Curve balls

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 43, No. 10, December 2001, Page 549 Editorials

Every once in a while life throws us a curve ball that forces us to pause and maybe even re-evaluate the way we carry out the business of living.

A few years ago two very close friends of mine flew to a small interior city to carry out an organ retrieval. There were delays, as there always are. The OR in the small hospital was slow and they were late getting clearance to take off to go back to Vancouver. They were several hours behind schedule, finally leaving in the middle of the night.

One of these two surgeons (usually the most mild-mannered man in the world) was complaining bitterly that they were late, they would be delayed getting to Vancouver, and consequently his first one or two operations on his slate for the day would probably have to be cancelled. He was in a particularly foul mood and made everybody’s life miserable as only a surgeon can.

Shortly after the Learjet reached altitude there was a sudden bang. The air immediately crystallized, the oxygen became scarce, and the jet tipped forward into a steep dive, straight toward the earth 20 000 feet below. The jet was shaking uncontrollably and someone in the back of the plane was screaming.

As they passed about 10 000 feet the other surgeon turned toward the grumpy surgeon and said “Now, what was it you were saying about that cancelled case?”

The pilot managed to pull the plane out of the dive at an altitude where they had oxygen to breath, and this story had a happy ending.

However, apart from an example of what passes for surgical humor, it does illustrate a point. Life is short and precious. We can bitch and complain and make ourselves and everyone important to us miserable or we can try to have a decent “life lived.”

After September 11, I mentally jotted down a few suggestions to myself. “Phone your mom. Go to your son’s hockey game. E-mail your brother. Buy your wife some flowers. Talk to your kids around the dinner table. Learn more of the nurses’ names. Listen to your patients and try to put yourself in their shoes (or in the case of many of my patients, shoe).

I think a lot of us are thinking that way now and, like most things, it will probably fade. However, I would like to think that we have learned a little.


Anthony J. Salvian, MD. Curve balls. BCMJ, Vol. 43, No. 10, December, 2001, Page(s) 549 - Editorials.

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