The Surgeon

This is an everyday story. We all know stories like this one.

“My friend never smoked but she had a cough. Her doctor said, “ Better have a chest x-ray.” The chest x-ray showed a shadow on her lung. The GP sent her to a respiratory physician. That doctor spoke with my friend, listing the possible diagnoses and explaining the process that would define the cause of her cough. She asked some questions. She was pretty scared, but she doubted she could have cancer: she had never smoked.

“My friend was sent to a chest surgeon for a bronchoscopy. She saw the surgeon in the operating theatre just as the needle was inserted into her vein for the injection that sent her to sleep. After the procedure she felt sleepy. She came home with a memory, or perhaps it was an idea she daydreamed, that the surgeon said: ‘Visit my rooms next week for your results.’ It seemed the sort of thing someone would have said.

“My friend’s husband telephoned the surgeon’s rooms and made an appointment. He accompanied his wife – who was still coughing – to her appointment. The surgeon appeared right on time, at 10.00 am, precisely. (The husband is himself a precise man. He notices things like that.) The surgeon gave them the diagnosis. They left the surgeon’s rooms at 10.02 am. My friend believes the surgeon said: ‘The biopsy confirms you have lung cancer. You need an operation.’ My friend’s husband confirms the duration of the visit and his wife’s recollection of the surgeon’s words.

“The next time my friend and her surgeon met they were once again in the operating room. While a nurse gowned and gloved the surgeon he gave instructions to a second nurse about instruments and the overhead lights. The surgeon had no time for conversation with my friend before she was anaesthetised.

“The morning following the operation the surgeon visited my friend and told her she was well and the operation had been successful. Three days of coughing and three nights of agonising pain followed. Morphine and Endone did not relieve her pain. On the fourth day the surgeon visited a second time and said, ‘You can go home.’ In fact she could not; she could not walk unsupported and every breath was followed by a wince and a gasp she had to stifle. A nurse arranged for my friend to convalesce in aftercare. Ten days later, still with her original cough that now shook her chest wound violently, my friend went home. Six weeks after the operation she was still coughing. It was time to see the surgeon again.

“My friend’s husband attended – her chest hurt too much to drive. He sat in the waiting room and timed his wife’s visit to the surgeon. He told me later: ‘Mr. S. beat his previous record. She returned to the waiting room in 30 seconds.’

“That afternoon I delivered some food my wife had cooked for our friend. She told me, ‘The surgeon said the cancer’s gone.’

‘Good’, qouth I. ‘ Great! Will you need chemo?’

‘He didn’t say.’

‘Will you have radiation treatment?’

She shook her head: ‘He never said.’

‘What’s next?’

“I don’t know.’”

As I said, an everyday story in this age of miracles and wonder. An everyday surgical miracle worker, himself a wonder of brutish mutism. What we do not read of is any disciplinary action taken by the authorities against the surgeon for his brutism.

Why not ? – I wonder.