Spending a Week Through My Patients' Eyes

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Jaren Riley2

Dr. Riley believes his time wearing a brace allows him to interact with his patients in a more genuine and believable way.

When I was 19, I took a service trip to Brazil with my church. On this trip I saw a lot of children with deformities, such as clubfoot and or fractures that had healed incorrectly. This experience is a big reason why I got into orthopedic medicine; it inspired my desire to help kids. I now specialize in pediatric orthopedic surgery at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Orthopedics. In addition to sports injuries and orthopedic surgery, I treat a lot of young patients with scoliosis, an abnormal curve of the spine.

In treating scoliosis, I have a lot of kids for whom I prescribe bracing treatment. Then one day I realized I felt like a bit of a fraud when talking to them about something I myself had never experienced. No matter how hard I tried to explain the medical reasons, emotionally I could see I wasn’t connecting with these kids struggling to accept the need to wear a rigid brace up to 18 hours a day for 2 to 3 years. So to increase my ability to connect with these kids, I decided to experience wearing the brace for a week.

Wearing the brace with a normal spine was difficult. It changes the way you sit and stand, the way you do everything. It’s a little fatiguing mentally when you’re trying to overcome those physical challenges. I thought about how difficult it must be for these young people who also face enormous social pressure; who live with scoliosis and the anxiety of whether their condition will get worse. It opened my eyes to how mentally tough these kids are and how perseverant they can be. Regardless, after a few days I thought, “no, you know, the reality is this is tough.”

Although I experienced the physical challenge of the brace, I didn’t experience the social and emotional challenges many of my patients, mostly young women, go through. There are body and image issues, plus the social pressures of going to school and wanting to blend in. I couldn’t replicate that, but I think now I can relate a little better when my patients say things like, “It’s really hard to sleep,” “It’s hard to get clothes that fit right or look good,” or “It’s hard to transition from life without the brace to life with it.”

After my experience wearing the brace I still don’t have the perfect answer for my patients, but I am able to deliver the answers I do have in a more genuine and believable way. Our patients can now see that my team is willing to get in the trenches and go through the process with them. I think now they feel more supported and cared for. The connection we make with them through this very difficult process is now more authentic. My experience showed me I wasn’t stronger than these kids, and it gave me a much deeper respect for the process they go through.

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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.
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