In Memoriam

This week, I received the shocking news that one of my special mentors in Surgical Oncology passed away. Dr. Michael Walker was a fellow for the year that I did my internship, and then stayed on as an attending, and serving as an advisor for me. He was one of my favorite attendings, and very influential in getting me to go into surgical oncology. A quiet and private person, he was patient, kind, with excellent bedside manner, very bright, and most exemplary as the kind of doctor that I myself wanted to be. Michael was quite physically fit, ran all the time, and never had much fat on him. He worked hard, and that got him a position at Ohio State. It was an e-mail from Dr. Das Gupta that informed me of his death. My heart goes out to his wife Lee. Dr. Walker will always be remembered with pride by me.
The only person that ranked higher than Mike, in my opinion, was the professor, Dr. Das Gupta, who still remains the greatest doctor I’ve ever worked with, ever, and there were many greats.
Of all of my mentors in Surgical Oncology, Dr. Henry Briele remains the most quoted. Cut! Cut! Cut! Today! were repeatedly screamed at me in a sharp, staccato fashion, with me gasping in frustration, worried about cutting the wrong place or the wrong thing. We always used these large blades that looked more like sabers, which I continued to use until they became unavailable.  I still say Cut! Cut! and Today! to others in the operating room, and there are countless techs that have heard of Dr. Briele, even though they have never ever met him. Another favorite quote…I’ll have the electrocautery turned way up, and then say, “If they didn’t want it to go that high, they wouldn’t have made it go that high”.
Well, I can go on, but I’d do a disservice to my real hero, Dr. DasGupta.  I don’t quote him much, except something he told me when I was taking too long to close a mastectomy, “If you keep up this pace, you’ll never make it downtown”. Dr. DasGupta will be proud to know that my average modified radical mastectomy with sentinel node biopsy (and completion axillary dissection) rarely takes more than 60-90 minutes. I’ve gotten faster, but also much more precise in my surgical technique.
I decided to do surgical oncology research since the surg onc docs seemed to be the most intelligent and caring surgeons in the residency program. When they criticized, it wasn’t just to make you miserable-they were actually trying to teach you. On the very first day of research, Dr. Das Gupta sat Dr. Tate and me down in his office, asked Peggy the secretary to turn off the phone, broke out a very expensive bottle of Port, and offered Dr. Tate and myself a good cigar. We were his boys. He was our boss. We called him “the Boss”. The only other thing we ever called him was “Scooby”, from what a patient called him once. Dr. Das Gupta once was asked by a patient whether he was German since his name had “Das” in it. I believe that his response to the patient was something like, “yes, I’m from VERY east German!”. My favorite quote of Scooby was to let a patient know that they got better “in spite of us”. Dr. Das Gupta was, more than anybody else, responsible for me getting a Ph.D. He has always been my superior, but also my friend. It is nice to be able to occasionally still ask him for advice or direction. A few years ago, Dr. Das Gupta made the news because he apologized to a patient after making an operative error. The national news lauded this as a unique and unusual form of behavior for a physician. Yet, this honesty and forthrightness were taught to me by him from my first day on service with him.   There is no person in all of Surgery that I would be more proud to call my mentor than Dr. Das Gupta.
The lead photo is of a surgeon from Cameroon who was visiting Puyallup. I shall be spending some time next year in Bangladesh, so am now actively trying to teach myself Bengali. It’s hard. I may also spend some time in Africa with Ngoe in Cameroon. My hope is to find the best fit for myself or be able to be available so that I could spend 3-6 months every year overseas.
I am unfortunately persistently agonizing over the absence of respect that is given to the older surgeons by our hospital. I keep getting the feeling that they want to get rid of me, yet, when I give them a firm statement that I really, really am leaving, they come running like lapdogs, trying to make amends and promote unity. Today, the Lord Grand High Executioner informed me that I cannot go on courtesy privileges, finding of any loophole possible within the text of the hospital bylaws to refuse me courtesy status for two months while I cover my service but not actually take hospital calls. He finally agreed that he would pay me for call, but, my price is not cheap. I am not a well-worn whore. Several days ago he send me a letter reprimanding an order I placed in a chart. I had a patient on whom I did major and serious abdominal surgery, and she remained with an unusually prolonged ileus. Finally, one day, I walk into the room, and, rather than vomiting on me, she begged me to get her an iced Cappuccino. YES! She opened up! I promptly ordered “Iced Cappuccino, i po qh prn”. Two months later, I get this lengthy reprimand stating that the hospital simply could not provide the cappuccino, so I made the hospital look bad. Oddly, nobody ever spoke to me, or called me to inform me that the order was unfillable, but that alternatives were possible. I would have personally walked over to the hospital and purchased her an iced cappuccino. Unbelievable paperwork was generated by nursing, dietary, and then administration over an iced cappuccino order. Dudes, this goes on all the time. It’s sad to see the “caring” profession to be the least caring people of all, especially those that try to protect the patient from the “uncaring” doctor.
I fixed the “comment” device, as it wasn’t working well. Please feel free to leave comments. I’ve also included reports of some more bicycle rides, movies, music, and book reviews. Sometime soon, I’ll leave more detailed note of our future plans.