Going under a knife to mold a surgeon

in CME/Education/Medicine/Training by

I must admit.I’m a bit compulsive and freaked whenever a close person get sick or will undergo a surgical procedure.

In our family, I’m the only medically “knowledgeable” person. Being a  the medical guy in a family is a whooping responsibility.

Yes it is.

The three or four surgeries my mom and sis went through plus the numerous getting sick moments other family members experiences extract a heavy toll on my stress reserves. Of course my medical training helps, especially in the part where you plaster an emotionless face to keep a cool composure.  Yes,we play the hands of god to heal. For that, we need a calm, fluid, sewing, hands.

But this time, not even my M.D. training could ever down play such stress on my composure. Ironically, being an MD fine tunes your senses and pushes you towards compulsion to details whenever someone close to you get sick.

Why? Frankly, I don’t know.

As one good surgeon mentor told me before..

“you can never be a real surgeon unless you went through the knife yourself”..

Then suddenly it dawned on me. The closest thing for me to go under a knife until now,  is for any of my my closest people to go under the knife.  And that for the nth time, my mom would undergo one soon.

Her past surgeries were all emergencies. The decision making is emergent. The preparation is shorter and the options, close to nil.She’s left to a single emergent choice and then pray she’d wake up outside of the slim “margin for error”.

So you’d think  cataract surgery is minor. If you have seen how the almost blind, seemingly helpless elderly gropes in the dark while being carried to the OR, you wouldn’t think so. Better preparation, more choices and therefore less risks? Heavens no! With such wider margin for error comes the greater responsibility and risk of not missing any slightest detail. You bought only time to prepare, and therefore reduce the risks. But after that, it is still a surgery. If you miss something on the preop, given the longer preparation you have chances are the results would be a catastrophic guilt for the family. In a closely knit family culture of th e Filipinos, the guilt is pretty much an issue. And If your mom is on the OR table, everything is definitely “major”…

So never mind if my mom is diabetic with beginning retinopathy. Never mind if she has had 3 major surgeries before and countless other hospital admissions due to some sickness. Never mind she survived all of those. When your face by this same predicament and even on better circumstances, no surgery is still minor. Especially, if it’s your mom is on the receiving end of a surgeon’s knife.

So I go on with my usual compulsion to detail,  to my often obnoxiously redundant reminders of doing this and that pre-op. To most this might be an overkill. But If I were the patient, I’d love my surgeon to do so the same for me. Take the extra steps of care. That extra effort gives me a little security about my surgeons care for me.

This is one of the good  insights I learned from my mom’s procedures. You feel for your patients, you put yourself in their situation and imagine the best option your surgeon can offer. I always apply them to my patients. I teach this to my residents. Stressful? Yes it is. But who said the life of a surgeon is easy anyway?

So thank you mom. For undergoing the knife for me. You help mold a better surgeon.

(An update: I know my mom’s surgeon don’t read this write up, but I’m all praises for the guy. He didn’t just made an extra effort for my mom. Everything he did was a piece of his class. Masterful. Thank you..)

Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is Chief of Clinics at General Santos Medical Center and Medical Specialist II Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (www.remomd.com).