An Impromptu Procedure

November 19, 2009
By , Randolph, VT
He was working fast now, with flowing strokes of the scalpel. His trance-like working style made him a must-see for medical students intent on earning their own staff and set of blades. The nurses and assistants around him could only be sure that he was awake by looking at his eyes, which were darting back and forth from the video monitor to main intersection of arteries and veins in the brain of his patient. This was a most complicated surgery, but nothing out of the ordinary for Dr. Cervelle. This was a clot, however, like none he had ever seen before. For the first time in his entire career, even including the first time he operated on a living patient rather than a cadaver, a ghost of doubt crept into his mind. This miniscule mass of congealed blood clogging the internal carotid artery of his patient, a small, dark spot that would be missed by any untrained eye, was threatening to overwhelm him. “If I was to nick the adventitia”, he thought, “it could mean the end of my career. And…”, as he looked as the patient’s tag “of course, the death of Mrs. Stein.” As was his custom, when it came time for the penultimate incision of each surgery, he removed his wedding ring. In doing so this time, however, he let it fall into the tub of discarded skull and brain matter. As he hurriedly poked around in the fleshy slough, he could feel the seemingly tangible stares of his inferior colleagues boring into him. After a minute of pawing through the red pulp, he delegated the task to his favorite nurse. He finished the surgery, but was severely shaken and spent the remainder of the day in his office.
Mrs. Cervelle loved her husband, but even more than her husband, she loved the car she had bought with his money. She had named it, Ricardo, after that heartthrob actor on Day by Day. She had had the name specially painted in glittery purple lettering on Ricardo’s magnificent read end. She knew no greater pleasure than to take Ricardo out for the evening, lazily rolling past rippling cornfields, speedily roaring down the freeway, even just sitting in park on the teenagers’ lover’s lane, watching the sunset. Tonight was a fast night, and fast was what Ricardo was made to do. Mrs. Cervelle, who had been driving for more than an hour already, had been seldom out of the passing lane the entire time. She was enjoying this evening joyride more than any other, to the point of hysterical, continuing laughter. The lights of slower cars left streaks on her retinas as she passed them, adding to her adrenal intoxication. She blinked in an attempt to clear her tears of laughter, and in that hundredth of second missed a neon sign that read, “LEFT LANE CLOSED 2 MILES”, due to her ludicrous speed.
Dr. Cervelle left the office early that day, not that he really needed to ask anybody if he was allowed to leave or not. He never had left work early before, but he supposed that this was the day to try it. He drove a rather unremarkable car compared to his wife’s Ricardo. He had grown to hate Ricardo, had come to acknowledge the expensive speed machine as a home wrecker. On his way home, driving the speed limit as he always did, he pictured an improved Ricardo: broken down, smashed windows, crumpled hood. Imagine, if you will, just how shocked he was to see just what he had been picturing only moments before in the median of the freeway. He turned into the breakdown lane and jumped out of his car, nearly stumbling over the rumble strip in his haste to see if his wife was all right. A passing car honked angrily as it swerved to avoid him as he sprinted across the tar. He could just barely make out the letters that spelled Ricardo’s name, for his formerly magnificent rear end was now quite concave. He looked in the window but did not find her, and not until he saw the person-sized hole in the windshield did he realize that she must have flown through it. It took him several frantic minutes to find her, in nearly as bad shape as her beloved car. Her throat had been crushed; she could not breathe! His mind raced as to what to do next, but quickly settled upon the most obvious plan of action. He was a surgeon. He had seen it done one TV, but all emergency medical authorities would have told him that it was far too risky. Risky or not, he knew that he had to perform an on the spot tracheotomy in order to save his wife’s life. He had no blade with him other than the strictly ceremonial, “Golden Scalpel” that he had received for being at the top of his graduating class from medical school. No trance-state did he have to get him through this procedure. For the first time ever, he was actually thinking about his patient, his wife, as he carved up her neck. Within minutes the procedure was done, his wife breathing through a bloody hole in her neck, him hovering over her, telling her to keep breathing.
Only later, back at the hospital, when he heard from one of his surgeon colleagues that his wife was going to recover, did he notice that he still had his wedding ring on. It still had his wife’s dried blood on it, but he had not taken it off, even in the heat of his most important surgery ever. In later years, when asked to retell the incident, he would always finish his story in saying that while most people have second honeymoons, he only had to cut open his wife’s neck in order to renew their love.

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