The Emotions Under The Surgeon’s Mask

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do much.”Helen Keller

Last week, I had the privilege of operating alongside Dr Narendra, a cardiothoracic surgeon and my friend of 30 years. It was a challenging surgery – the patient, a young girl had a cancerous tumor going from her neck down into her chest, involving the muscles in the neck, the windpipe, and the great vessels arising from the heart. The only way to cure her and make her live a normal life was by performing a highly risky operation to remove the cancer completely.

This particular case had its own unique challenges:

1. Since the tumor had grown to a large size and had “jammed” inside the bony cavity of the chest, it took all the skills of our radiology team to provide us with a detailed mapping of the tumor, and to identify which structures were “infiltrated” by the cancer and which were merely compressed.

2. Our pathologists had to provide an accurate pre-operative histological diagnosis with a very limited needle biopsy sample since it was dangerous to take bigger biopsies due to the large blood vessels surrounding the tumor.

3. Our anesthesia team had an especially dangerous task because of the extremely compressed windpipe and the possibility that they may not be even able to make her breathe during the operation if they were not able to pump enough oxygen into her lungs through the narrow airway.

4. The parents of the young girl, who clearly understood the risks of the operation, and still gave us the go-ahead to “just do the best we could,” trusting us to do whatever was necessary during surgery for the best possible outcome.

5. The young girl herself – despite knowing her diagnosis, the magnitude of the operation, and all that could potentially go wrong, showed maturity and calmness well beyond her young years and co-operated with the entire medical team so well.

As anticipated, the surgery was quite difficult – a tense and grueling 7 hours. But thanks to the meticulous pre-operative preparation, multi-disciplinary effort by all the medical personnel involved, and anticipation of every clinical scenario, we were able to achieve a perfect result – complete removal of the cancer and no surgical complication.

The featured image above is a picture above of the operating team at the end of the operation – from left to right, Br. Upendra – theatre nurse, Dr. Narendra V – cardiothoracic surgeon, Br. Jatti – OT technician, Dr Satish Thammanna – anesthesiologist, and myself (picture taken by Sr. Raksha – theatre nurse). The masks on our faces probably obscure our smiles of satisfaction, and the theatre gowns hide the sweat underneath.

“The Reward of a Thing Well Done Is to Have Done It.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The laddoos that the girl gave our team when she was discharged tasted extra-sweet!

1 thought on “The Emotions Under The Surgeon’s Mask”

  1. No words to express the excellent team effort for such high risk patients with positive outcome. It’s like second life to this young girl and reborn child to her parents are the best and apt words for your team’s efforts. Best wishes for the whole team…


Please let us know what you think about this article