Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Scalpels over the Ruhr

Earlier this month I had an operation and a few days in hospital. I did not expect an especially jolly week but I was not nervous, because what had to be done to me was not at all life-threatening, though everyone knows that there is always some risk with operations: if something goes wrong, even little things such as having a mole removed, say, can leave you crippled for life, while clumsy work on an ingrowing toenail can kill you. Anyway, I felt it was unlikely that the sort of emergency that crops up frequently in TV hospital dramas would arise in my case, with cries of "Quick, nurse, intubate!" or, from a worried anaesthetist, a quiet "I say, he's gone rather a funny colour...".

They decided to give me an epidural. I'd had one of these years ago, but on that occasion I also had a general anaesthetic; this time I was fully conscious throughout so that during the operation I could listen to the conversation of the theatre staff, a rare privilege.

They had all courteously introduced themselves to me as they bustled about in the ante-room but I can remember only a couple of the names; there seemed to be at least three surgeons, an anaesthetist, two or three other men whose function I forget, and two female nurses.

From the way they chatted to each other it was clear that here was a happy team with mutual respect; their discussion was of course serious but lightened with an occasional quip. They were not as persistently jokey as some proctologists and colo-rectal surgeons I have encountered, but when you think of where the latter spend their working lives it is not surprising that they acquire huge repertoires of funny stories to get them through the day.

After the introductions the head honcho asked the team to gather round and then proceeded to give them a pre-op chat. None of the team were old enough to have been WWII bomber pilots, but the general tone was very similar to a Wing Commander's briefing, though using different words to describe a very different sort of operation:

Right, settle down, chaps, smoke if you want to.
Tonight, it's Dortmund again. We're going over in two waves: I shall lead the first and Squadron Leader Wilmington the second. The first will drop
incendiaries and the second 5,000-pounders.
Keep your eyes open for fighters as soon as we're over Germany, and there'll be heavy ack-ack over the target.
Weather will be......

...and so on. It was all most interesting and impressive. I would have liked to have joined in with questions or helpful comments, but I was too shy.

[Of course, smoking would not have been allowed in the theatre; you can't, anyway, when you're wearing a mask.]


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