Thursday, May 07, 2009

When your comfort zone goes hi-tech

I've been told many times by many people that I'm a workaholic, but now I've proved it to myself.

I came to that undeniable conclusion Monday morning, sitting in the pre-op prep area at Riverhead's Peconic Bay Medical Center. There, it hit me. My agreement to Twitter my surgery (and subsequently edit and publish a video of the procedure on our newspaper Web sites) turned my medical event into a work project. I was in my comfort zone, even though I sat on a gurney in a hospital gown, with an intravenous line in my left hand, waiting to be brought into the operating room. I had a laptop in front of me and I was Twittering (reporting in short blurbs what was going on) and answering e-mails. The only thing missing was the phone.

On Monday, Dr. Agostino Cervone poked four holes in my abdomen, detached my gall bladder and pulled it out through one of the holes. The procedure took about 45 minutes. I checked in at the surgical admissions office at about 7 a.m. and was home by noon.

I felt surprisingly good, considering I'd just had one of my organs removed and had been "out" for a bit. As a parting gift, the hospital sent me home with a DVD containing a video of the entire procedure. It was fascinating to watch, albeit a little, well, gross. Part of my "project" was to edit this into a movie no more than 10 minutes long, to post on our newspaper Web sites. [Also posted on YouTube.] It's up there now for all the world to see, narrated by the surgeon himself, who came to my house Tuesday afternoon to record the voice-over. He explains what he's doing during the surgery step by step, pointing out the various anatomical features of the troublemaking gall bladder -- including the scar tissue from prior attacks I've had. The good doctor also goes out of his way to note, as he's peeling away belly fat, that I don't have much belly fat. I'm here to tell you he's just being polite.

The point of all this, other than the obvious attempt to distract myself with work from what was actually going on in my life (the motive of a true workaholic, I suppose) was twofold.

First, I wanted to report to the community on the brand-new surgical facility at Peconic Bay Medical Center, where, as luck would have it, I wound up being scheduled as one of the first patients in the new operating rooms. The new facilities were originally due to open two weeks earlier, but thanks to construction delays and bureaucratic red tape, the grand opening was put off till May 2, landing me on the table for the big debut.

Second, I saw this as an opportunity to develop our "new media" capabilities here at Times/Review. We're no longer supposed to limit ourselves to reporting in print. We've got to think of the digital side of the business nowadays. That means posting breaking news stories on our sites in between our regular weekly publication dates and branching out into audio and video and social networking. Such endeavors require dinosaurs like me to get hip about stuff like Twitter.

For the uninitiated, Twitter is a Web site that you can use to send instant messages to groups of people. Your recipients have to sign up to get your updates, which they can even choose to get as text messages on their cell phones. In Twitter parlance, they "follow" you. Your messages can be no more than 140 characters long. (I can barely say good morning in 140 characters, so this is a very good discipline-producing activity.)

I'm still not too sure about Twitter. Some folks say it's the future of journalism. Frankly, I find that rather frightening. But in this world of miniscule attention spans, it may be true.

But back to the central point of my venture into new media this week. Peconic Bay's new surgical facilities are incredible. But don't take my word for it. Go to our Web sites ( or and watch the OR tour video, in which CEO Andy Mitchell explains what they've done there and why. It's so next-generation that the chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins is coming to Riverhead next week to have a look, with the intention of replicating at Johns Hopkins what they've done in Riverhead. How's that for state-of-the-art?

The second video we've posted is one of the surgery itself. Be forewarned: It's not for the faint of heart. But once you get over any initial squeamishness, it really is fascinating stuff.

Technology is amazing. Not too many years ago, I'd have been in the hospital for at least a week recuperating from gall bladder surgery, which, done the "old fashioned" way -- as an open surgery -- was a major operation. Instead, I was home -- and, thanks to technology, working -- that very day. Technology, you see, is both a blessing and a curse. For normal folks, at least. For workaholics like me, it just helps keep me in my comfort zone.


BE said...

I'm so proud of you and happy to be working with you
in our hometown.

lbh said...

It's good to know that we have such a good hospital right in our backyard. I must say, I didn't watch the video...I can't handle anything like that, but I think it's really cool that they gave you the DVD afterward. I'm also glad that they didn't offer that option at Southampton Hospital after I had the kids :)

Ceil said...

Hi Denise....
Whoa! I watched the video...Imagine pulling out your gall bladder through a little opening!!!!!

I really had a chuckle when I read that you had your laptop with you and were Twittering while waiting to be wheeled into the OR.

Good for us that we have a facility of this caliber on the N.F.and good for you to be feeling so well...