New Orleans native Dr. Richard Gitter has been coming to Steamboat Springs for more than 30 years.
“I’m a country boy at heart,” said Gitter. “My kids and I have always loved the western feel and dégagé of Steamboat.”
Gitter and his children, Ben (23), Jake (21) and Allie (17) – “our beauty” – take advantage of many of Steamboat’s offerings, including horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, skiing and snowboarding.
“It’s just a great place to visit,” he said, “and I’m hoping to retire here one day.”
Gitter’s most recent visit, however, sent him to the emergency department at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center after a run-in with a yeti.
Yeti, Jake’s 52-pound bulldog who came on the family’s trip, was peacefully sleeping on the sofa of their condo about bedtime.
“He was sound asleep with his tongue sticking out,” said Gitter. “I bent down to give him a kiss on the top of his head and startled him pretty good. He’s got a big head and he popped it up. Being a bulldog, he’s got an under bite and his tooth caught my chin and tore up through my lip.”
Because the face is so vascular, containing many capillaries and vessels near the surface, wounds to the face tend to bleed more than other parts of the body. That, coupled with the blood thinners Gitter takes, meant there was a fairly significant amount of blood.
“I told Jake we needed to go to the hospital,” said Gitter. “He’d been there with a broken wrist a few years ago and was treated really well. The shuttle from the condo took us right over.”
Quick attention, impeccable care
When they reached the emergency department, Jake checked in with the patient access representative.
“I asked for the triage nurse right away,” said Gitter. “She was there literally seconds later. I explained that I was a cardiothoracic surgeon, that I was on blood thinners and had sustained a deep laceration to my lip.”
While Jake finished the registration process, Gitter was taken immediately back to be seen. Dr. Laura Sehnert provided an initial medical assessment.
“When I see a patient, whether old or young, male or female, physician or not, my goal is to establish a connection,” said Sehnert. “The medicine is always interesting and what we’re passionate about, but the connection makes us thrive. Our connection was easy, given that we are both physicians and usually aren’t on the patient end of things.”
Sehnert agreed with Gitter’s self-diagnosis of a deep facial laceration, but rather than sew the wound herself, recommended on-call oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Greg Pyle do so.
“I did a layered closure, which went well,” said Pyle. “Jake watched the procedure, as he said he had an interest in medicine and had toyed with pursuing a career as a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.”
“It was a bit of a role reversal, Jake and me,” said Gitter. “He was my ‘assistant’ back when he was young when I’d help his friends with various cuts and injuries playing on the streets of Alabama.”
Wound clean and closed shut, Gitter and Jake found themselves leaving the hospital as quickly as they had arrived.
The importance of kindness
Gitter returned home to New Orleans the next day, still in awe of the personal, individualized care he received.
“From the minute I walked in the emergency department to the nurse walking me out, I was treated like I mattered,” said Gitter. “The warm, kind reception I received – that’s what a patient wants. They were there for me in a reassuring way that gave me the confidence as a patient that they were invested in the care I needed.”
As a surgeon, Gitter has spent years taking care of general surgery and trauma patients, yet it was his experience as a patient that provided him with a subtle reminder of the importance of truly caring for patients.
“The way I was treated is how every physician should treat his or her patients,” he said. “The emergency department was busy when I came in, and yet the levels of expertise and demonstrations of excellence that I received and witnessed were incredible. I cannot say enough superlatives about the care I received.”
Gitter said the hospital is an asset for the town and more importantly, the people visiting Steamboat Springs.
“Everyone should feel confident they’ll receive a superb level of care,” he said. “The attention, the kindness and the professionalism of the staff – nurses, doctors, the surgeon who sewed me up – it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.”