Violating Expectations

Author: Clark
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As some of you may know, last week I had a surgical procedure. I don’t want to share details, but while it was non-trivial, it went fine. (I’ve talked earlier about the situation beforehand.) What did not go fine was the recovery. I’m good now, but there were a harrowing few days. And It think the reason is of interest, and there’s a lesson. So I thought I’d share.

Now, my only previous experience with surgery was outpatient knee surgery. And it was amazing; I went off pain killers the 2nd day, and recovery was rapid. This, too, was outpatient, and while not as ‘micro’ as the knee surgery, I had no other frame of reference. And that caused a problem.

So, the day of the surgery went about as you might expect. I went in, lay down woke up somewhere else, and was told things went well. With the benefit of meds, I let folks know I’d lived :), and proceeded to sleep away the afternoon. Come the evening, I was more clear-headed. With good meds, I looked forward to a night’s sleep, and better in the morn.

That night’s sleep was not good. I couldn’t get comfortable, and so couldn’t sleep. Specifically, my left (not bad) side was uncomfortable and so was my right that was supposedly fixed. I was awake all but maybe 2 hours. Yet, I’ve gotten used to sleep deprivation.

I was bothered that the side that had had the surgery, that was now supposed to be free of the cause, still hurt. Differently, perhaps, but still hurt. This was dismaying (to put it mildly). I called Saturday night, and was told that the right side could still hurt for some days. Er, okay…

Saturday night wasn’t really better. I slept maybe 3-4 hours, but lack of comfort meant I was still worried and in addition now sleep-deprived. This wasn’t all, but worth recounting is by Sunday, my whole right leg wasn’t working. Any sort of moving but standing hurt.  Not good.

This continued into Monday. Little and bad sleep meant I was going into a mentally challenging state of sleep-deprivation. The lack of right leg action began to make me feel like the whole experiment had failed, and I was going to have to face this again. I put in a call, but my doctor was in surgery. You can imagine I was discouraged and distressed. I was headed to bed when my doctor finally called. They’d scheduled me to see him the next day, and I hung on to that.

When I got to see him on Tuesday morning, I was a wreck. Spaced out from lack of sleep, distressed about my leg, and so on. I first talked to the PA, and then the doc came in. And, I found out a lot more. They’d completely removed the material pressing on the disk, but in so doing they’d likely irritated the nerve. And there could be some bleeding doing that, too. So, my leg hurting was explained. When we talked about meds, they were reminded what I had been on, and how the sudden cessation of that could be problematic. With explanations, and revised recommendations for medications going forward, it seemed promising.

Low and behold, after the visit, things began to fall into place. The medication revisions kicked in, and I felt a lot better. Not good, mind you, but many times better. Finally, I could see how this was all working, and I was progressing!

I awoke this morning and verified that yesterday wasn’t a fluke; I’m on a path to recovery. I still have a backlog of things to deal with, but I can get on that now.  And I still hurt in various places. But it’s the right hurt, I now know.

The short version of all this is that expectations matter. Stephanie Burns did her Ph.D. research on the people who succeeded with their goals (vs those who don’t), and found it was the ones who managed their expectations appropriately. Set goals, rewarded them, realized it was a long haul, etc. Similarly for learning; you want expectations to match experience. A mismatch can induce barriers to successful learning. If the experience will be typical, it may not matter so much, but you want to be wary of any ways in which people can find their expectations mismatched. Yes, you want some surprise, but you don’t want people to lose their comprehension of who they are and where they’re going.

I don’t actually blame the doctor. I think they could’ve set my expectations better, but I fear I come across as someone who has an idea of what’s going on. And I should’ve asked more questions. Further, I think there weren’t any flags that I needed such support. Still, it perhaps ought to be automatic. So consider setting expectations. Deliberately. Systematically. You can let them know there might be some surprise, without giving it away. Don’t leave people open to making inappropriate expectations, or you might be unpleasantly surprised.

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Violating Expectations
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