The new year will begin with a sling for Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz. A baseball can be partly to blame.
Azziz had surgery last week at his own institution, Medical College of Georgia Hospital to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right arm. The injury probably began when he was 13 and helping his father survey jungle in Puerto Rico by clearing a path through the undergrowth with a heavy-bladed machete (which he still has). When the machete hits something hard like a tree trunk “that reverberates down your shoulder and it is really painful,” Azziz said.
Still, he went on to work heavy construction, which added to the problem. The final straw was probably when he began training for the unfamiliar task of throwing out the first pitch at an Augusta GreenJackets game last year.
“Man, I was in excruciating pain,” Azziz said. “I was in so much pain I had to ice it every day.” The chronically painful shoulder finally forced him to opt for surgery with shoulder specialist Dr. Lynn Crosby.
The surgery allowed Azziz to see his institution from the inside as a patient and to experience some of the same worries they do.
“It was fascinating because I’m sitting there, and all of a sudden I realize I am as anxious as most patients are,” he said. “You realize, even if you know the system intimately, you still get that anxiety. You’re vulnerable. It was enlightening, from that point of view.”
It reinforced to him how good the staff is there, Azziz said. And it brought home to him how much small things such as a worried glance between a doctor and nurse or even a broken floor tile could be influencing how a patient views the care. When you are in that “hyperalert” state, as patients are, “the little things aren’t so little and they really will affect your perception certainly of your outcome,” Azziz said.
He faces a few more weeks in the sling, which is already driving Azziz crazy.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to drive for a while. I’m pecking at my computer with my left hand. It’s not fun at all.”
Another four months of rehab comes after that, and it could be a year before he is back at full strength. Either way, he said, his pitching career is over.
“You can put it down: never again,” he said, laughing.