My Experience at the Hey Clinic
When Duke University’s Health Careers Exploration Program first informed me that I would be shadowing Dr. Hey in the Hey clinic this past summer, I was so excited. I started looking through the clinic’s website, and reading the blogs online. I hadn’t ever heard of a spinal clinic before and was really interested to learn more.
On the first day that I was supposed to be shadowing, I was very nervous, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming that I immediately started feeling more comfortable. It was an eye opening experience for me to be in the clinic and to meet some of the patients with scoliosis, kyphosis, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, disc herniations and other spinal problems because I’ve always had the idea that only the elderly experienced spinal issues. I had no idea that the same problem could occur in otherwise healthy children and adults.
When I first started listening to the patients in clinic about what their symptoms were, it just amazed me that some of them had been living with their symptoms for years. For example, there was one woman in her 60s who had not been able to stand for more then 10 minutes and could not walk for more then 50 yards, and had lived like that for over 5 years. I could not imagine myself not being able to sit down for more then 10 minutes at a time, which I am sure caused even more pain for her besides her normal back pain.
I think the patient that stands out the most in my mind was little 12-year-old Heather who had a very sever double curve scoliosis. She just seemed so healthy and full of life that I could not see her having such a serious spinal deformity, and the speed with which it developed (they only noticed a slight scoliosis a year before) also shocked me. The shock, fear and confusion that you could see in her parents’ touched me deeply because I could imagine how my parents would have felt if they had just found out a week ago that their daughter had scoliosis and suddenly a week later she was being scheduled for surgery and would have a metal rod in her back for the rest of her life. Any yet I was just as equally impressed with the calmness that the parents presented in front of their daughter in order to make Heather feel better and how brave Heather was about the whole thing. I also think that because I was there for the families’ entire Hey clinic experience (I was there for her first check-up at the clinic, during her surgery and for post-op, and I even saw her before and after x-rays) it made me feel closer to them and more able to empathize with their situation.
If you had asked me two years ago, what field of medicine would I want to go into, I would have told you: “not surgery.” But my thoughts on that have started to change in the past two years; so for me, the opportunity to observe the surgical side of the Hey Clinic was an invaluable experience. Sitting in the surgical room with the high definition camera pointed at the surgical area gave me a perfect view of everything without making me nervous about possibly being in the way. It was also amazing for me to see Dr. Hey working on the patients, especially when I had a spine model in front of me because I could see on the model how small of an area was available for the pedicle screws and yet he was able to get them all in fast and efficiently. It was especially incredible because from my point of view much of the anatomy looked the same and I sometimes couldn’t tell the tissue and muscle from the bone. What also surprised me was the amount of force used in surgery, I had never envisioned surgery on something as delicate (by delicate I don’t mean something that is fragile and easily broken like glass, but rather something that if broken would have serious consequences) as a spine would involve so much pushing, bending, cutting, and drilling. The whole Hey Clinic experience only reaffirmed my desire to go into medicine and has made me consider surgery as a definite field of interest.