Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Orthopaedic Consulting

The patient is waiting in a separate room, his X-rays already up on the viewer. The other student and I hover behind the orthopaedic surgeon as he inspects the images. I know that I should be looking carefully for the pathology – after all, the surgeon might ask for a student’s opinion, and I wouldn’t want to look silly. But something keeps catching my eye. Just below the pelvis, where one would expect to see only ... well, soft tissue, there is a cluster of bright white rings and bolts. This man is pierced. And not just once, no – there must be at least 10 of the things, creating a rather distracting focal point of the image.

Fortunately, the surgeon doesn’t ask for our assessment right then and there, he just goes through the consultation and sends the patient on his way.

Later, in the privacy of the surgeon's office, we have a look at those X-rays. The surgeon points out some discrete lighter patches around the hip joint, and asks what we think they are. I’d honestly not noticed them before, and the other student can’t answer either. The surgeon informs us that they are clips to stop bleeding arteries, indicating that the man has had surgery in the area before – probably a hernia repair. Oh, right. How boring.

The surgeon then waves his hand vaguely at the image of the man’s crotch area, “and what’s ... all this?” “Piercings”, I announce confidently. The surgeon briefly ponders what possessed the man to get this done. I point out that the man had a wedding band, and suggest that maybe his wife made him do it. The surgeon gives me a blank stare, and I know I’ve gone too far – I probably shouldn’t be speculating on a patient’s intimate life with a prominent surgeon who I’ve only just met. He then says, “there are a lot of things I don’t understand about ... life”, ruminates some more on the issue and then blurts out, “could a wife REALLY make you do that?!”

Later in the session we have a short break between patients and the surgeon reflects on the morning. “We’ve done a fair bit today” he says, “we’ve done acute knee injury, supracondylar fracture, axillary nerve, rotator cuff injuries ... and piercings”. Clearly it’s had an impact.

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