Perspectives on Interventional Radiology

A provider’s first-person encounter with the specialty as a patient.

I arrived at the interventional radiology suite and was greeted by a man with a thick red beard. It was beautiful. This patient had metastatic bone lesions to the spine causing him great pain. Radiofrequency ablation was being used as a palliative measure.

I heard a lot about interventional radiology and was very excited. I heard it was a very procedure-oriented field and very innovation-driven. I knew everything about the patient. His history with cancer was humbling. I wrote the various patient details on a piece of paper. I took one last look at my paper, confidently donned gloves, and stepped up to the table. I was excited to get a close-up view and engage for the next 5 hours.

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However, the procedure involved a few sticks and a few pokes. It was done in 30 minutes, and the patient was rolled out to the post-procedure bay. In the post-procedure bay, I spent time with the patient. The patient smiled, talked about his puppies, and talked about his wife. He was looking forward to his upcoming Alaskan cruise with his grandchildren.

He was talking, lucid, and healthy after having cancer cells melted out of his spine.

My thick red beard is something I am really proud of. I have taken pride in my ability to grow it and groom it. It is the first thing that is on my mind in the morning. Do I need to trim it? Do I need to shave it? Do I need to oil it? Ever since my cancer was removed, I have been able to cover up the scar with my beard. It is my source of pride.

Nine years ago, I noticed the mole on my chin begin to change. I scheduled a visit with the dermatologist. The administrative assistant was able to get me in the next day. At the dermatology clinic, the physician looked worried the minute he saw me. He measured my mole, looked at it with a magnifying glass, and performed a biopsy. A week later, I learned I had melanoma. I didn’t know what melanoma was, but I quickly learned that it was a “bad” type of skin cancer. This moment was the beginning of my saga with doctors, medicine, and pain.

I was assigned three doctors in the beginning. I had a blood doctor, a skin doctor, and a surgeon. I was placed on chemotherapy, had monthly full-body skin checks, and had metastases cut out of my liver. I was recently referred to an interventional radiologist by my surgeon because of pain in my back. This was weird to me because I thought radiologists looked at fancy screens all day to “diagnose” rather than “treat.”

I first met the interventional radiologist in the clinic. It wasn’t a busy clinic. And it wasn’t a part of the oncology suite. These differences did not bother me at all. I was in extreme pain. My melanoma had metastasized to my spine. I couldn’t sleep at night, and my medication for pain was not helping. The pain was piercing. It felt like a knife was being stabbed and twisted into my back.

The interventional radiologist told me about the kyphoplasty procedure. Once I heard that this had the chance to help my pain – and did not involve surgery – I did not need to hear anymore. I only cared about a reasonable chance of success and a reasonable risk of complications. The doctor spoke with such confidence and enthusiasm. I was convinced after the first minute.

A week later, I had my kyphoplasty. I remember being wheeled into the procedure bay. When the procedure was finished, I chatted with a nice medical student. He was great.

And the rest is history.

Whatever they did to me, it worked.

I have come to understand that perspectives extend deeper than simply calling a beard a thing of beauty as opposed to a thing of pride.

Interventional radiologists, ultimately, bring their unique perspective to medicine. The ability to combine imaging with intervention has resulted in fresh ideas to treat pathology. It is shocking to students and patients alike. Combating diseases through tiny holes in the body is the way of the future, but this future isn’t quite yet realized. Interventional radiology clinics aren’t yet as busy as they can be. Patients still may think that radiologists only deal with the diagnosis perspective of disease. And a medical student may have a rudimentary grasp on a procedure before seeing it because the concept feels like science-fiction.

The formal definition of perspective is, “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” (google.com). From my perspective, interventional radiology is a particular attitude or way of regarding illness – a point of approach to treatment.

Apparently, students are beginning to realize that interventional radiology accomplishes amazing tasks in a short amount of time. Patients are beginning to realize that the treatments have high efficacy. And people, such as me, are realizing that perspective is the core beauty of interventional radiology.

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