All Gain, Less Pain: Read Bob's Story
"As the spectrum of available procedures expands, we’re finding that nothing is impossible.” – Vijay Vaswani, MD
Continually evolving technology now enables surgeons to use minimally invasive techniques for nearly any kind of surgery. As more surgeries are done this way, patients are beginning to take notice that there are real advantages to these methods.
Instead of entering the body through a large opening made with a large incision, surgeons insert tiny cameras and instruments through small holes made with small incisions. Miniature microscopes and fiber-optic lights magnify the images and project them onto a high-definition monitor, allowing surgeons to operate much more precisely.
Shirley Thompson has a simple message to men: “Get your colonoscopy!” Shirley and her husband, Bob, know all too well what can happen when you put it off, as he did.
“Bob fought me tooth and nail,” Shirley says. “He insisted he didn’t need it. Well, he did.”
Tests showed that Bob had a large mass on his colon. It was cancer, and he would need surgery to remove it.
“We had total faith in Dr. Vaswani, so when he suggested laparoscopic surgery, we knew he would do a great job,” she says.
Bob had traditional surgery before, so he was expecting a long and painful recovery. “This was a wonderful experience,” says the 79-year-old retired Hamilton Township firefighter. “I had no pain whatsoever during or after the operation. I healed with no problems, and I never took a pain pill.”
Bob was able to quickly get back to his favorite activity – caring for his five-month-old great-granddaughter.
He’s still involved with the fire company, and recently attended the New Jersey Fireman’s Convention with his grandson, also a firefighter.
Family is what keeps him going. “We are very optimistic about everything, especially because he came through the surgery so well,” Shirley adds. “His children, grandchildren and especially his three great-grandchildren have been a big part of his recovery.”
Minimally invasive surgery has many benefits for patients, including:
Less pain. “Pain comes from the incisions made through your skin and muscle,” says Vijay Vaswani, MD, chief of general surgery at RWJ Hamilton. “Because the incisions are so much smaller, pain is much less. A minimally invasive surgery may only need a stitch or two to close.”
Faster recovery. Patients leave the hospital sooner and are able to more quickly return to work and other activities. Many patients go home the same day.
Less scarring. Patients have less scarring on the inside as well as the outside. “This is especially important for abdominal surgery because these adhesions can cause bowel obstructions and pain down the road,” Vaswani says.
Safer surgery. The magnification enables the surgeon to see structures in detail and get the camera and instruments into precisely the right place. This is particularly helpful with obese patients.
Reduced risk of complications. Smaller incisions heal more quickly and are less stressful to the body, lessening the risk for infection and other complications. Patients also lose less blood.
While minimally invasive techniques are now being used for some heart and orthopedic surgeries, most pelvic and abdominal procedures can be done this way, Vaswani says. These are called laparoscopic procedures. Laparoscopic techniques are commonly used for gallbladder, appendix, kidney and spleen removal, hernia repair, colon, rectal and stomach surgery and for surgical treatment of acid reflux disease.
Gynecologists use laparoscopic procedures to remove ovarian cysts, for tubal ligation (sterilization) and to diagnose pelvic pain that may be related to endometriosis or other conditions.
It has become the procedure of choice for gastric bypass and band surgery for weight loss. “Patients undergoing laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery usually return to normal activities after two days, rather than five or six,” Vaswani adds.
Laparoscopic surgery isn’t for everyone, though. The operation may take longer than traditional open surgery because of its complexity. Since general anesthesia is used, it may not be ideal for patients with cardiopulmonary problems. Patients with a lot of scar tissue from previous operations or radiation therapy may also not be good candidates. The good news is that more and more patients can expect these procedures to be available as the technology and applications progress.
“When we first started performing laparoscopic gallbladder and appendix surgery, no one thought it would be feasible for colon surgery. Four years later, we were using it,” Vaswani says.
“As the spectrum of available procedures expands, we’re finding that nothing is impossible.”