Bruce Pardoe: When a hero enters your life
There are those rare moments in your life when someone does something heroic that profoundly affects the arc of the rest of your time on earth. I’ve recently had such an experience with a member of our local community I feel compelled to share in gratitude, and for others who might need his help.
On April 9 I fell roughly 10 feet while working on a ladder. On the way down, my right leg got caught between two rungs shattering my lower leg bones, the fibula and tibia. When I landed on the ground my lower right leg was sticking out to the side about 60 degrees from the normal alignment.
Clearly the knee joint had been torn. The larger bone, the tibia, had turned into rubble. In addition to several full fractures along the shaft, it had split multiple times at the top plateau where it forms the lower part of my knee. I knew my life had changed.
Fortunately I was conscious and able to make decisions. After calling 911 for an ambulance, I reached my amazing health insurance agent Lisa Nielsen (another hero who deserves another column dedicated entirely to her efforts).
I knew that if I didn’t follow the complex rules of what is and isn’t covered, I could rack up a huge bill — even lose my home. She did some research and said that a local orthopedic surgeon, Micah Berry, was a world-class practitioner and that he was associated with our Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, which is in my insurance’s network.
From the ambulance I called the hospital and asked for Dr. Berry to be my surgeon. When they reached him, he said he would be right over as he could tell how significant the injury was.
He also knew that it was right up his alley because of his training, which includes a UCLA undergraduate degree in molecular biology, where he was the valedictorian of his class and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at USC and had two fellowships at Stanford — one in trauma and one in extremities.
I had a trauma to my lower right extremity. It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. When Dr. Berry arrived, I was in radiology and he took a look at my X-rays, which confirmed the severity and extent of my injuries.
Unfortunately, he was not currently directly on call from the hospital and therefore not covered by my insurance — one of those complexities that I hope we, as a society, will mature out of in the not-too-distant future.
I was deeply disappointed because the quality of the surgery on an injury this severe affects the rest of your life. I was resigned, however, to working with someone else.
“Oh, Dr. Berry,” I said. “I’m so sorry that you’ve come here for nothing, but you are not covered by my insurance.”
Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “I don’t care. I’ll do this for free. I’m going to take care of you. This is what I’ve trained for and you have a life-changing injury. Don’t worry about anything but healing.”
It was such a profound moment. His clarity, commitment, confidence and generosity were so touching that my whole body and mind relaxed with deep relief. I knew I would be as OK as I could be. The radiologist actually burst into tears.
My cousin is a retired orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Berry was quite willing to have a call between the three of us. After the call, my cousin was confident I had found a great practitioner, which was additionally supportive and relieving.
The next day, I went in for a four-hour surgery. Two metal plates and 15 screws were installed. When my cousin and a friend with 30 years of experience as a nurse practitioner in a trauma center saw the before and after X-rays, they were sincerely impressed.
“That’s not just great work,” said my cousin. “That’s artistry.”
I’m eight weeks out from surgery and my family doctor is amazed by how well I’m healing. I’m walking with a cane and should make a fairly full recovery.
Dr. Berry has been attentive, gracious, approachable and responsive throughout the whole process, including numerous visits.
I spent over three weeks at the wonderful Spring Hill rehab center in Grass Valley where they are known for the quality of their physical and occupational therapists. Every time one of the nurses or therapists asked me who my surgeon was and I said “Dr. Berry,” they said, “You are so lucky. He’s the best. We are incredibly fortunate to have him in our small community.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Bruce Pardoe lives in North San Juan.
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