Mesh-Free Hernia Repair
By Fred Amir
The Second Surgeon
On the recommendation of two doctors that I respect and trust, I saw a local general surgeon who had been in practice for some 25 years. He was very nice and agreed with my assessment to have an open repair without mesh. When I called later to schedule my surgery, the receptionist told me open repair was not good for me. “You should have laparoscopic with a mesh. That’s better for you,” she said.
I was really surprised that she meddled in patients’ affairs. I told her that I had discussed the matter with the doctor and he agreed to open repair without mesh. She checked my file and said the doctor wrote in it “laparoscopic with mesh.” I was quite surprised that he had written this, despite my clear explanation of why I wanted open repair without mesh. When I asked to talk to the doctor himself, the receptionist said that it was better that I discuss it in person and gave an appointment for the following week.
Dr. Ulrike Muschaweck
While waiting for the day of my appointment, I searched the Internet for more information. This time I came across an online discussion group and read many horror stories of people who suffered from chronic pain and other complications because of mesh. These stories convinced me more that it was not worth the risk and to avoid mesh at all costs.
The good news was that one person had posted about a minimal-repair technique done for sports and inguinal hernias by the German surgeon Dr. Ulrike Muschaweck. Many top athletes, including the USA’s soccer team captain, had gone to Germany prior to playing at the World Cup for this operation. Dr. Muschaweck does not use a mesh, and most patients can lift up to 44 pounds right after the surgery and go running the next day.
Needless to say, I was quite excited. I emailed Dr. Muschaweck with specifics of my condition to see if this would work for my case.
Since her technique appeared to me to be a simpler version of the open repair technique, I wondered if a good local surgeon would be able to repair hernias with the same technique. To test my theory, I emailed a good friend of mine who is a physician in Fresno, California, to ask a surgeon and verify if a skilled surgeon would be able to do the minimal-repair technique.
I also figured that this type of innovative technique might be practiced at university hospitals, such as Stanford and/or the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). So I emailed them both. Stanford replied that they do, and they gave me an appointment. UCSF replied that they use mesh.
The Second Visit
I printed Dr. Muschaweck’s paper published in Hernia: The World Journal of Hernia and Abdominal Wall Surgery and took it with me to see if the local surgeon was aware of this technique or would be willing to do it for me. When I met with him, I discovered that, in addition to being a surgeon, he served as the sales manager. At this time, he tried to convince me to have a laparoscopic repair done with a mesh. He even made the irresponsible statement that there have never been any complications associated with mesh! I left his office quite disappointed with him and with doctors who put profits before patients.
The surgeon at Stanford had not carefully read my email or the study I had attached by Dr. Muschaweck. In person, he told me that they do not offer this technique at Stanford and proceeded to tell me about laparoscopic repair with mesh. I told him that there had been a misunderstanding and left.
As you can imagine, I was quite frustrated at this point. Here I was, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I could not get a simple operation done. As I explain in my podcast on exciting problem solving, “Welcome frustration! Frustration means that you are about to have a breakthrough, even if it takes weeks, months, or years. Many of the world’s most important discoveries and inventions came about as a result of someone being really frustrated with a problem. So never give up, and realize that all the frustration will make you work harder to find a solution.”
It was all the frustration with my back pain and the medical system that led to my writing Rapid Recovery from Back and Neck Pain: A Nine-Step Recovery Plan, which helped me and others regain freedom from pain and continue living active lives. So I kept searching for a solution and praying for guidance to find the best option.
Meanwhile, I received an email from Dr. Muschaweck. She did not rule out the use of a mesh in some cases. It would have been very disappointing for me to endure the pain and trouble of air travel to Germany and still end up with a mesh in my body.