Friday, October 27, 2006


The turd, the cholecystectomy and the gross injustice

Imagine a turd on a white slab of rock in the blistering sun somewhere far from civilisation. The turd is a little crisp from the heat, and has a bootprint in it. One of God’s bootprints.

I was that turd once. What I mean is, I was a house officer for a year. A house officer, or intern in America, is a doctor stuck in no-man’s-land between the Scylla of medical school and the Charybdis of a fully-fledged medical career. The problem is that it’s a no-man’s-land seeded with landmines. I know those metaphors are a little mixed but I’m very upset by this story, and it’s my blog anyway, damn your eyes.

As a house officer you’re the doctors’ skivvy and much of the time the nurses’ as well. There is no task so demeaning but that it won’t dribble down and splash in your eye eventually. From picking up the consultant’s dry cleaning to scratching his balls for him while his hands are full, from disimpacting bowels to being called upon to relieve the junior nurses’ sexual tension, yes, it’s old muggins to the fore. Okay, I lied a bit there.

Half of that year I spent on a surgical unit at a large teaching hospital. My consultant was called Mr Fry. He had big knuckly hands and a big face and big hair coming out of his nose. Despite this he was regarded as a little man as he was only five feet two inches tall without the platform shoes he usually sported. He barely looked me in the eye while I was there, and not because he was shorter than me. He never called me by my name either. Instead he would make up names for me: ‘Hey you,’ sometimes, or ‘You there,’ or, as he got to know me, ‘You fucking arsehole.’ There were six of us house officers on the unit and I don’t really think I had a harder time from him than any of the others did, but then again this story isn’t about them. Chris, Rebecca and the rest of you, if you’re reading this, sorry, mates, but it was every man for himself and you know it.

One afternoon I was scurrying around the wards, trying to catch up with various duties so that I could leave at a reasonable time after spending the previous night on call and getting three hours’ sleep. One of the sisters mentioned that Mr Fry was about to start a cholecystectomy.

‘I’d better lie low, then, before I get roped in to assist,’ I laughed.

‘Funny you should say that,’ she smirked.

Half an hour later I was scrubbed up and in the theatre. I’d tried to palm off the job of assisting, of course. My first choice was one of the four medical students attached to our team but they’d all buggered off to ‘lectures’ or something. Probably just left early to go and get drunk and do drugs and have sex, the workshy little bastards. Next I tried Keith, the Australian junior surgeon who was over on an exchange programme. He tore himself away from admiring his blonde surfer’s looks in the mirror above the sink to grin and say ‘Dilligaf, mate,’ before disappearing amidst a bevy of cooing student nurses. I used to think Dilligaf was the name of the Aussie town he was from until he explained that it was an acronym for do I look like I give a fuck.

So, all my hopes of getting away on time having shrivelled like an old man’s todger during a bed bath in January, I gowned up and pushed open the doors of the theatre. The patient was already on the table, anaesthetised and draped and having his exposed abdomen painted with disinfectant by one of the theatre nurses. Another nurse was tying Mr Fry’s mask behind his head for him. He didn’t look in my direction but muttered, ‘About fucking time.’

We got to work. When I say ‘we’, I just stood there and did what Mr Fry told me. You learn it as the golden rule when you start assisting in theatre: never contribute an opinion, never do anything that you’re not explicitly asked to. So I pulled on a retractor to hold the flaps of the patient’s abdomen apart while Fry rummaged, which wasn’t easy because as luck would have it the patient was clearly a fitness freak and had abdominal muscles like the halves of a mantrap which kept trying to spring back together again. Helping Fry was his registrar, a trainee surgeon called Dave who was one of the most miserable bastards I’d ever met and looked like Freddie Mercury – yes, I know those statements sit oddly together – and also in the theatre were two nurses and the anaesthetist, who sat on his customary stool looking utterly bored and reading what could possibly have been a skin mag. Unlike many surgeons who hold forth during surgery on such riveting topics as golf and the price of the new model Jaguar, Mr Fry doesn’t go in for small talk, and the only sounds were the steady beep of the anaesthetic machine, the hiss and gurgle of the suction apparatus which Dave used periodically to clear the wound space of fluid, and Fry’s intermittent mutterings of ‘fuck,’ ‘shit,’ and, in a rare venture into polysyllaby, ‘fucking wankers’.

Things started to go a bit wrong. The patient was a fit man in his mid-forties but for some reason his blood pressure started doing strange things, rising and then dropping. The anaesthetist was perturbed enough to reach out and turn some dials on his machine. Mr Fry glared at him and snarled, ‘I need more fucking muscle relaxant. It’s tighter than a dog’s arsehole in here.’ (The anaesthetist is responsible for keeping the patient’s muscles in a state of sufficient flaccidity for the surgeons to work with ease.) The tension in the room rose noticeably. We were all waiting for something to trigger one of Fry’s legendary rages. Usually what happened at times like this was that someone dropped a clanger – literally, by knocking some bowl or instrument to the ground.

