Rolling Without Limits

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When Doctors *Get* Disabilities: The Power of First-Hand Experiences
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When Doctors *Get* Disabilities: The Power of First-Hand Experiences

Brad Frazee, 42, an ER doctor for 18 years, has a unique front row seat from which to test Iezzoni’s hypothesis. In 2006, he was struck and run over by a Range Rover while riding on a bike trail near his home in Mill Valley, California. When he regained consciousness three weeks later, he was a patient with a T10 spinal cord injury and a badly damaged shoulder.

He was transferred to the University of California, San Francisco, where he had graduated from med school. From there he hoped to go to rehab at Santa Clara Valley Med Center, a Model Systems SCI Center, but as a patient no longer calling the shots, he was told he wasn’t ready. “They sent me instead to Kentfield, mostly old folks,” he says. “I got despondent, thinking I probably couldn’t return to my work. So I lifted weights like crazy to get out of there. By the time I got out and went to Santa Clara on my own, they wouldn’t take me because they said I was too far advanced!”

Eight months later, he showed up at Highland Hospital in Oakland in his wheelchair, ready to resume his job. Whenever a person with a new spinal cord injury came in for emergency treatment, the encounter was strange. “There’s usually no real opportunity to make a direct connection then,” says Frazee. “The person may be in shock. It’s unclear how permanent it is. It’s actually a bit PTSD-generating. Everyone in the room looks at me like they are thinking about me, not knowing what to say. It is so awkward.”

Later, when the patient is stable, Frazee visits. “They are in a whole different section of the hospital, and I can make a connection when I go see them,” he says. “I give them the kind of info no one else knows, encourage them, tell them they are going to be OK.”

His experience has given him a new point of view about not only spinal cord injuries, but life-altering medical events in general. “In the hospital you’re at the mercy of all these people who don’t know you. There is a profound sense of powerlessness, a lack of control, and being a patient in this situation is what most doctors do not appreciate.” But with patients, when he rolls in, “they instantly know I have been through what they are going through. It could be any of a host of things with life-changing consequences, cancer, trauma. I know they are in for hell, and I tell them ‘listen, you need to kick back and let the docs work — it will be tough, but you will get through it.’”

Frazee can say this with confidence. More than 12 years post-injury, he is an avid handcycler, in good health, comfortable working eight-to-10-hour shifts, splitting his time between overseeing ER cases, teaching and doing research. Since his injury, he has published 24 original research papers. He is board certified in internal medicine as well as emergency medicine and has a passion for researching infectious diseases.

Image credit: Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

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