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Jack Cook's Experience with Robotic Surgery

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Jack Cook

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If you are reading this then you are most likely in the same situation I was in; diagnosed with prostate cancer and trying to make the decision on who would be best to remove it with the ultimate goal of being cancer free and having most (if not all) of the basic functions back after recovery.  There is no question it is a difficult process to go through and making that final decision is one that you cannot take lightly.  So don’t rush, take your time and research the available doctors in the area that you want the surgery performed. Ultimately you will narrow down the list and you will make your decision.

So why am I writing this?  Basically because I want to share with you part of my experience in the hopes that it might ease your mind and help lead you to your decision.

I have been having difficulty with my prostate for 10 years with it finally getting to the point of not being able to urinate.  It was either a drip, drip, drip followed by a small flow or a very light flow then it would stop but I never seemed to empty totally.  Finally I was prescribed FloMax which helped for quite a while but that relief diminished so the dosage was doubled and that seemed to do the trick.  I had several biopsies which always proved to be negative for cancer although my PSA levels were high. Eventually my PSA jumped 2 points in a three month period so another biopsy was scheduled and cancer was detected.

To be honest I was somewhat relieved to know there was cancer detected because that meant they would now consider removal of the prostate.  I was presented with a variety of options to consider but there was only one I was willing to consider.  I wanted to have it removed because it meant I would finally be able to urinate freely and finally after years of discomfort I would have that feeling of being able to empty my bladder.  So I made that decision without hesitation and began the discussion with my doctor.

I had not even considered how or what process would be used to remove it.  I had been with my doctor for 5 years, she had superior credentials, was highly rated and most importantly the relationship I had was incredible.  I was not even considering going somewhere else for the surgery.

When I let a few friends know that I was going to have my prostate removed I was asked how it was going to be done.  When I replied the old “cut and snip” routine I was urged to look at Robotic Surgery.  A friend of mine from New York had that type of surgery and he was up and walking the night of the surgery, had a very fast recovery and urged me to strongly consider it.

So I called my doctor and asked if I could come in for a discussion.  We talked about the different types of surgery and although she did not perform the Robotic surgery, she explained the difference in recovery.  To me, it was almost negligible and I was so comfortable with her I really did not want to change but before I left her that day she had a colleague who had been training with Dr. Tuerk come in to chat with me. He spent a lot of time with me discussing how it is done, recovery and overall results.  I was impressed but I still had a block in my mind because I did not want to consider a change of doctors.

When I left that day I had made the decision to stay with my doctor and appointments were made to start the process.  As I drove home I kept mulling over in my mind all of the conversations I had that day and one thing kept coming into my mind was a comment my doctor had made.  In essence she said that although she was good, very very good, if it was her father she was making a recommendation to, it would be to choose robotic surgery with Dr. Tuerk.

 If it was her father she was making a recommendation to, it would be to choose robotic surgery with Dr. Tuerk.

And so when I got home I started doing just what you are doing … research on Robotic surgery and the doctor’s in my area that performed it.  I even considered going out of state but as I kept reading recommendations from others, he was so highly rated that considering going out of state was not an option. I did my due diligence and it was enough that I wanted to set an appointment to meet with Dr. Tuerk and discuss the potential surgery. I never make fast decisions on things that can have adverse results.  I generally weigh the facts carefully then go through a process of pros and cons then make my decision.

I had to wait a couple of weeks for my appointment but it gave me more time to consider all of the available options.  I think I was pretty well prepared with the process involved, and potential after effects.  I was ready to meet Dr. Tuerk.
On the day of the appointment I arrived about 30 minutes early, checked in, answered a few questions from the receptionist and sat to wait for my time.  Promptly at my scheduled time I was called into the office where my wife and I waited about 5 minutes then he came in.  I have to tell you that when he came in we were immediately impressed.  There was just something about him that exuded an air of confidence, knowledge, expertise and absolute caring.

Dr. Ingolf Tuerk
We spent quite a bit of time in discussions.  He was very clear in my diagnosis, what can be done, how he would do it and things to consider.  I was reasonably well prepared and had a lot of questions which he answered clearly and in terms that I was able to totally understand. His manner made you understand and most importantly feel very comfortable.  Near the end I apologized for having so many questions and taking up his time.  He looked me in the eye and said “you have cancer, your questions are important and we will spend as much time as you need to answer them to make you feel comfortable”. That one comment alone sold me on Dr. Tuerk.  I scheduled my surgery that day with him.

