Surgeons in ecstasy

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.




2 thoughts on “Surgeons in ecstasy

  1. Murray Enkin, my friend, read the account of my ignominious contribution to surgery, and the section below sparked a memory.

    “A ghastly moment that turned out well was when I began a conversation with the father of a boy whose forehead I was stitching. “What do you do?” I asked.
    “I’m a doctor.”
    “What sort?”
    “A surgeon.”
    “Oh. What sort of surgeon?”
    “A paediatric surgeon.”
    “Oh oh. Do you want to do this?”
    “No. I’ll watch.”
    Somehow I staggered through.”

    I was an obstetrician, with a beginning interest in epidemiology, when Dave Sackett recruited me to co-tutor with him in the new McMaster course on “how to teach evidence-based medicine’. As you know Dave would, he honoured me by saying ‘go ahead, I’ll just watch’, and the first thing was to get to know who my ‘students’ were. And among the 6 or so students in our group was the professor of epidemiology at the Mayo clinic. So there I was, feeling very small, with the two greats watching my first feeble attempts. Like you somehow I staggered through.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Murray’s memory sparks another memory in me. That’s how it is among old men. It’s all memories.

    When I was a medical student I was obliged to do a locum for a house officer who was sick. I was on the male ward, and at the same time my student friend (later a cardiologist and very good doctor) was the locum on the female ward. We were adrift. Although there were literally dozens of consultants and registrars attached to the ward, they were almost never there–and certainly not at night. My only help was a deeply cynical and lazy senior house officer, like a character out of The House of God. I was pathetically grateful for his support.

    I felt very exposed: I knew almost no medicine but had been conditioned to hide my ignorance; was hopeless at procedures; and not comfortable “breaking bad news.” When I assessed my patients I discovered that they included an American professor of medicine and a 40 year old consultant physician who had had a heart attack. Worse, the American professor had a highly emotional mistress who was dying of breast cancer.

    I staggered through, as I’ve been doing ever since.


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