

After emergency surgery, Michelle spent two days recovering in the hospital. “Everyone from the nurses to the people who cleaned my room were incredibly attentive, personable, and on top of their game,” said Michelle. Following her surgeon’s instructions, Michelle rested at home for two weeks before returning to work in April.

Holly says it’s not every day she operates on a fellow surgeon – much less her own partner. “It’s a privilege to be trusted with the care of a colleague.”

Michelle notes that it’s one thing to take care of patients; it’s another thing to be a patient yourself.

“I trusted my colleagues and partner and everyone at Cooley with my life, and I am so grateful to everyone who took care of me. I wasn’t surprised that I would receive such great care at Cooley Dickinson.”

7 thoughts on “When the Surgeon Becomes the Patient

  1. I look forward to going to Cooley Dickinson for exrays or other tests because I always stop in the Gift Shop, There are always so many unique, unusual items I always find many gifts I love! I probably should mention the professional manner, gentleness and kindness which I have been treated with by the professionals in the departments I have been in!

  2. I am so impressed with the professionalism, work ethics and surgical skills of Dr. Holly Michaelson. I was in the hospital five years ago for what was believed to be an infection in my left leg. Dr. Michaelson came to see me in my room to inform me that there was no infection that affected the bone itself. I was so impressed and so amazed to witness her strength and personality as a surgeon. If ever the need should arise that I need general surgery performed, I would like to request Dr. Holly Michaelson to handle my case.

    1. Hi, Harry, Thank you for your comment. We have passed along this feedback to Dr. Michaelson.

  3. I had Dr Helms as a consulting surgeon for diverticulitis. She visited me twice a day, she felt more like a friend than a medical provider. I had such faith in her and all the staff at the hospital.

  4. Michelle Helms is the kindest most compassionate physician I know. So, it is only right for that kindness to be returned to her. Kudos to the wonderful team at Cooley Dickinson for delivering excellent patient centered, quality care. Michelle, I am so grateful that you got the care you needed and had a speedy recovery! xoxo

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