Dr. Janet Osuch

During my recovery process it was suggested to me that I meet with a local Michigan State University (MSU) physician.  I went on to learn that this physician, Dr. Janet Osuch, had trained as a surgeon, and had practiced for several years before she was diagnosed with a brain tumor near her cerebellum, like me.  This was all I knew before contacting her.

—————- Her Story ——————

I was initially trading emails with her prior to meeting with her.  In my first email to her I told her of my tumor and the recovery process.  She, in turn, told me of her situation and how she ended up where she is now.  She told me that in 1998 a 6-centimeter tumor was found in her cerebellum.  She went on to tell me that after undergoing a surgery to remove the mass, she remained in a coma and in the ICU for a week.  After fighting her way out of the coma, she then endured many years of therapy in an attempt to recover from her affliction.  She also had to undergo several follow up surgeries in order to remove the tumor completely.  She was a practicing surgeon prior to the diagnosis, but due to the effects of the tumor could not work in the operating room (OR) anymore.  Now, after five years of absence due to the tumor, she works as a Dean in the College of Human Medicine at MSU, seeing patients for ½ day during the week[1].

————— Meeting ——————–

After trading many emails, we finally decided on a time and a place to meet.  We had initially decided to meet in a restaurant but I reneged last minute and asked if we could meet in her office instead.[2]  I did warn her prior to our meeting that I was suffering from titubation and cautioned her that it might occur during our meet.  Her response was one I’ll never forget: “That’s fine!  Don’t forget, I’m a doctor, I’m used to things like that!”

Her office is located in the bowels of the MSU medical school campus, a location that was, at best, incredibly difficult to find.  I had actually wandered into the wrong building, lost, but was fortunate in that I stumbled across a group of young people (medical student age) following an older (than them) woman.  One of them, as he was leaving, said, “Thanks Dr. Osuch!  See you on Monday.”  I heard this and immediately introduced myself to her, telling her that I was Chris and that we were scheduled to meet then.  “Oh hi! Great, I’m glad you found me, I know my office is impossible to find, walk with me we’ll go together to my office.”  It was in the middle of winter in Michigan, nearly below zero degrees Fahrenheit, yet there was a warmth emanating from her.  She is not a tall woman, 5’3 maybe, not at all imposing or intimidating.  Perhaps it was her glasses or short brown curled hair combined with her smile that created this warmth.  Even after meeting her and noting her demeanor, my first thought was she suffered from a brain tumor?  I could not tell from her gait or speech, if she harbored any signs of a brain tumor removal; if she was, it was escaping my eyes.

Dr. Janet Osuch
Dr. Janet Osuch

After a long walk, we finally reached her office and sat down to chat.  My neck wasted no time after sitting down, and I began to shake, within two minutes of sitting down.  “Is this the titubation you mentioned?” She asked.  After my affirmative response, she then proceeded to ask me what my story was, and what brought me there.  My response was short, something to the effect of “They found a mass in my brain, and they took it out.”  Of course I’m exaggerating and my response was longer and more detailed than that but when she began to tell me of her ordeal with her brain tumor, beginning with, “It was 1998 and…” I realized how short my answer truly was by comparison.

——————- Bees ——————

I noticed during our conversation that she was wearing a pendant on her sweater.  Upon a closer look it was a pendant of a bee.  Before I could ask her about it she explained it to me, “When I was recovering,” she said to me, “I came across a sale of these pendants.  I did some research on them and found that the laws of nature and physics dictates that they should not be able to fly.  Their wing size in proportion to their body size says that they should not be able to fly but not only are they able to fly, they are integral to our planet and how it works.  Without the existence of bees, we as humans would cease to exist.  After learning of this, I immediately bought many of these pendants and always wear them now.  In fact, I always end my first lecture of the year to the medical students with this story of the bee.”  I could sense the weight and the meaning behind her words.  “Bees don’t care that they aren’t supposed to fly, they still go on with their business.  This signified my struggle.  I’m not supposed to be a practicing physician and a dean of a large medical school after having the brain tumor I did, but like the bee I don’t care and I do it anyways.”  I have always admired people who can say and think I don’t give a $%!t.  All successful people have this trait in common.  At some point on their paths to success they had to think or say to someone, “I don’t care what people think, I want it done my way!”  My admiration probably stems from the fact that I do not think like that.  As much as I’d like to have that attitude about something, I simply cannot; I care too much of what is thought of me.

bee01

—————- Spirituality —————–

During our talk the issue of spirituality came up.  Not once did she ask me what I believed in, but she told me that during her ordeal she became deeply spiritual.  I have mentioned religion and its role in my recovery—at that time I said that I would call myself an agnostic, basically I’m not sure if I do believe in a god.  I have close friends that go to church every Sunday, my father (as I mentioned) is a Buddhist, I also have close friends that are staunch atheists- decrying any belief in god- one of my (Jewish) friends told me to You Tube “Richard Dawkins”[3] – a British, theologian author who tours the world giving talks on (what he believes) the absurdity of the belief in a god – when it comes to spirituality and god I have been exposed to a wide array of stances.  My viewpoint before and after has been the same: I simply do not know if a god exists or not.  My experiences with the tumor have not changed my view.  I have recently become fascinated with the study of astrology and the vastness of everything;[4] this may in fact, be the beginning of my journey in finding spirituality through this ordeal.

——– Working ———–

Dr. Osuch was 49 at the time of her diagnosis and surgery, so she was in the full swing of her practice of medicine, well removed from her residency.   Of the many interesting things she had to say, I found the details of her recovery and eventual return to work and society particularly interesting.  She began by telling me that her Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physician[5] told her that most of her recovery would be in her first year after surgery.  “That one year recovery line just isn’t true—to this day I still find myself progressing on a daily basis.”  I found this comforting, because at the time, I was approaching the one year anniversary of the surgery and had also been told, by multiple physicians, that the majority of my recovery would be in this first year window.

She then went on to tell me that during her recovery, when she was getting ready to return to work, she had a meeting that included her, her neuropsychologist, her therapist, as well as her PM&R physician.  At one point in their conversation, the topic of return to the OR came up.  One of the clinicians turned to her and asked her, “Janet, do you think you can operate?”  As much as she wanted to, she knew the answer to this question was “no”.  I could sense the pain in her voice in telling me this, and I understood.  She had trained and devoted her life to operating, but had to face this reality of never operating again.  I liken it to an athlete at any level when they can no longer participate in that sport.  All the surgeons that I know are generally a grumpy bunch, with the exception of in the OR.  For some reason in the OR these surgeons all light up, as if a child in a candy shop.  I cannot imagine the grief she must have experienced when she learned of this news.

She then quickly changed gears and asked me what my return to my residency has been like.  “Interestingly, the people who distanced themselves the most from me were my own colleagues.  To them, my diagnosis hit too close to home.  If it could happen to me, it could happen to them too.”  I have been fortunate in this sense, as every one of my colleagues has been extremely understanding and supportive of me during this ordeal.

I left our meeting feeling hopeful—everything she said stuck with me (and still does to this day) but knowing that someone had gone through a similar ordeal as mine, and came out stronger gave me hope.  Until then it felt like I was the only person to ever have gone through this.

 

[1] She sees patients to counsel them on any possible genetics links of breast cancer.

[2] I was worried about my titubation and did not want it to occur in a public place such as a restaurant.

[3] Check out this video of a recent interview he gave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcbV53uAURg

[4] To think we, on Earth, represent a single blade of grass in a large field is mind boggling.

[5] Whom she speaks very highly of and is subsequently also one of my PM&R physicians.

 

 

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