Today’s Provo Daily Herald has an interesting article about Dr. Steven Merrill, an internal medicine physician who was drafted as a young man to serve in the Vietnam War.
He tells some interesting stories, such as an account of two drunk soldiers who ingested vodka and C-4 explosive putty, but that’s not the reason I’m writing about him.
About four years ago, I was in the best shape of my life. I was running three days a week and swimming three days a week, and lifting weights six days a week. I was at my goal weight, I had built up some muscles, and I was in very good cardiovascular condition. But sometime over Christmas break, I developed a pain in my lower right abdomen. Most days I could go to work, but I would come home and lie down immediately; other days the pain was bad enough that I just stayed in bed. I went to my regular doctor several times, but he couldn’t find any problems. The pain was in the same general area of a hernia I had repaired some ten years previously, but x-rays and scans showed the mesh panel in there was holding up just fine.
A few times the pain was so bad that I went to the ER. Each time, they would do an x-ray or a CT scan and find nothing, so I would go home frustrated and discouraged. My wife encouraged me to get a second opinion and then a third and then a fourth. No one could find anything, so the doctors’ consensus was that I would have to see a pain-management specialist and learn to live with it. I was discouraged and ended up getting a TENS unit to manage the pain, but life was pretty miserable. My wife, however, refused to give up and insisted I see another doctor.
That’s how I ended up in Dr. Merrill’s office some nine months after the pain had started. He walked in the door, and I immediately wondered if I was wasting my time. He was elderly and had a lot of hair growing out of his ears, and as I recall, he was wearing cowboy boots. He opened the folder full of my previous scans and x-rays and said, “You know you have a hernia, right?” No, I did not. He then poked his finger up through the pelvic opening and said, “Does this hurt?” Why, yes, it did. “You need surgery,” he said, giving me the name of a surgeon who he said was “the best in Utah County.” My wife and I were almost in tears because we finally had an answer.
When we saw the surgeon, he asked us why we had waited so long to go to the doctor. I told him I was just grateful that Dr. Merrill had figured out what was wrong with me. He told us Dr. Merrill was one of the good ones. I heartily agreed. Immediately after the surgery, I felt better than I had before, and after a few days’ recovery, I was back to normal.
It was a good lesson to me never to judge someone by their appearance and, especially, never to give up until you have an answer.