Tuesday, October 16, 2007
sometimes students faint. sometimes doctors faint. but surgeons??? never...
there was a funny story that happened in our university many years ago. apparently even true.
our university, according to the head of the department of surgery, is the only university in the world where the final year registrar actually has to perform an operation as part of his final exam. (when i told this to my cuban friends, they informed me that they also operate as part of their exam, so this interesting fact is no fact at all.) among the junior registrars in the department it is considered a great honour to be asked to assist in this auspicious operation.
in this particular case, the candidate had to do a thyroidectomy. he elected to use two assistants. if you can, why not. he asked two of the medical officers in the department to assist him, something that was almost unheard of. i can imagine that many registrars felt snubbed. but in all fairness, both medical officers were pretty serious about continuing their surgical training and were both apparently capable assistants.
the great and nerve racking day finally arrived. the candidate and one assistant started the operation. the second was a bit late. apparently he became engaged in the wards and couldn't free himself until the operation was in full swing. but he finally joined, somewhat out of breath, but otherwise, it seemed, none the worse for wear.
then the professors entered. to fully appreciate the tension of the situation, imagine, over the normal stress of a thyroidectomy for a registrar, adding the presence of three professors and a senior consultant, watching his every move and being more than slightly liberal with their criticism. in the theater was the head of department, the previous head of department (semi retired), the preprevious (is that a word?) head of department (an old style surgeon who was as old as the hills and, it was rumoured that you actually had to cut off his head before he would die. i think a stake through the heart might have sufficed) and the most senior consultant in the department. the mood was grave. the only talking at all was when the registrar fielded the array of difficult questions about the procedure he was doing and constantly had to defend every decision he made as well as every stroke of his blade.
and thus the operation progressed, probably a lot slower than it would have had he been alone. around this time, so the story goes, one of the assistants became progressively more pale. finally his face was chalky gray and a cold sweat had broken out on his forehead. some versions say he then promptly passed out. others have him excusing himself from the operation and quietly collapsing in the corner of theater. whichever you believe, imagine the medical officer, with a serious ambition of one day becoming a surgeon, lying crumpled up in the corner with the entire hierarchy of the department looking down (in more ways than one) on him. some would call this a career limiting move.
anyway the operation then progressed, with only one assistant, to a satisfactory end. the professors apparently hounded the candidate somewhat less. they had the collapsed assistant to pester and therefore their attentions were divided.
post script, after this somewhat embarrassing episode, i never fainted in theater again.