Dr. Wayne Tuckson smiles and jokes a lot.
The walls of his downtown Louisville office are lined with pictures and posters; plastic poop and bowel models sit around the room. Butt jokes are frequent.
Tuckson is a colon and rectal surgeon and he’s serious about his job and his patients. The room reflects his profession and the idea that sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.
“I think it just goes with the nature of the business that we have and it just kind of puts everybody at ease when we can be more relaxed by being a little more humorous,” Tuckson said.
And medicine is serious business.
It’s a Monday last month, and I’m spending my first day with Tuckson as part of the Greater Louisville Medical Society’s Wear the White Coat shadow program. Over the next few days, I’ll tag along with Tuckson as he shows me the challenges he faces and the important role bedside manners play into caring for patients.
Technology Shifts a Routine
We’re at Jewish Hospital for three colorectal surgeries—two transanalproctosigmoidectomies and a takedown and closure of a loop ileostomy.
By 8 a.m., I’m in the operating room with Tuckson, a nurse, two surgical technicians and an anesthesiologist. A woman—the patient—lays face-down on the operating room table, waiting to have her rectum repaired.
Patients often chalk up problems to hemorrhoids.
“In fact, there are so many other things that are going on that it’s probably not going to be hemorrhoids,” Tuckson says.
When the first surgery ends, we walk over to the waiting area to talk to the patient’s family.
In the doctor’s lounge, Tuckson pulls out a napkin and a pen and begins drawing the surgery I just witnessed. It looks a lot simpler on paper than in person.
Between every surgery and patient’s visit, Tuckson stops at a computer to enter medical records. He’ll spend 20 minutes visiting three patients and then sit in front of a computer screen for nearly an hour, working on their records.
If this were a few years ago, Tuckson says, he would have walked around with a clipboard checking off a series of boxes on paper. He sees the benefits of electronic medical records, but he says in some ways it detracts from caring for patients.
Awaiting a Diagnosis
Two days later, Tuckson is in his office prepping for another patient. This man expects a cancer diagnosis—but Tuckson gives him (relatively) good news. He doesn’t have cancer. He does have an abnormal connection of skin that
Tuckson plans to operate on.
The patient is visibly relieved that he doesn’t have cancer. Tuckson sees a lot of cancer cases, but he says it’s fairly easy to spot and remove pre-cancerous lesions in most patients.
As with many conditions, early detection is key.
“By doing screenings and looking for disease in an at-risk population before they have symptoms, we can identify those pre-cancerous lesions and remove them and eliminate the risk of that patient having colon cancer,” he says.
Being a Surgeon ‘a Huge Honor’
Tuckson says having a chance to help someone is the most exciting part about being a doctor.
“It’s a great leap of faith for a patient. No matter how many times we’ve seen them in the office and how we think we know them, they’re saying ‘Hey, look! I am trusting you to essentially cut me and put me back together and make me better than what I was beforehand.’” Tuckson says.
“That’s a huge honor.”