Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A big hand for my surgeon

My surgeon is making notes in my hospital records folder. I make a half-hearted attempt at reading them, but from this angle they're upside-down and without the benefit of a team of code-cracking Bletchley boffins at my disposal, my chances of understanding his scrawl are hopeless. My attention drifts to my surgeon’s hands. They’re quite small, neat and pinkishly clean. They look exactly as you'd expect surgeons' hands to look. If there was a Stars In Their Eyes for hands, and these were to come on and announce, “Tonight Matthew, we’re going to be surgeons’ hands,” then once the famous doors had slid open and the dry ice had cleared, viewers at home would be nudging each other and saying, “Ooh, they really look like surgeons’ hands as well.” Watching my surgeon guide the nib of his Mont Blanc across the page it occurs to me that these fingers have actually been inside my body. And as small, neat and pinkishly clean as they are, it’s still unnerving to think they’ve been under my flesh. I barely know the man, yet it feels like we’ve shared some kind of intimacy. I’m just considering whether it’s enough of a bond to warrant sending each other Christmas cards or not, when his voice jerks me from my dopey daydream, “When would you like to have the reversal? We could possibly do it within the next two months.” His dextrous little fingers screw the lid back on his pen and he smiles in that way that indicates he’s finished talking and now it’s my turn. “Oh, that’s good, but I was sort of thinking if maybe we could do it early next year? I’ve had a lot of time off work this year already and I’d just rather enjoy Christmas.” There’s something about being an NHS patient that always makes me think I should be grateful that there’s even a chair to sit on in the waiting room and I wonder if I’m pushing my luck by asking to have the operation in the new year. “That’s fine, come back in three months and I’ll put you on the waiting list then.” Since starting my treatment with Guy I’ve thought a lot about how fortunate I am that during my operation the surgeon made an on-the-spot decision to only take a small section of my colon out, rather than the whole shebang as he had intended. A younger, more inexperienced surgeon may not have had the confidence to go off script. His actions mean I don’t have a permanent ileostomy, and now with Guy’s help it gives me a fighting chance of clearing up the disease in the remaining colon. As I stand to leave something compels me to express this to my surgeon, “I just want you to know I’m really grateful to you for only taking out a bit of my colon, I think it’s turned out better this way.” It was worth telling him for his smile alone. Offering me one of those quite small, neat, pinkishly clean hands he says, “You know at the time I took a lot of stick for doing what I did. A lot of people weren’t happy with me about it. But I think it was the right thing for you.” I note his cool, relaxed, just-the-right-side-of-arrogant manner, and I know for sure that I’m in safe hands.