Ask Amy: A Surgeon's Risky Behavior

By Amy Dickinson | February 26th, 2021

Before the knife comes out...

Surgeon's risky behavior

Dear Amy: I’m in my 60s and undergoing cancer treatment, therefore immunocompromised.

At both of my appointments with my surgeon, she has worn a loose fitting, thin, cloth mask. She has to get very close to me — face to face — to examine me. This has made me extremely uncomfortable, and frankly angry. She has unnecessarily caused me additional stress during the most stressful period of my life. I didn’t say anything to her either time, because it felt too awkward.

In about a month she will have my life in her hands, and I don’t want her having any potential negative feelings toward me when I go under the knife. I’ve written an anonymous letter about this, which I haven’t sent. I want to report her primarily so she will use adequate PPE, but I don’t want repercussions. How should I handle this?

– Cautious in Colorado

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Dear Cautious: Your question reveals that the trust you should have may be missing with this surgeon.

I shared your question with a friend who is a cancer surgeon with 30 years of experience at a major cancer center. He and I share concern about you, and his response follows:

“Patient safety is paramount, not just during surgery, but also before and after. Almost everyone is nervous before surgery, but you should not also carry the anxiety of mistrust with you into the operating room. You should be cautious, because no matter how many operations your surgeon has done, this is your one.

“Since COVID, I always wear a surgical mask and will frequently add a face shield when seeing patients.

“Your surgeon should create an environment where you are able to express your concerns and ask questions. Ideally, you should raise your concern directly to her. How she responds will be very revealing. If she apologizes and thanks you for bringing this to her attention; that’s a good sign. If she is defensive, you should seek another surgeon.”

“You and your loved ones are your best advocates, but if your hospital has a patients’ advocate’s office, report your concern to them. They may not be surprised by your report, and if needed, can help you to change surgeons. They may help with either having a family member join for a critical in-person conversation with your surgeon, or if that’s not possible, listen to the consultation over the phone. Many patients are stressed and will not remember what their doctor says, so that extra pair of ears helps.

“There are many fine cancer surgeons out there. For critical and important insights, read reviews of them. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services ( is working to make this information more transparent with ‘star ratings’ — and many hospitals advertise these scores.

“Surgeons are professionals with extensive training and a team to help them give you the best possible care. At the end of the day the surgeon should be there for YOU, not the other way around.”

Never forget that!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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