Each year at our annual meeting, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) recognizes several patients as their “Patients of Courage”. These remarkable individuals have had incredible journeys dealing with injuries, breast cancer, or congenital deformities with the help of plastic surgery.
They have further gone on to “give back” to society through their experiences. It is always a very special moment and a highlight of our meeting when these patients are introduced and their stories told. When they are recognized and given a standing ovation by everyone present, there is not a dry eye in the house.
These patients show a very special type of courage, but this is not the only type of courage. Nor are these the only courageous patients. Their bravery is very evident and can be seen by all.
I, too, see courage in my patients, but it is a different type of courage. It’s a more personal type of courage, and one which is never recognized by a standing ovation. But I see it.
My patients are brave enough to come into my office – usually as perfect strangers – and quite literally bare their bodies and souls to me in order to discuss something that is extremely private, sometimes troubling, sometimes embarrassing, and something that has affected their lives in major ways.
The “Patients of Courage” I recognize:
- The mother of three who is so unhappy and ashamed of the shape of her body, her abdomen and breasts, after having children that she will not allow her husband to see her without clothes on.
- The man who has had significant breast development (gynecomastia) which has always been a source of derision and embarrassment for him such that he will not take his shirt off with his family at the pool or the beach.
- The young woman born with little or no breast tissue who will not take her shirt off when she is making love to her partner or husband.
- The patient who has worked tirelessly to lose over 100 pounds and is embarrassed about all the extra skin that remains.
As I talk with these patients, the degree to which their concerns shape their lives is immediately apparent. These concerns prevent them from living their lives the way they want. Many times, they are ashamed of something they really have no control over. So, it really takes a special type of fearlessness to come into my office and enter into a discussion of what we can do to lift this burden from them.
Truly, I am humbled by the bravery these patients show when addressing their physical concerns. Many of these patients tell me that they will not let their spouse or partner see them without clothes on, or when the lights are on. Others tell me of the ridicule they been exposed to, or tell me about the types and layers of clothing they must wear to hide that part of their body.
However humbled I am by their courage, I am equally gratified to see how correcting this issue can really change or improve their lives. If they had not had the courage to walk through my office door, we would never be able to make the changes that will allow them to live a happier, fuller life.
To all my patients who have walked this walk with me, I salute you!
David B. Reath, MD