Confessions of a Surgeon on Vacation

It’s been a few weeks since my last surgery.

Yes, I confess.
I confess that I miss surgery.
I miss the quiet humming and sterility of an operating theatre.
I miss the gentle laminar flow of air over the operating table.
I miss the warmth of a Bair-hugger over the soft operating table.
I miss the perfectly tuned humidity of the operating room.
I miss the heat of the operating room lights falling on the back my neck.
I miss the anticipation of a patient’s arrival in the anaesthetic holding bay.
I miss the excitement of getting my equipment ready for the operation at hand.
I miss the surgical safety checklist: the sign in, the time out and the sign out.
I miss the way surgical gloves hug my hands.
I miss the face and neck perfectly painted with betadine and draped in greens.
I miss the gentle glide of a scalpel over skin.
I miss the way skin separates like rolling waves in obedience to the scalpel.
I miss the soft cobweb-like areolar tissue separating the planes of my dissection.
I miss the gentle beeps of the anaesthetic machine drowned in my operating music.
I miss the way a nurse perfectly place a surgical instrument in my hand.
I miss the gentle weight of a surgical tool in my hand.
I miss the palming of instruments.
I miss the way a scalpel, forceps and scissors rest in my hands.
I miss the way every surgical instrument is perfectly designed for its use.
I miss the rolling of tonsils and tumours off tissues.
I miss the hand-tied knot.
I miss the buzz of a diathermy.
I miss the accuracy of a laser beam falling on tissue.
I miss the perfect arc of a suture needle going through tissues.
I miss the click click of a needle holder in my palm.
I miss the pull of a subcuticular stitch like the closure of a zip.
I miss the way skin falls together like a closed book cover.
I miss the perfectly placed stitch.
I miss the waking of a patient from the perfect anaesthesia.
I miss the way a patient is gently pushed out of the operating theatre.
I miss the clean up and preparation of an operating theatre in anticipation of the next case.
I miss the gift of surgery.

3 Things My 3-year-old Taught Me

This weekend my darling wife went away interstate for a training conference. Some Infectious Diseases clever doctorish stuff. Things we surgeons just do not understand, or even wanna try to understand. I always think, there are only 3 antibiotics in the world anyway, so why spend a beautiful weekend attending conferences on those 3 antibiotics?

So it was left with the trio of Father, son and the wholly MacDonald’s. (Noooo…. don’t worry, we did not go to MacDonald’s at all this weekend.) Anyway, we both survived the weekend. Mommy was surprised we both maintained healthy weights.

During the weekend, my son taught me 3 little things. I’ve been taught these things in the past, but being the simple surgeon that I am, I always need frequent reminders.

1. The Discipline of Unhurriedness

As a trainee surgeon, time is limited. I’m always in a hurry trying to get things done. I have books to read, jobs to do, patients to cut, research to complete, etc, etc. I often have the problem of bringing home that kind of surgical mindset and applying it to the general running of this household. I need to remind myself that this is not a hospital to run, but a home to enjoy. I need to stop being in a hurry. My plans for a 7am wake up, 7.30am out the door for breakfast and 0815am arrival at the Aquarium were not appreciated by my son. He wanted to chill. He wanted to take time choosing his cereal. He wanted the cereal sprinkled across the kitchen room floor. Then he wanted to run around the house in his nappies expecting me to run after him in my underwear. It didn’t matter what jobs we had to do and how much we had to accomplish by the end of the day. We just needed to play. There wasn’t a list of Reminders and To-dos. There was just me, and him. And I admit I had to fight this surgically-trained urge of goal-oriented time-managed behaviour. I had to let time go. I had to be unhurried. It was not time ‘wasted’. It was time ‘invested’ in my son.

2. HIS Happiness Matters

My workplace is full of sickness, pain, diseases, blood, sputum, saliva, snort, negativities, stress, complaints, anger, frustration, etc. Sounds like I work in a bank. No, hospitals in general aren’t the happiest place on earth. Hospitals are full of the egos of doctors, the pride of nurses, the pain of patients, and the anxieties of families colliding. It is a highly charged environment. So when I spend a weekend with my son who smiles and hugs me and says, “I love you, daddy”, that softens my calloused heart. My son’s happiness detoxifies all the poison that I’ve drunk during the week. My son’s happiness reminds me that all the hard work will one day be worth it as long as I keep my life in balance. My son’s happiness does something to my heart that no amount of fame, fortune, alcohol or even the most successful of operations could ever do. My son’s happiness reminds me to be humble and to strive for the simple things in life.

3. MY happiness matters.

Twice this weekend my son asked me, “Are you happy, daddy?” Almost brought tears to my eyes. He must have known that I am a surgeon. I am always angry, upset, uptight, obsessive-compulsive, and short-tempered. He probably sees me angry more often than happy. He knows that I bring home the stresses and demands of work. This 3 year old just wants his daddy to be happy. How could a 3 year old know that? He does not like being near an angry daddy. He wants me to be happy. My happiness matters to him.

