Sunday, June 22, 2008

Many Fathers but just One Dad

Father's day was last Sunday, and it was wonderful at chez DocSurg. The day was gorgeous, I got to relax, and I was able to do some fun stuff with the Surglings. Spoke with my father, who was also doing well. All in all a good day. The whole idea of Father's day got me to thinking, however. I probably need to remember those men who, while they are certainly not my father, had much to do with shaping who I am as a physician -- and specifically as a surgeon. So, here are a few "alter-fathers" that I should acknowledge:

Dr. G --- a cardiac surgeon, the father of a high school friend, who was one of the most gentle people I ever met. He was kind enough to let me spend a day with him in the OR, where he transformed into almost a different person --- direct, demanding (in a gentle but firm way), efficient, and unquestionably in charge.

Dr. P --- my closest friend's father, a very successful and hard working nephrologist. When that friend and I decided for certain in college that we would be going on to medical school, he offered us a reality check ---- a full day of rounding with him. We started way early, and ended way late, following him as he saw an enormous number of patients first in the hospital, then in the clinic, then in the dialysis center, and then completed the circle back at the hospital. I had no illusions at the end of the day that my working life would resemble the laid back time I was having in college. I think the disempaction in the ED that he had to perform also had something to do with my chosen career (his son went into radiology).

The Saint --- Dr. Saint (real name) was the third year general surgery resident with whom I worked during my third year surgery rotation at at The Best Medical School in the Country®, spending untold hours on the wards and in the OR at Parkland Hospital. I learned an absolutely unbelievable amount of clinical medicine at "The Lands," and much of this came by observing The Saint. Despite the fact that as the 3rd year resident he worked harder than anyone else on the team, he was cheerful, happy to be there, and never lost his patience with the clumsy medical students on his tail. His good humor really infected the whole team on an incredibly busy service, so that though I was tired, I never felt that I was too tired to learn or help out.

Dr. Royce Laycock --- the attending surgeon on The Saint's service while I was there. A man from a small town in West Texas that had a way with words --- and people --- that put everything in perspective. And a mighty fine clinician to boot.

Dr S. --- I started my residency at a large private hospital that was involved in the resident training for the Univ. of Utah School of Medicine. Dr. S was someone I immediately recognized on my first day there, as he had been a chief surgery resident at The Lands while I was a third year student. He was still new to private practice, but had the patience and willingness to let me help care for his patients, both in and out of the OR, and helped me perform my first operations --- a painfully slow process --- without a quibble. A great guy, and someone who has rightfully become successful.

Dr. B --- a notoriously late and often strange attending during my residency. Sometimes, you become wiser by learning what not to do and how not to behave. 'Nuff said.

The Dom --- a private practice surgeon who had a great interest in teaching residents. I learned that spending time with patients and their families pays great dividends, both in terms of ensuring that they understand what is happening but also in the great warmth that can come from honest interaction with good people under some degree of stress.

Dr. Jeffrey Saffle --- a burn surgeon, and someone who I initially saw as almost overbearing and too demanding of his residents' time. What I learned from Dr. Saffle was that if you are to care for very, very sick patients, you must be similarly demanding of your own time and resources, and to never let hospital bureaucracy stand in the way of patient care. As an added bonus, he has a wicked sense of humor and a sharpened eye for irony.

The Greever --- Dr. McGreevy was the surgery program director where I trained. Quite honestly, I thought he hated me for the first three years I was there. I simply didn't understand that he simply waited to see how his junior residents shaped up in the first few years before making any judgements. Passionate --- about everything --- he became a good mentor for my time there.

There have been others --- and at some point I'd like to write about patients who provided a poignant lesson or two --- but to these I would like to wish a "Happy Alter-Father's day."