I’m having breakfast with two surgeons, both of them established and much admired surgeons. We are discussing a rogue surgeon and how good a surgeon he was.
“Not the best, as he said he was. But good, certainly in the top half. The best, by definition, are rare. I can think now of the four best I’ve encountered.”
A glow, a look close to ecstasy comes across his face.
“I work with one of them now. What a joy to see him operate.
“I know what you mean,” says the other surgeon equally ecstatic, “to watch X dissect a huge tumour from a patient’s neck in 30 minutes, avoiding all the traps of arteries, nerves, and other vital structures, and talking all the time about his son’s school play, is bliss.”
“I suppose,” I offer, “it’s like Djokovic at tennis or Messi at football.” (I wish afterwards I’d said Lang Lang at the piano.)
“Exactly,” says the first surgeon. “The way he sees the ball before others, gets his body in the right position, hits it harder and more intelligently and accurately. There are very few such surgeons. If only we could be like that,” he says to the other surgeon.
“If only,” repeats the second surgeon.
They sigh. Suddenly they are embarrassed. “That’s enough admiring.”
But I’m impressed. I’ve seen two mature men who have spent decades cutting inside the bodies of others become like two teenage girls adoring a pop star.
Cycling home I remember an article in the New Yorker about a neurosurgeon I met called Charlie Wilson, who was described in the article as a “physical genius” along with Yo-Yo Ma and Wayne Gretsky.
I remember too my blog on The History of Surgery–My Contribution, ignominy all the way.