Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Surgeon Search - Chapter One"

Reviewing the Surgeon Search concept:

Dr. M and I are meeting with a number of recommended heart surgeons. At the end, based on standards that are annoyingly unclear, we will pick one to open me up. And, hopefully, fix what’s inside.

Dr. R is Candidate Number One. Being first, we have no one to compare him with. We do however know two people he operated on. Neither of them is alive anymore, but the gap between the surgery and their demise is sufficiently distant to relieve him of any responsibility. We’ve been told that they both liked him.

Dr. R’s office is located in the hospital itself. I think heart surgeons need to be on the premises so in case an emergency arises, they don’t end up caught in traffic.

“I could have saved him, but the President was in town, and they closed Wilshire.”

The office feels borderline shabby, though some large, black-and-white blow-ups of flowers adorn the walls – tulips and lilies. (Wait, aren’t lilies symbolic of…you know, maybe I’ve got that wrong.) The support staff is extremely friendly.

The surgeon is late for our consultation. He’s in the ICU (the Intensive Care Unit), administering to a patient. Fine by me. That’s exactly where I’d want him if I needed administering to.

“I’d like to help you live, but I’m late for a consultation.”

I would not want that.

The surgeon arrives. He looks tall. I’ve read that tall people inspire confidence. In presidential elections, the taller candidate generally wins. (That may be true, but how many of those winners inspired confidence after they were elected? Roosevelt inspired the most confidence, and he spent four terms sitting down.)

The first thing I notice is Dr. R’s sporting a surgeon’s cap and shows no inclination towards taking it off. The cap has a bunch of pastel squiggles on it – pink, turquoise, powder blue. I begin considering inferences from the pastel color choices. Then I notice there’s some lettering on the cap. The lettering reads:

Harley Davidson

I immediately reconsider my inferences.

We go into his office. It’s kind of small. Dr. R sits down and begins reading my cardiologist’s report on my condition. Feeling anxiety-inducing flashbacks of producers reading a script I had written in front of me, I beat a hasty retreat to the relative security of the hall.

He asks me questions. I answer them. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, he speaks in a powerful voice. It wasn’t yelling exactly. It was more like someone who’s used to talking to people under heavy sedation. At first, I imagined he’d become unhinged from the stress of his activities. But on review, I found nothing to worry about in his loudness.

I ask him about robotic surgery, a less invasive technique favored by patients eager to avoid a more invasive technique. Dr R replies thusly:

“When I’m not doing surgery, I appear as an expert witness at trials across the country. The surgeons using robots? I’m always testifying against them.”

His response dampens my enthusiasm. Dr. R acknowledges that robotic surgery is the wave of the future. But for the present, it’s a potential undertow.

Dr. R studies the CD containing my TEE test. The CD contains pictures a camera took of my troubled mitral valve and its errant tendon. When he finishes watching, he says,

“I can fix that.”

I like those four words. And the confident way he says them.

There was one somewhat odd moment. In response to I don’t remember what, Dr. R begins reeling off an unsolicited list of former patients – billionaires, politicians and celebrities he’d operated on. His loose lips seem a breach of personal confidentiality, but what do I know? I mean, his walls weren’t plastered with grateful acknowledgements scrawled on eight-by-ten glossies, like at the dry cleaners. But it did feel strange.

Listing prominent former patients also seemed irrelevant to me. It reminded me of when I got my first apartment in L.A., and I decided to rent a piano. Browsing through the piano rental store, I came upon an “upright” I was curious about. When I asked the salesman about it, he proudly announced:

“That piano was featured on a Mitzi Gaynor special.”

So what? How does it play?

This question goes double for surgeons.

Finally, Dr. R performed a routine examination. I didn’t pay close attention, but Dr. M later confided that she had liked the way he listened to my heart. He closed his eyes and really listened. (By the way, I now have a really interesting-sounding heartbeat. If I had the technical expertise, I would – I don’t know the word – broadcast it over the Internet, so you could experience something truly unusual. To me, it sounds similar to the incidental music on Seinfeld.

Pa-pop pop pa-pop whoosh.

Thumbnail response to Dr. R: If I only had one surgeon to choose from, this guy would be fine. But my arrangement offers the luxury of meeting others.

Such is the brilliance of Surgeon Search.

There’s more to come.


emily said...

Dr. R makes me nervous...

Max Clarke said...

Is this a current situation you're experiencing, or is it a walk through the past?

Love your line about the loud doctor probably used to talking with people under medication.