As a plastic surgeon, I share the healing journey of my patients on many different levels. It is something that often begins even before the surgery itself takes place. While most of us see the recovery process as something that takes place in the body, I’ve learned that one of the most important factors in my patients’ ability to heal has less to do with their physical health and more to do with their positive mental outlook.
Attitude is crucial in everything we do in life; it can turn a seemingly bad day into a good one and give us a fresh perspective when a situation seems hopeless. But when it comes to the healing process, a positive attitude is the best medicine that money can’t buy.
Research shows a positive attitude increases our life span, provides a better ability to cope with challenges and even improves our immune system. Being able to look at a challenging situation with a positive outlook doesn’t mean you ignore tough situations or deny the emotional impact they have on you; it simply means that you approach that situation in a more productive way. You start looking for the best thing that can happen in the situation instead of dwelling on the worst.
When you do that, you’ll discover that amazing things happen. You’ll be reminded that you can make it through whatever challenges you’re dealing with.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again in my practice, and it inspires me every time. It’s a tremendous reminder that you can’t choose everything that happens to you, but what matters is how you choose to react to it.
Transforming From the Inside Out
I first met Virginia when she was a guest on our television show, The Doctors, and discussed what it was like to live with Parry-Romberg Syndrome. Parry-Romberg is a fairly rare autoimmune disorder that causes the tissues underneath the skin to shrink and degenerate. It literally looks like part of the person’s face is melting away.
Imagine watching each day as the face in the mirror changes and becomes a stranger to you but not knowing how to stop it. At 44, Virginia had lived with this condition for more than 30 years, and it caused her a tremendous amount of both physical and emotional trauma. She had been to many doctors who were unable to help her, which only added to her frustration. And, she denied herself the privilege of becoming a mother because she was afraid of passing this disorder on to her child.
Unless you’ve been born with some sort of physical deformity, I don’t think it’s possible to understand the kind of emotional agony Virginia suffered. Yet she was brave enough to come on the show and share her compelling story with our audience.
Her story not only moved our viewers, it affected me, too. I joined with my colleague, Dr. Ritu Chopra, to surgically rebuild what this disorder had taken from Virginia. But it wasn’t just her physical appearance we restored; the procedure also brought back her bubbly, enthusiastic personality. She became more social and interactive with others; her new physical appearance restored her enthusiasm and confidence.
Being part of that transformation was a powerful experience for me. I learn so much from the patients I see who refuse to give up, and when we can help change their lives, it changes our lives as well. There’s something to be said for giving back, because when we do that, we find gifts that we never imagined. For me, that gift has been learning just how powerful positivity can be.
Beneath the Surface
In my 30 years of work as a plastic surgeon, working with patients like Virginia has been key to my growth not only as a doctor, but also as a person. Like many doctors, I have participated in charities abroad, performing procedures that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them. Over time, however, I realized that so many people here in the U.S. needed reconstructive surgery as well.
That’s why we started the Surgical Friends Foundation, which works with burn victims and those who have been scarred or disfigured by domestic violence. What I’ve gained through this experience has been so important, not only because it allows me to use my skills as a surgeon in such a beneficial and life-changing way, but because of what it’s taught me about the human spirit.