Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Lost Career

I was talking to one of my colleagues who’s an orthopedic surgeon and was reminded of how I made sure I would never be an orthopod.

When I was in the first year of my Emergency Medicine residency and even more flippant than I am now (hard to believe, right?), I was doing an orthopedic surgery rotation on the service of the Chairman of the department. The Professor was an ex-military martinet in the very worst sense of the word, and given that at that time in my life I thought of myself as the Hard Rock Café of medicine (love all, serve all), some conflict was probably inevitable.

One morning he put up the x-ray of a patient he had operated on the day before. He was praising the wonderful realignment of the bones, the way they matched together, how the screws in the plate locked into the bone just enough to provide security but not too much to put the bone itself at risk. I was doing my routine post-call yawn when he turned to me. “Dr. Rodenberg,” he said with the scorn that only a Professor can muster for an intern who does not recognize the absolute primacy of his own specialty and the insignificance of anything else, “why am I remarking about the fine alignment of this fracture?”

“I don’t know sir,” I replied. “Maybe it’s self-gratification.”

Other than a steely glare from The Professor, there was no further comment on the X-ray, and another resident saved the moment by smoothly transitioning into the next case. But I was promptly informed “through channels” that if I ever decided a career in orthopedic surgery was my destiny, there would be no letter of recommendation forthcoming. Go figure.

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