My prostate was HUGE to say the least and Dr. Tuerk recommended that I take a shot that would reduce my testosterone level which in turn would help shrink the size of the prostate.  There is only so much room to have a robot work in the pelvic area and if the shot had the potential of shrinking the prostate thus giving more room to work during surgery, it was worth doing. There were potential side effects but if it meant that shrinking it would make removal a little easier and reduce the risk of damaging nerves during surgery, it was worth doing.  It did delay my surgery 2 months but it worked and I had only one side effect (hot flashes) which were not that bad.  It was a good decision. Why?  Because the prostate did shrink and within a very short period of time, since the prostate was shrinking I was finally peeing the way one would expect. No pain, no drip, drip, drip just a great flow and an empty bladder.  That was a benefit I did not realize or expect and well worth trading it for a few hot flashes.

My day of surgery arrived and I was prepared.  An early morning drive to St Elizabeth’s Hospital and soon after arriving I was in the pre-op getting changed.  There is no question in my mind that Dr. Ingolf Tuerk was without question the absolute best choice I could have made to be the lead physician in having my prostate removed. I say "lead physician" because in surgery, he had a team assembled that was pretty extraordinary.  They all came in to see me before surgery to say hello, review the process and most importantly instill in me that they were there for me.  The team was professional, vibrant, and friendly but most importantly, gave me the reassurance one needs prior to going into surgery.  Then the anesthesiologists arrived, chatted a bit about what they will be doing and gave me my IV.  The next thing I knew was I was being moved from my gurney onto my bed in the hospital room.

I was not in the room very long before Dr. Tuerk came in for a visit. He talked about the success of the surgery and what I can expect to follow.  Later on in the day he stopped by again to check in on me and wished me a good night … it’s those little things that reinforced my decision to have him as my surgeon. After supper I was walking down the corridor with an aide.

I was awake the following day, ate a good breakfast and walked up and down the hall a couple of times.  I was amazed at how good I felt but was also cognizant of the fact that I needed to rest.  I saw several of the members of Dr. Turk’s team that morning and saw Dr. Tuerk one more time before I was released.  He was absolutely extraordinary in his bedside manner.  I felt knowledgeable about the process that occurred and was well prepared for what to expect in the upcoming weeks.

Today is the 9th day after my surgery, I got my catheter removed on day 7and now the real process for recovery begins as I begin to re-train myself how to control urine flow.  It may take a while (or may not) but I will get it all back and I am really pleased with all the decisions I made.

I like to refer to the group of folks that worked on me as “Team Tuerk” because in fact they were an extraordinary team that worked together to get me to where I am today.

So let me share one example of how “Team Tuerk” works for you.  All operations have some discomfort but I had relatively minimal discomfort other than the fact the catheter really bothered me.  I just found it uncomfortable and yet the fellow who was operated on after me had no discomfort from the catheter (we became friends and have been emailing each other sharing the recovery process).

On the Saturday after my surgery, I was extremely uncomfortable in the afternoon and decided to call the hospital to see if I could get some help.  They took my number and said someone would call.  Within 20 minutes I had a call from one of the members of the “Team”.  I explained my issue and the doctor talked about the reasons why and what could be done in terms of medication to help with the discomfort.  I was really pleased with the discussion because it was clearly explained to me what was happening and how (and what) I can do to deal with it.  It was a valuable discussion and helped me immensely.  But what was the icing on the cake was a call I got almost 6 hours later from the same doctor just checking in on me to see how I was making out.  After I hung up, I looked at my wife and said that was “Team Tuerk” following up …. I was one very happy patient.

No one can make your decision for you.  It is something that you have to do after you look at the options available and who can best serve you. I am glad that I made the decision I did.  Dr. Tuerk is an extraordinary physician having all of the qualities that you would want in a person who has your life in his hands.  He is knowledgeable, experienced, motivated and patient centered as well as being in control, giving you top priority and following up with all of your needs. He was the right choice for me and I give him and “Team Tuerk” my highest recommendation.

Good luck in your decision; you will be amazed how good you feel when it is all over!

Jack and his dog, Neely
Jack Cook
April, 2011

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