Thursday, March 21, 2013
recently i attended the association of south african surgeons congress. it's always strange and maybe fun for me to interact with surgeons. they are extremely interesting to me. i feel that i'm a bit of an outsider in the sense that i don't view myself as a typical surgeon, so i can sit back and observe, fooling myself that they are not looking at me in exactly the same way.
but one thing about these congresses is that you get to see and rub shoulders with the heavyweights of the profession. it took me back many years to another congress that i attended when i was still a mere mortal registrar and truly was not yet one of them.
the congress in question was in durban. at that stage i pretty much kept away from all the big names. it seemed the safer thing to do. however, one of my fellow registrars and a good friend of mine was quite friendly with the vascular prof, a greater than life man and a true legend in his own time in south africa. in fact my friend went on to specialize in vascular and is now himself a well known vascular surgeon in one of the big centers. so when my friend invited me to the vascular dinner the one night, i should have just said no. i didn't.
the vascular dinner, as i was to discover, was a fairly exclusive affair. it was sponsored by one of the companies that supplied prosthetic grafts, mainly used for the repair of abdominal aorta aneurysms. all the big names were there, including our massive prof and the vascular prof from wits, who at the time was also head of the department of surgery there as well as the president of the vascular society of south africa. in fact the only two non entities were myself and my friend. bearing in mind the entire vascular fraternity knew my friend would one day be one of them, in all reality, i was the single individual there who deserved and got sideways glances. my usual tactic of keeping my head down wasn't going to work; it stuck out like a blushing throbbing aneurysm and there was little i could do about it.
the function was advertised as a dinner on a boat that was supposed to cruise around the durban harbour, all very fancy. but, as it turned out, the weather was a bit too bad and the owner of the boat, which was a bit more like a large raft, all fitted out with tables and chairs and, of course, a bar, decided it wouldn't be safe to take the entire vascular complement of the country on a cruise where the boat had a good chance of sinking and rendering vascular surgeons in our country even more scarce than they already were. i was fine with this. besides the chance of dying, i felt it might be a bit awkward stuck with such eminent beings far from shore and no place to hide. but the sponsors of the event felt let down. they wanted to show off a bit i think and a boat safely anchored in the harbour just wasn't going to cut it. they felt they needed to make a plan, so a plan they made.
after the snacks and a fair amount of dutch courage had been consumed the plan became apparent. suddenly next to our safely moored raft appeared the biggest baddest speed boat i had ever seen. it looked like the type of thing you see on national geographic deep sea fishing specials. i wondered if we would limit ourselves to just the harbour cruise or would we venture into the big blue.
quite soon all the big names had made their way onto the boat. i, being the most junior person there, waited until last to see if there was enough space. as it turned out, it was a very big boat and there was plenty of space, so, somewhat reluctantly i followed my friend aboard. there were three areas where the vascular passengers could sit. one was the main area downstairs which was full. the next was the front portion of the boat which was fulling up quickly and seemed like not the greatest place to sit, just in case we did venture beyond the protection of the harbour. the third was a fairly quaint upstairs area. it seemed like the only real option. my friend and i climbed the ladder.
the upstairs area was the smallest of the three areas and was not yet totally crammed with vascular academia, but there was a reason for this. you see when the profs had gone aboard, they had all gone upstairs. the mere mortals, not wanting to seem forward, had decided to rather remain below. my friend and i didn't know this because we had waited until the last moment before we came aboard so when we got to the upstairs area, i was quite perturbed to see all the great profs sitting there. it was too late to go back down. for one thing, there was no space downstairs and for another all the eyes of all these great and intimidating men were staring at us as if we had just walked in on an awkward conversation. there was nothing for it but to stay there. i immediately decided i would stand as far away from everyone as possible. if there was a corner there i was determined to find it.
the president of the south african vascular society and great and mighty head of the department of surgery at our neighboring university, and more than likely someone i would be meeting soon in my final exams, looked at me and, gently tapping the seat next to him, spake he.
"come sit here next to me." he said with a wry smile.
" no thank you, prof, i'm fine here." i replied. he seemed persistent. again, almost stroking the seat next to him, he repeated his invitation.
"ag, come on, bongi, come sit here next to me." occasionally in life, you are presented with a situation where you really can say the wrong thing, and at the last minute, better judgement prevails. that day it seems i had no judgement at all. the words just seemed to roll out of my mouth, which I confess, stayed open in absolute shock at what had just escaped.
"no thank you prof, i'm not that type of boy."
the vascular prof from our university at least got a good laugh out of it.