What goes on in a surgeon’s mind?

This blogsite deals with issues related to infant surgery, particularly surgery for infant pyloric stenosis (PS).  These are matters which can be intensely emotional and troubling to some, such as –

  • people affected by post-traumatic stress that is deep-seated, but the source of which may be a mystery hidden in the preconscious self;
  • parents who are led to believe they must choose between surrendering their perfect just-born firstborn child for surgery or lose their infant;
  • pediatricians and ped surgeons who are trained to cut, repair and sew and feel compelled to continue doing this even though they have learnt that less invasive and less traumatizing alternative treatments are possible – but not readily available
  • adults who have had infant surgery and whose parents were assured that this surgery would be quick, effective, and without any consequences, but who find they had or still have some unsettling abdominal or strange emotional problems that seem to be related to the condition for which they had the surgery but with which doctors don’t want to deal.

Over 40 years of work with people has underlined for me the advice that Ernest Hemingway once gave: “When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”  Although I am a better than average listener, I too sometimes don’t pick up some of people’s more subtle messages.

What keeps troubling me is that so many doctors live up to their reputation for aloofness and arrogance.  And these very clever people seem not to be able to listen, if the many online complaints of parents of children who had infant surgery and of survivors are even remotely valid.  Some will defend this as a necessary part of their stressful, life-and-death work.  The medical profession is large, well-educated, resourced and connected, and probably because of its scientific bent of mind and training, and because it is so locked into the enormous medical community, most doctors must find real listening and empathy beyond them.

Recently I posted here about the terrible choice parents face when they are told their child will need surgery to survive.  I based this post on what other parents have told the blogosphere, and this has helped me sense what my own parents must have felt in 1945 when I had PS surgery only 10 days after my long-awaited birth and as their first child.  Only since my parents’ passing some 20 years ago have I learnt to listen to their intense pain – and I’ve been affected by it all my life.

Then, just a week before the date of this post, my blogging friend and colleague at ReStory your Life posted an imaginative, perceptive and poignant piece, You Wanted to Survive: Writing to my Baby Photo, in which she conversed with a grainy photo of herself as a 4 – 6 month old baby.  She also drew on what she had learnt and sensed about herself at that tender age.

doctor01In the light of all this, imagine how pleased I felt when this week a surgeon’s post titled A tiny baby on a big table in a huge OR appeared on my search engine.  Dr Schwab writes with considerable openness, humility and humanity about what goes on inside him when he has to work on a tiny PS baby.

Despite my concerns about several of the ways in which PS and PS surgery are managed (and too often mismanaged) by the medical professionals, I “heard” something important in what Dr Sidney Schwab wrote.  He has a heart!  You must read his story.

How I would plead with doctors and especially surgeons to learn and prompt themselves to show something of their heart to those who seek their advice and help.  The best healing takes much more than the doctor’s physical tools of trade.

3 thoughts on “What goes on in a surgeon’s mind?

  1. Wendy

    Wow, I just found this post that I’d missed. And dang, when I clicked on the link for the surgeon’s post, this is what came up “Kohana_Exception [ 0 ]: Could not create cache directory APPPATH/cache” no matter how many times I clicked. Would you please send me the link through email or repost the link. Maybe it’s just my computer! Oh well, help! I can’t wait to read it. I love what you are writing here and appreciate your nod to my blog post on ReStory. The text next to the bullet points is so powerful. It’s time to unmask these surgeons, if you will. You are exposing some real deep truths and I am grateful. Your courage is astounding.

  2. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    Thank you for drawing this faulty link problem to my attention, Wendy. It’s not possible for me to trace what happened but I had the same problem with the link. I was able to trace the article (of which I had saved a copy) and have re-edited the title and internet link in my post. It seems to work now.
    Happy reading, and thanks for your appreciative remarks! I agree that those 4 bullet points are powerful stuff: they sum up what it is that keeps you and me writing and speaking, and people representative of the 4 areas of concerns contacting us.


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