We’ve all been there… when the reasons for your symptoms can’t be determined; when the pain can’t be diagnosed; when tests come back normal… and you are still dealing with it, whatever “it” is. This is where Alan Sirvant stood. The 63-year-old resident of Milford had been contending with episodes of pain for two years.
“At first I thought it was the flu,” he recalls. However, when the pain persisted, he visited the emergency department. After numerous tests were run, nothing could be clearly pinpointed.
So, Alan continued to live in a constant struggle with pain. When one of his “episodes” caused him to double over, he made an appointment to see a gastroenterologist. Once again, the tests presented nothing unusual. “No one could figure out my problem,” Alan says.
Out of sheer frustration, Alan asked his primary care physician if he could be referred to a general surgeon. “I had to have something done,” Alan says. “I couldn’t live like this anymore.”
Alan made an appointment with Nora Fullington, MD, a general surgeon with UMass Memorial General Surgery at Milford, located at 91 Water Street in Milford. He explained to her the symptoms as well as the sequence of tests and doctors’ appointments made over the past two years.
“Here was Alan, just this regular guy who had a lot of problems in the last two years. This man had been through the ringer. He had been through a lot and didn’t have any answers,” says Dr. Fullington. “There was no doubt he was suffering, but he had very vague symptoms. He was a very complicated package.”
Alan was impressed with Dr. Fullington’s thoughtfulness and willingness to hear him out. “She really listened,” Alan says.
Listening to the patient is an important part of the diagnostic process, as well as developing an attitude of collaboration with the patient, and their family, as you proceed with their care, says Dr. Fullington.
“You have to consider every single patient as a member of your family,” says Dr. Fullington, describing her philosophy of patient care. “No matter what they come to you with, it is something that is troubling them. Hearing them through the process is what you do. You have to listen or you are not going to figure it out. You have to see the patient as a human being and you, as a doctor, have to be a human being in the interaction as well. It shapes everything going forward.”
Dr. Fullington understood that they needed to get to the bottom of Alan’s pain and do something about it. The challenge for Dr. Fullington was that while it was clear Alan was in pain, his symptoms did not point in one specific direction. She suspected, however, that he might be having trouble with his gall bladder, because the symptoms presented themselves in a vague way and the gall bladder had not been fully investigated before.
Dr. Fullington conducted a HIDA scan, which can diagnose gall bladder dysfunction and inflammation. During the test, a medication is administered that can trigger certain symptoms if the gall bladder isn’t working properly. As Dr. Fullington suspected, the test confirmed she might be looking in the right direction.
Dr. Fullington then suggested a diagnostic laparoscopic procedure to see what was going on and shared with Alan what she was expecting to find during the procedure. A diagnostic laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgery that entails making small incisions in the abdomen through which a small instrument called a laparoscope is inserted. The laparoscope is a camera that allows the surgeon to see inside the abdomen, and small surgical instruments can then be inserted to remove tissues or organs without having to make a large incision.
During the diagnostic laparoscopy, Dr. Fullington removed Alan’s gall bladder, his appendix (which had been inflamed) and some scar tissue on his right side.
“Dr. Fullington made me feel comfortable about the surgery,” Alan recalls. “I was very comfortable putting this surgery into her hands.”
For Alan, the relief was nearly instantaneous following the surgery. For Dr. Fullington, it was highly rewarding to know that she was able to bring Alan some comfort and closure.
“The surgery went very well,” Alan affirms. “Everyone at the hospital was very professional.”
Follow ups with Dr. Fullington were immediate and Alan was back to work within a week. Several months later, he looks back on the entire experience and is glad that Dr. Fullington was the final piece to an otherwise unsolved mystery.
“We’re lucky to have her here,” Alan says. “I feel better now than I have in years.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Fullington, call 508-458-4250.