anyone who knows me knows i hate vascular surgery. it is hard work with little reward. scratch that. when you actually get i nice pulsating distal artery the next day you almost think the night's hour upon hour of work may be almost worthwhile... almost. but all too often vascular operations were one small step along the road to disaster.
i suppose one of the reasons i dislike vascular so much has to do with my exposure to vascular during my registrarship. we had a very good department and there was always a vascular fellow who was not only interested in vascular but competed actively to do as many operations as possible. this meant us mere registrars didn't do too many worthwhile cases. we assisted and we did the grunt work in the wards. vascular was also amazingly busy and very demanding. these things all conspired together to leave in me an enduring dislike for the discipline.
i also don't think i was the only one who felt this way. most of us disliked and even dreaded our vascular rotation. that didn't mean we couldn't have the occasional laugh at some of the things that went on. for instance we used to have a saying about the femoro-popliteal bypass operation (to place a bypass from the femoral artery in the groin to the popliteal artery just below the knee.) you see this is generally done on people that have been smoking their whole lives as a last ditch effort to prevent amputation. the patients were usually wreaks. the smoking didn't just destroy that single artery but it destroyed all the arteries to a greater or lesser degree. at best the bypass would improve the blood supply, but not always sufficiently. all too often after hour upon hour of tedious labour, the leg would remain threatened and often an amputation would be carried out a day or two down the line. we jokingly referred to these patients as fem-pop, fem-flop, fem-chop patients. the fellow tended to get a bit annoyed about this. he took his fem pops very seriously and any suggestion that it was a small step towards the inevitable below knee amputation was met with open hostility from him. we knew not to say this in front of him.
but the one time i remember not being able to hold back my laugh even as the fellow's face became red with rage and his knuckles turned white as he grasped his dissection scissors deserves mention.
we were doing a fem-pop bypass. now part of this operation is to remove the superficial vein in the leg (the saphenous magna) and to use it as the bypass for the artery. the result is that it is necessary to make a long meandering incision from the groin all the way down to below the knee. so although the artery is only exposed where the proximal anastomosis and distal anastomosis are made, the incision runs for the entire length of the bypass. the fellow was delving into the groin looking for the artery while i dissected out the vein. there was the usual theater small talk. then one of the junior general surgery consultants trotted in. he immediately saw what operation we were busy with (there are not exactly many operations that require this length of a cut down the leg). i think i might have seen an evil grin on his face. he turned to the fellow.
"hi. my but that's a big incision just for a below knee amputation." i fell about laughing.