I will never be a surgeon. There are very few things that I am this certain of in this fickle life. And this is definitely one of them.
Its not that i don’t enjoy the thrill , who wouldn’t? The ability to skillfully cut through real human flesh, blood, tissue all in the hopes of removing what shouldn’t be there . instant gratification. Unlike some specialities which require trial and error over long periods of time usually requiring patient compliance and frustrating failure of medication.
Surgery is the complete opposite.
You diagnose. You cut. Ta-dah. Conceptually it’s a very simple affair. However like everything in medicine, you can never take things at face value. And with Murphy in the mix, you can just never know. Never. And it was The Godfather who taught me this.
The Godfather was an enigma of a man. A surgeon who stood as tall as can be and who headed the Department I worked in. He was extremely skilled and well composed. He demanded efficiency in every sense of the word. He refused to accept any less From anyone. And this is exactly why I respected him.
Many people feared him and after hearing reasons why, I didnt blame them. Anaethetists rarely questioned him which was odd because that was part and parcel of their job description. He was always respectful, always polite but in a lethal way. He could crush your ego with a stare and a few words.The enigma.
He operated during mondays with his trusted sidekick , the don. The pair understood each other like a perfectly written symphony. Few words were exchanged during the duration of the surgery, just clicking and clamping, suturing and cauterizing.
If you are familiar with Mario Puzo’s brilliant book , The Godfather, you would understand when I say that the best way for me to describe this relationship is The Godfather, Vito Corleone and Luca Brasi (The don).
The speciality of the day was usually an oesophagectomy. This was the Godfathers main order for the day. It took hours upon hours and required intensive post op care in ICU for days on end. It was technically tricky and physically demanding , an appropriately fitted challenge for the Godfather and his sidekick.
I had the privilege of observing once. 3 hours and 23 minutes of standing in 1 spot and holding a retractor. Its impossible to perform that with zest unless you really love surgery.
During this time the Godfather operated in total silence absorbing every moment of his majestic masterpiece In front of him. I was merely a retractor holder and I didn’t mind. I observed the way in which he tied his surgical knots, blink and you’d miss it. One hand. Two hands. Different knots different methods. I was impressed.
He looked up under the bright surgical lights equivalent to a thousand suns a metre away and said something under his surgical mask. I moved closer.
“Moosa you look impressed. But let me tell you something you Should never forget. I could train any tom, dick and Harry on how to cut. I could bring my talented gardener Mr Petros here tomorrow and teach him how to do an appendicectomy step by step. This is not talent. This is a learned skill. Talent is knowing Who, When, what and why to cut. Talent is timing. Its more than cutting. Much more than what you see now.
And most importantly, talent is knowing when NOT to cut. Choose your surgical battles wisely or else you’ll end up with a graveyard and not a ward full of patients”
I held my breath for the duration of this revelation. I eased. I felt my chest rise again and I looked the Godfather square in the eyes and thats when i knew, I could never be a surgeon. I simply couldn’t. I couldn’t be the person who willfully is entrusted with a persons entire life, who they have been, their mind soul and personality ; all in my hands. Id cower away from that.
And He was right. Surgeons are bad at doing nothing. They are usually jumping on the band wagon with a one way ticket to theatre. They operate, its what they do. But sometimes that’s not the best choice. And it’s this talent of knowing When, which is key.