Five stories that will make you believe that, on their best days, doctors really do have superpowers.
The Power of Observation
With one look, a Denver doc knew this much for sure: His patient needed surgery—immediately.
There’s a grossly callous phrase in medicine that nearly every doctor knows and uses in the company of other doctors: “circling the drain.” Used in context, it means that a patient is rapidly declining and, despite best efforts to save him, he may not live much longer. Sometimes, when the deterioration is related to old age or a longtime terminal illness, the body’s failure to thrive is normal, understandable, and even merciful. But when an otherwise healthy young man looks like he’s circling the drain—and for unknown reasons—that is anything but routine.
Dr. David Longcope, a colon and rectal surgeon at Rose Medical Center, remembers well walking into Jeff Lindquist’s room on March 20, 2008. The 38-year-old Fort Collins resident had just been transferred to Rose via ambulance after spending a week at another Colorado-based medical center. His breathing was rapid and shallow. He was jaundiced. He couldn’t move. He had searing pain in his abdomen. And he was in and out of consciousness.
The doctor had been called in to consult on the patient by colleague Dr. Jonathan P. Fishman, a gastroenterologist who knew a bit more about Lindquist’s case. Normally, Longcope would have spent time taking a patient history, running some tests, and discussing the case in detail with Fishman. Instead, Longcope took one long look and decided Lindquist didn’t have that kind of time. “I essentially had to walk up to him and his family,” Longcope says, “and say, ‘I know you don’t know me, but I need to operate on you. Now.’ ”
Until a week before he ended up at Rose Medical Center, Jeff Lindquist had been a relatively active person who liked to play tennis, golf, ski, and goof around with his one-year-old daughter. He’d had some health issues; he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis—an inflammatory disease of the large intestine—in the mid-’90s and had surgery related to that in 2003. A couple of years later, Lindquist was rediagnosed as actually having Crohn’s disease—not ulcerative colitis—by Fishman. The Denver gastroenterologist had put Lindquist on Remicade, a drug known to help with the symptoms of Crohn’s, which is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that usually affects the small intestine. Lindquist had been doing well on the drug until one morning in March 2008, when the Fort Collins man bent down to pick up his daughter. “If felt like someone stabbed me in my back,” Lindquist says. “By noon that day I was doubled over in pain.” He went to the local urgent care center, where they told him to go to the hospital.
Lindquist says he doesn’t remember much after that. In fact, he has very little memory of the following six weeks. But he knows that he spent a week in the hospital, where doctors had trouble diagnosing his condition and were reluctant to do surgery, before his physician father had him transferred to Rose Medical Center.
Although the memory is hazy, Lindquist says he remembers seeing Fishman and recalls Longcope coming to see him. “I remember Dr. Fishman’s face,” Lindquist says. “He looked very serious. He and Dr. Longcope talked for a few minutes about 10 feet away from my bed. I couldn’t hear them. But then Dr. Longcope came over and said he was going to do surgery. And he was taking me right then.”
Within two hours, Longcope had his patient in the OR and began operating. What he found inside Lindquist was unlike anything he’d seen in 14 years of doing surgery. “There was two feet of black, dead, liquefied bowel,” the doctor says. “I’ve never seen that before, because a person is usually dead before that can happen.”
Longcope vacuumed out the dead intestine—likely the result of the bowel kinking on itself, which was what caused Lindquist’s stabbing pain—doing his best to clean out what he knew could be infection-causing material. He gave Lindquist a temporary small bowel stoma—a procedure in which the remaining healthy bowel is affixed to an incision in the abdomen and a tethered plastic bag serves as a reservoir for waste—which would allow his patient’s gastrointestinal tract to begin to recover. The surgery was successful, but Lindquist spent about a week in the ICU on a bevy of medications meant to stave off infection.
At home, the recovery was slow. Although Lindquist had to be treated for an infection postoperatively, he knows he was lucky. Lucky his dad moved him to Rose and fortunate that Fishman and Longcope were there. “Had I not gotten there when I did,” Lindquist says, “I wouldn’t have lived. Had the doctor waited to do surgery, I wouldn’t have lived.”
Five years later, Lindquist is still dealing with Crohn’s disease, but he is grateful for Longcope’s quick actions. “I think of those doctors a lot,” Lindquist says. “I think of them when I see my scars and when I can go skiing and, most important, when I see my son, who we were able to have because they saved my life.”
The Top Docs
Dr. David C. Longcope
Colon and Rectal Surgery
Dr. Jonathan P. Fishman