And how often does my happiness matter to my wife, my son, my family, my workmates and my patients. I have been asked many times at the end of an operation by patient’s families if I was happy with the outcome. Patients do rely on a surgeon’s happiness for their sense of hope. Nurses sometimes say at the end of an operation, “you’ve gotta be happy with that.” Even the surgical team takes pride and walks out happy when they see the surgeon walks out of theatre happy.

My happiness matters. Not in a self-centred egoistical way, but in an others-focused way. My happiness does matter for others.

Thanks, my lovely Little E.

Fitness Program Application Form

The other day, I was (gently) dobbed in by my wife to join an exercise program at the local gym. She thinks I’m getting too old and fat for her. We’re like Beauty and the Beast, she said. As part of joining up, I was given a form to fill in. Here’s my application and health questionnaire form including fitness assessment. Are you impressed at my fitness level? I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible.


First Name: Trainee

Surname:  Surgeon

DOB  _25/09/2001_      Occupation:   Social Media Activist

What would  your fitness level to be at this moment? Please circle closest number.

1        2       3        4       5         6        7       8       9      10      25 (incredibly fit)

(unfit)             (moderately fit)                     (very fit)

List any exercises you currently do and how often in a week

Type of exercise: Upper limb

Frequency/week: 3 times/day lifting BIG Macs

When was the last time you exercised: 1975

Which time of the day would you prefer to exercise: (Really, is this a serious question????)

  • early mornings    o late mornings    o  evenings  □ When I’ve got nothing else to do.

What would you most like to achieve in this fitness program:  Pls circle.

o Weight loss    o Muscle tone   o Cardiovascular fitness   o Flexibility     o General Wellbeing

  □ All round macho, macho man

Others not mentioned above: Really, all round macho, macho man

How hard would you like to work:     Please circle closest number

1          2           3             4             5             6            7             8              9            10

(not hard) (duh!)                   (moderately hard)                                    (very hard)

What are your health and fitness goals and when approximately would you like to achieve them?

My wife married me for my good looks. I would like to look even hotter for her. If possible within the week.

Would you like some guidance with your current eating pattern?    Yes       No, I’m happy with the local MacDonalds and KFC.

Are you pregnant?      Yes        No      NA     If   Yes, how many months? _

Are you trying to conceive?     Yes      Wife said NO!

Are you a smoker?    Yes      No     If yes, how many cigarettes a day?

Do you have any form of heart trouble?     Yes, my wife broke it the day I saw her.         No

If Yes, please detail type and symptoms: Palpitations, broken heart, hopeless romantic

(chest discomfort, unreasonable breathlessness, dizziness, fainting, blackouts)

Have you had high blood pressure  >140/90mmHg?   Yes, sometime during that honeymoon trip    No

If yes, are you BP medication?   Yes        No

Are you diabetic?      Yes         No, but I really am a sweet man.  

Do you have asthma?    Yes        No

Do you have epilepsy?   Yes        No

Do you have back problems?   Yes       No, but maybe after the exercise, yes.

Do you have any existing injuries?     Yes    No

If Yes, please describe briefly Severe generalised musculoskeletal pain after washing the dishes, laundry and vacuuming last week.

Do you take any prescription medication, pills, tablets or supplements?     Yes   No      If yes, please detail below:

If you have answered Yes to any of the above question, you may have to obtain medical clearance from your doctor before commencing exercise.

7 Reasons Why You Should Be an Anaesthetist (or Anesthesiologist, if you don’t speak proper English)

WARNING: This post, like the rest of my blogposts, is best enjoyed with a glass of wine and a good sense of humour. THIS IS NOT A SERIOUS BLOGPOST! I love anaesthetists and have family members who are anaesthetists. We laugh at and with each other. So please have a read of my other blogposts and catch the humorous flavour in all of my posts before throwing egg at this one. If you still didn’t like it, feel free to leave your comments.


As surgeons, we work closely with anaesthetists every day. We get to love them, laugh with them and sometimes even look at them. They truly are the quiet heroes behind most of our surgeries. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we surgeons do. Always undisturbed, and unfazed by the happenings, they hide behind their masks and machines. Often I wonder what goes through their mind (I found out it was always food or the stock market).

So, why does one want to become an anesthetist? After an exhaustive research involving multiple sessions of pondering about it while on the toilet, here are some reasons why (well, er… maybe):

1. You get to switch people off from talking by putting them to sleep.
Twitter limits talk to 140 characters. Anesthetist can do that to their patients too. They only need to ask enough pertinent questions, and in goes the milky solution and the tube to whiz them off to sleep. How cool is that? I sometimes wish I could do that to my patients, particularly the non-operative dizzy ones.

2. You are most up to date with the news.
The anaesthetist is always listening to the gossip around town. In one theatre they will hear about the general surgeons’ who’s who. In the next theatre, the orthopod’s who hates who. In the next they listen to the plastic’s who augmented who. Still in the next theatre they hear the neurosurgeon’s who buys who. The talks among the nurses, technicians, surgeons, trainees, etc. They are always up to date with gossip. Or ‘news’ as it is often called in the healthcare industry.

