A cruise to remember — and some pain she’d rather forget

After bidding farewell to her 30-year career as a paralegal, Suzie Bruce and her husband decided to make their longtime dream come true. They searched on two continents for the perfect boat, found it in the Netherlands, and have embarked on an extended European cruise every year since.

While Suzie loves exploring the waterways and culinary delights of Europe, a recent cruise didn’t go quite as planned. Much of the time, she simply didn’t feel well. She found herself fighting nausea and fending off abdominal cramps more and more often. But ever the optimist, Suzie concluded that stomachaches and indigestion were nothing more than a natural stop on the road to growing older.

A frightening episode in an inconvenient place

During one long, painful night in Germany, Suzie realized something more serious was going on. After feeling particularly nauseous all day long, she went to bed early and awoke in the wee hours with excruciating abdominal pain.

While Suzie certainly realized that Germany offers outstanding health care, she adopted the wait-and-see approach. She crept down to the lower cabin, curled up in the fetal position and waited for the pain to subside. When morning broke, she did feel better; she also knew that it was time to take action. They were returning to Seattle in a week, and a trip to see her doctor was at the top of her list.

A CT scan reveals a problem — but not the one she expected

Almost as soon as her feet touched Northwest soil, Suzie was in her doctor’s office — but not for her abdominal pain. She was undergoing a routine CT scan to monitor another condition when the radiologist caught a glimpse of her gall bladder. “He saw a lot of stones and sludge in there,” Suzie recalls, “and recommended that I have an ultrasound right away.”

The ultrasound confirmed the radiologist’s report and revealed a gallstone the size of a plum. The physician urged Suzie to seek immediate attention. With memories of her agonizing night in Germany still fresh in her mind, Suzie needed no convincing and began to search for a surgeon.

The search for a top-notch surgeon

Because shopping for a surgeon wasn’t something she did every day, Suzie turned to more informed sources. Her primary-care physician of 20 years had recently retired, so she asked his nurse for a recommendation. “She told me that my doctor has always thought the world of Dr. Marc Horton of Swedish,” says Suzie.

When Suzie asked her gynecologist for advice in choosing a surgeon, she heard a familiar name. “Dr. Marc Horton was also at the top of her list,” Suzie reports. “So if two physicians I trust completely think Dr. Horton is one of the best surgeons around, that was all I needed to know.”

Suzie’s first meeting with “an old friend”

Suzie called Dr. Horton’s office and was both surprised and grateful that she could get in to see him right away. She was even more delighted when she met the surgeon who had come so highly recommended.

“From the very first moment,” says Suzie, “he made me feel right at home. He explained everything to me in terms I could understand. When he shared that he performs approximately 100 gall bladder surgeries every year, I knew that I was in the best possible hands.”

Dr. Horton recommends surgery

After studying the ultrasound images, Dr. Horton confirmed that Suzie’s gall bladder was indeed full of stones. He explained that she had already passed a large stone — that was her “attack” in Germany. The even larger stone discovered by the radiologist was still there, poised for trouble, so Dr. Horton recommended that he remove her gall bladder — soon.

Surgery in the morning — back home in the afternoon

Thanks to a timely cancellation, Suzie was able to schedule her procedure for the following week. On the day of her surgery, Dr. Horton made three small incisions in Suzie’s midsection. Through one of the incisions, he inserted a metal tube with a valve. “We blow gas into the abdomen,” explains Dr. Horton, “to push the abdominal wall up and the organs down to create a working space. Then we insert a tiny video camera, so we can see exactly what we’re doing on the video monitors. We pass surgical instruments in and out of the other incisions.”

The smaller incisions allow for less pain and faster recoveries. Suzie can certainly attest to the benefits of laparoscopic surgery, as her entire hospital stay lasted less than twelve hours. “I checked into Swedish at 6:00 in the morning and was on my way home again at 4:00 that afternoon. I didn’t even take a wheelchair to the car — I walked, with just a little help.”

Taking steps toward recovery — literally

Suzie walked her way into full and complete recovery. Her feet took her a bit further each day, and in a few short weeks, Suzie felt better than she had in years. “Dr. Horton told me that once I recovered, I should be able to do anything and everything — and eat anything and everything — and be just fine. He was right! I feel ten years younger. I have more energy. I feel wonderful.”

No such thing as routine surgery

By all accounts, Suzie’s surgery was a complete success. While not particularly glamorous or complicated, gall bladder surgery is anything but routine — especially when you’re the patient.

“Between gall bladders and hernias,” explains Dr. Horton, “I perform hundreds of surgical procedures every year. My patients always ask me if this is considered major surgery. I tell them that whenever they’re on the sharp end of the scalpel, it’s major surgery.

“It’s easy for surgeons to forget that surgery is an everyday activity for us, but most patients have it only once or twice in their lives. Even if we perform a thousand surgeries each year, while we’re in the operating suite, each patient puts his or her life in our hands. That’s an extraordinary thing that neither the patient nor the surgeon should ever take for granted.”

A happy bon voyage

Feeling great is something Suzie Bruce will never again take for granted. She is about to take her good health back to Europe and this time, she plans to enjoy all the scrumptious cuisine she missed on her last trip. For that, she sends Dr. Horton and the entire staff at Swedish an enormous thank you. Their reply to Suzie? Bon appétit!
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Swedish General Surgery
Dr. Marc Horton

Dr Horton
Dr. Marc Horton is an attending general surgeon at Swedish Medical Center, as well as the medical director of surgery at all four Swedish campuses. While he has practiced at Swedish for more than 20 years, the medical center has been part of his family for even longer. “Five generations of my family have received their care at Swedish, so when it was time for me to determine where to practice, I didn’t have to think twice.”

Personal reasons aside, there is nowhere Dr. Horton would rather operate. Why? “Swedish physicians perform nearly 40,000 surgical procedures every year,” he explains. “Many are what you might call bread-and-butter cases, while others are more complicated and unusual.

“Either way, every Swedish patient has access to the vast experience and expertise of our entire staff of surgeons and medical specialists. If I need an expert in a different field to help me in the diagnosis and care of my surgical patient, this is exactly where I want to be.

“What’s more, because we perform such a high volume of surgeries, we have systems in place to provide the safest, highest quality of care for each patient — no matter the procedure. That’s why Swedish attracts top doctors, nurses and technicians — and why I have stayed here all these years.”