Dr Leah Cook - podiatric surgeon

Scalpel. Retractors. Sutures. Podiatrist, report to theatre STAT!

There are some opportunities in life which you don’t pass over. Recently, I had the opportunity to observe and learn from one of the most respected members of the Australian Podiatry community, Dr Leah Cook. Leah is a podiatric surgeon who chooses to practice in a country area, rather than focus on large cities, performs incredibly delicate foot surgery and is unbelievably generous with her time and expertise. Today, it is a bunion and hammer toe operation.

Dressed in attractive blue surgical scrubs, I have a perfect view of the pre-op, anaesthetic and patient preparation. Before long, an incision is made and the anatomy is revealed. Leah carefully and calmly separates the different tissues, makes sure the nerves and tendons are carefully retracted before setting about resculpting the joint. It is a time consuming process however when dealing with delicate structures in the foot, a little finesse is a good thing.

The stereotype of a surgeon barking orders is also well and truly debunked as everyone in the room is a professional and recognises that the patient’s wellbeing is paramount. Politely and respectfully Leah asks the surgical assistant and scrub nurse to pass the specialised tools of the trade like bone rongeurs, metzenbaum forceps, curettes and delicate joint screws fixed on sterile screwdrivers.

The bunion is fixed, and the hammer toes straightened and the semi-weight bearing position observed. It is at this point that the careful initial dissection pays off, as the capsule and skin incision are carefully stitched closed. The sutures are neat, even and only incorporate the tissues required. Scarring will not be a problem for this patient. All the while, Leah is answering my questions and offering wonderful insights into anatomy, physiology and biomechanics.

The surgery is completed, the foot is bandaged and placed in a wound shoe and the patient is taken to recovery. The patient is not in discomfort and will be sent home that day. I meanwhile have not only observed a masterclass in high level foot management, but have also acquired another case for my university degree.

This year, my patients and staff have been asked to cope with the disruption of my return to study. This has allowed me to further progress toward the goal of obtaining the level of Endorsed Podiatrist, and the right to prescribe a limited array of drugs under very controlled circumstance. The process has been rewarding and time consuming. Best of all, the process has allowed me the opportunity to grow my professional network and better understand the engineering masterpiece that is the foot. As Da Vinci noted, “the human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art”.

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