T.The photos in my iPhone photo roll for the past two years have been mostly of my granddaughter and, more recently, of my newborn grandson, dotted with wrecked and rusting Russian tanks in Ukraine. 30 years.
But there are also some pictures from the workshop at the bottom of my garden of a doll house I’m building for my youngest granddaughter, Lizzie. I hope to have it finished by Christmas. Having “put on the gloves” (as surgeons call it retirement) over two years ago, I believe this is in some ways an alternative to neurosurgery, but I continue to teach and lecture. increase.
I never put together detailed plans for what I’m going to make. With just a rough sketch, projects often set back as much as they move forward. The doll’s house began as a castle with battlements, but was gradually modernized, with kitchens and bathrooms, and later Georgian sash windows with hood moldings. There’s even a Vellux-like rooflight cut into the roof – no British heritage approved for the world version of the doll. ) can play at the same time.
I’ve always been drawn, almost impulsively, to making things with my own hands. When I first encountered neurosurgery over 40 years ago, I found it irresistible, both because of its very serious nature and because of the way much of the surgery is performed microscopically. So I like to play around, but the similarities end there.
I live very intensely when I have surgery, especially when the surgery is dangerous. You live completely in the present and the world outside the operating room simply disappears. you will never get bored. We cannot afford to make mistakes. Also, it is very rare to make mistakes with your hands, such as the instrument slipping or your hands shaking. The surgeon’s tale of needing a “steady hand” is false. Instead, you need a steady nerve and strong concentration and self-control.
Unfortunately, mistakes are always made in surgery, but they are almost always made in decision making. Whether or not to operate, how to operate, how difficult it is to pull fragile blood vessels, and equally important, whether or not to operate.
Working on a dollhouse in my workshop is a very different experience. Especially when the work is highly repetitive, such as building multiple railings for a miniature staircase. I often get things wrong and have to cut a new piece of wood, curse myself furiously, and have to start over. But when I was still a surgeon, woodworking was a liberation for me. No one died when I made a mistake.
When I became a consultant and started working on large projects by myself, I felt tremendously rewarding when the work went well. But as the years went by and the occasional disaster slowly accumulated, the feeling of triumph was replaced by the simple relief that things had worked out. Said without false humility to the trainee working with me.
When I was a surgeon, all I wanted to do was operate and care for patients. The more difficult and dangerous the surgery, the more I wanted to do it. To my surprise, I found that I never skipped surgery even after I retired. This is probably because as we age, our appetite for stress and danger diminishes.
But it’s also because being an NHS consultant surgeon has changed a lot in the last 12 years. Twelve years of austerity, in which more and more ‘administration’ and ‘efficient savings’ (AKA cuts) have taken the place of investment, as the NHS struggles to fill more than 100,000 jobs, surgeons It has led to a loss of much of the autonomy that my generation of surgeons has. I had A neurosurgeon colleague of mine told me that due to the lack of ICU beds, he was struggling every day to finish a major operation. If the operation has to be stopped and the patient is in pain, the responsibility is on the patient.
So I miss my team of trainees and colleagues as I am fiddling with small pieces of wood in my workshop, but I never miss an operation. I know there is, but I doubt Lizzie would, and she takes great pleasure in making things.