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Why Americans Still Trust Their Doctors


Mary Morse-Dwelley, Bangor Maine, has had a series of serious abdominal surgeries.(Jason Grow)

Mary Morse-Dwelley trusted her doctor. And that trust seems to have been rewarded.

Ten years to the month since a misdiagnosed bowel injury led to a cascade of surgery, complications, infections and a 100-day hospital stay, Morse-Dwelley returned to Eastern Maine Medical Center for another abdominal operation. It was a big hernia repair, involving the removal of scar tissue and part of the bowel, and the reconstruction of Morse-Dwelley’s abdominal wall with a piece of muscle from her thigh.


But unlike any other surgery Morse-Dwelley can remember, this time it went without a hitch. Last week, she returned home to recuperate after about 10 days in the hospital. So far no infections, no complications.

“I got out of the hospital in less than two weeks, which was amazing to me,” Morse-Dwelley said by telephone from her Bangor, Maine home. “By fall I should be relatively physically back to where I need to be.”

Morse-Dwelley’s medical saga was outlined in a National Journal story last month about American’s durable trust in doctors. Research shows that even as our trust in other institutions and professions erodes, trust in medical professionals is at an all-time high. That’s good news not just for doctors, but patients too—another body of research suggests that trusting patients tend to have better medical outcomes than suspicious ones.


As she prepared for her surgery, Morse-Dwelley was apprehensive about the outcome. But she also put her faith in Dr. Joan Pellegrini, the trauma surgeon who had seen her through her previous ordeal.

Pellegrini persuaded Morse-Dwelley to allow a plastic surgeon to collaborate on the operation and help with the reconstruction. The hope, she said, was that by bolstering Morse-Dwelley’s eroded abdominal wall, the sewn-in muscle will prevent future injuries and complications. “Her surgery was every bit as hard as we thought it would be,” Pellegrini said last week. But, as she hoped, a healthier, positive Morse-Dwelley is healing well already.

For now, Morse-Dwelley said she’s happy to be home, though still sore. Her healing leg is painful to walk on. And her abdominal incision makes getting up and down a little tricky.

“It’s kind of hard to move,” she said. “Getting on and off beds, and on and off chairs. You’d laugh watching how I have to do it—wiggle, wiggle, roll.”


Still, she said, she’s “thrilled” at how her surgery worked out. She’ll see Pellegrini again in a few weeks for a check, and, if all goes well, in a few months. Then, with any luck, these old friends will have little professional occasion to cross paths again. This summer, Morse-Dwelley has plans to visit her family’s summer house off the coast of Maine. She’s volunteered to work for the Obama reelection campaign. And she’s become involved in a local health care advocacy group.

“I hope it does what it set out to do and I never have to be operated on again,” Morse-Dwelley said. “But you never know.”


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