Instead, there came the sound of air being gradually released through the pinched neck of an inflated balloon, starting as a mosquito-like whine and dropping in pitch before climaxing in a rubbery noise of alarming moistness. An instant later the foetid stench of bowel gas cut through the ambient smells of the theatre. I would have thought Mr Fry or Dave had accidentally cut into the patient’s colon if it hadn’t been for the preceding noise.

You could have heard a swab drop. Mr Fry raised his head and, looking at no-one in particular, said: ‘Who the fuck was that?’

We glanced at each other over our face masks: Dave, the two theatre nurses, the anaesthetist and I. Slowly Fry let his gaze fall on each of us in turn.

The noise came again, fainter this time but unmistakable. Our eyes darted from one to another like escaped ferrets.

‘For Christ’s sake, which of you fucking pigs is it?’

We shuffled in our theatre shoes, saying nothing. I knew he was going to pick on me, just knew it, and sure enough, when I looked up he was staring at me.

‘Do you want to do this operation yourself?’ he screamed.

I said nothing.

‘Seriously, do you want to give it a try? While I stand off to the side fucking poisoning you?’

‘It wasn’t me,’ I muttered.

‘Like fuck,’ he shouted, and turned back to the business at hand.

The rest of the procedure passed without incident. Afterwards in the scrub room I flung off my gloves and gown and stomped out into the corridor.

I was getting into the lift when as luck would have it Mr Fry leapt in just before the doors closed. We were the only ones in the lift and we dropped three floors in silence. One floor above mine it stopped for him and he said, ‘Never, ever fucking contradict me in front of other people again,’ and stepped out.

Leaving the faintest whine in his wake, and the lingering smell of bowel gas.

Like an old man's todger getting a bed bath , always thinking about me, I'm so touched, it was you that farted, I just know it was.
As I am a complete addict of hospital soaps, ER, West Wing etc. I loved this blog piece - more of these experiences please, Footsie.
Footie, you really had me going there. I was sure it was going to turn out to be the patient. I would have thought a surgeon would have bragged about it and told you all to suck it up, just because he could.
That was so funny. Thanks for that story. You are a great story-teller.
Perhaps it was his cholecysts acting up. It can be a bitch, having cysts on your chole.
I hasten to add that I am speaking from an overflowing of empathic sensitivity, and not from personal experience. You won't find a chole more cystless than my chole.
Don't be an arch chole - don't incyst.
This story goes a long way towards explaining why doctors are such fucking twats*: they are trained by cunts.

*present company excepted, of course
Nostalgia isn't what it used to be, as they say.
Just so I understand, in the end it turned out that the bombastic doctor was, in fact, the flatulent one in this situation?

With an attitude like that, you'd have thought he'd yell, "enjoy it, you wankers, that's a real man's gas there for you. Breathe deep, you shits. YOU! YOU FUCK, YOU DIDN'T INHALE ALL THE WAY! YOU SMELL MY ASS AND YOU SMELL IT NOW!"
I'm glad my utterly unselfpitying story has struck a chord with so many of you.

Mr Knudsen: you're so not touched by me.

Fat Sparrow: fair comment, but surgeons are so anally retentive they wouldn't shit a diamond if it passed down their colon, even at customs in Buenos Aires airport where so many of the Nazi bastards end up.

JG: the cheque is in the mail.

Philip: I thought you'd crack a joke into which you'd work the word-pun melanchole; but you didn't.

Johnnyboy: arch cole is quite clever, so I won't make any comment about how doctors are lesser cunts than people who comment snidely on blogs without providing blog links of their own. I think you've been here before, and your comments are reasonably worthwhile, so... produce a fucking blog yourself or face destruction next time you comment here.

Kim: did you know that if you take the T out of 'nostalgia' you get a hybrid Latin-Greek word meaning 'our pain'?

SafeT: no, you totally misunderstand. The farter was a Michigan-based man in his early thirties with a wife and two daughters. Reread the piece and try to absorb the subtext.
that was the most poetic description of a fart I've heard all my have a gift.
I thought you might think that. The last thing I'd think of doing is doing what I think you'd think I would have thought of.
Oh, crap! I see it now. I'm dense at times, I'm afraid. Dense and gaseous.
Like a plasma.
Quid Pro Quo, eh? I thoroughly enjoyed this!
Very descriptive, I could almost smell it, you know. Excellent work.
Such a cozy place to visit!
- c
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Nice site man! Very nicely done. I will be back!
- h
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