3. You become really, really good at Sudoku.
The anaesthetists have so much ‘leisure’ time sitting down during surgery (they call that ‘work’). Once the patient is asleep, out comes the Sudoku. The speed at which the endotracheal tube goes in is well correlated to the speed at which the Sudoku is extracted form the handbag. I’ve seen some really complex mind boggling sudokus done by anesthetists. Amazing. They get lots of practice at work.

4. You can handover the patient at the end of your shift.
This is one of the beauties of anaesthetics. While we surgeons have nightmares about our patients, anesthetists get to hand over the patient at the end of their shift. The good ones, bad ones, unstable ones, etc.

5. You get to finish reading a novel/newspaper/magazine/tabloids while getting paid.
See reason number 3. Actually, you also get to pay your bills, organise your holiday, bid on eBay, shop on Amazon, purchase a new car, do yoga, eat, drink, sleep, and sometimes even brush your teeth, all while the patient is asleep. Well, in short, you get to do what you do at home in the convenience of work.

6. If you don’t like the surgeon, you just have to lift up the sterile barrier.
It’s always interesting when that happens. I have the luxury of working elbow to elbow or face to face with all types of surgeons. I’ve got no blood/brain barrier I could lift. When they yell at me, well, they yell at me. I have to face the music. And that’s also often when the anaesthetic side suddenly lifts up their barrier and I can almost hear the muffled giggles behind.

7. And this is probably the main reason they do anaesthesia: You get to pass gas at work.
Now who wouldn’t want to be paid for passing gas all day?

And for the Famous Anaesthetists’ Hymn brilliantly done by Amateur Transplants:


DISCLAIMER: I am a trainee surgeon. This may be a biased research. No anaesthetists were harmed in the writing of this “Piece of Work!”. In fact, no anaesthetists were present or awake enough to be bothered with this.

10 Things A Surgeon Can’t Say Out Loud

1. What is that?
2. Does that part go here?
3. Oops.
4. What happens if I cut here?
5. Hmmhh, not sure if I can fit it all back in again.
6. Could you please google up this procedure?
7. Where is my lawyer’s contact details?
8. Who is this and what did I do to him?
9. Sure I’ll be home for dinner, honey.
10. I love herbal tea, scented candles and bubble baths.

7 Reasons Why You Should be a Surgeon

I’ve been asked many times why I chose the path of surgery. The esoteric, philosophical, mightier-than-thou answer would be “Well, I didn’t choose surgery. Surgery CHOSE me.” Somehow the conversation falls flat after I say things like that. So for practical reasons people can understand, here are some reasons why:

1. No traffic jams.
Yes. That’s right. With surgery, your day begins with 6am (or so) ward rounds, and ends sometime between 8pm and midnight, or you may not even make it home. Which means that you get the joy of driving to work when everyone is still asleep or watching Glee on TV. No traffic jams. No honking. No stressed out road rage. No queues at MacDonald’s drive through. Isn’t that great?

2. No public holiday shopping nightmares.
As a surgical trainee, you get to kiss all your holidays good bye for the duration of your training. That’s great, cause this way you get to avoid the silly seasons of buying things for yourself, or worse, for others. Now who wants to do that?

3. You get to wear pajamas all day and still get paid.
Surgical scrubs are great! There are several good excuses here. Certainly you save a lot of money cause you don’t really need to buy too many shirts, pants, ties or any of those things. Also you save yourself a lot of laundry time. The down side, however, is that you will have to have on at all times a good pair of underwear. It has been noted many times that wardrobe malfunctions do happen with surgical scrubs. An incidental showing of the undergarment occurs not too infrequently around major hospitals, either through a thin scrub material, a slit on the side, a hole on the back, or just because of a poorly tied scrub pants. Depending on the undergarment incidentally revealed, one may end up with a job promotion, or a trip to see the disciplinary board.

4. You get to spend a lot of time with your patient, asleep.
It is a myth that surgeons spend little time with patients. They say physicians and internists spend massive amounts of time really talking to patients, while we surgeon “swing by the bed” (like as if we were chimpanzees or something) and not even talk to patients. They say: “don’t blink, or you’ll miss the surgeon”. Well, I’m here to abolish that myth. We clock up more time with our patients compared to physicians. But our patients are anesthetized when we’re with them, for good reasons. Apparently anesthetists put the patients to sleep for the patients’ benefit so they won’t be exposed to the surgeon too much. Hmm…

5. You get to cut people open and stuff.
Isn’t that the coolest thing in the world? In any other business it’s called ‘assault’. In my cut-throat industry (pardon the pun), it is called ‘craftsmanship’.

6. You’ll always have an excuse to stop a job, a conversation or an article if you’re getting bored (or can’t find reason number 7).

Sorry, gotta go. Hospital called.