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.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Peconic Bay Medical Center

I'm in the recovery area after gall bladder surgery this morning. Thank God (and Dr. Cervone, Dr. Ward and their wonderful nursing staff) all went very well.

Peconic Bay Medical Center's new Center for Advanced Surgical Services, which opened for business this morning, is a top notch facility we East End residents should be very proud to have right in our backyard.

CEO Andrew Mitchell, his staff, and the PBMC board of directors -- and the foundation board and staff-- ought to be very, very proud. Between the new ER that opened last year and this facility, they are well on their way to providing our community with high level care right in our backyard. The old OR facilities are slated to become a cardiac surgical facility, meaning people in need of cardiac intervention (bypass surgery, stents, diagnostic procedures) will no longer have to schlep to Stony Brook or Nassau County. With the size of Suffolk County, both in terms of geography and population, these new facilities are so very much needed on the East End. Congratulations to Andy Mitchell for his vision and determination, and to the entire staff and board of directors, for bringing a world class medical center to Riverhead.

In addition to all that, PBMC is a member of the Plane Tree system, so everything is all about making patients and their families comfortable and keeping them in the loop while maintaining the patient's dignity. It's about patient-centered care.

So the new wings are pleasant, filled with natural light. The surgical waiting area has a TV monitor in it that allows family members to see exactly where their loved one is: pre-op, OR, recovery. (Patients are assigned a number, which is made known to family, so that patient privacy is assured.) Having waited anxiously when people I love are undergoing surgery, I know this feature will be very much appreciated by family members. When you're waiting for a loved one's surgery to be concluded, there's nothing worse than not knowing what's going on.

The great thing is, even with all the 21st century technology here, all the people who staff this place are still the same caring, friendly folks who do such a great job looking after people. They're our neighbors, and in some cases, our friends and family members. That's what makes living in our still-small town a wonderful place.