Sunday, February 17, 2013

Random Harvest

The top banana of the Greek Gods, Zeus, swallowed his wife Metis at the time that she was pregnant. Eventually,  Metis gave birth,  and Athena, who because she was part of the meal, had to emerge through the top of Zeus' head. This isn't a book of stories about food or obstetrics or neurosurgery or even a cranky husband though it may include some or all of these topics. It's about control, or rather the lack of it. Zeus had to deal with Athena's arrival on her time table rather one of his choosing. She ended up being useful to him, rather than stronger than him as he had originally feared! If I am a fermentation vat, from time to time a bubble arises from below, breaks my surface with a "boing", and produces a spreading ring that lasts a while. The vat doesn't know when the bubble is going to break out and can't stifle it. Like Athena, the bubble rises up in its own time, ruffles the surface, and thereby is part of the fermentation. The random harvest of thoughts, that arise de novo; grasped at and scribbled about, without questioning the birth process, and without stifling yourself, is therapy of a sort; like taking a stroll through your head. It's clear that there is a lot to see there, but it only shows itself to you when it will. Like Zeus, I must have eaten a lot of stuff in my life that is still sitting around waiting to be born, or wanting to be born, but perhaps I am too thick-skulled yet to let it all out. Possibly I am still stuffed with stuff and long to empty myself, but I must wait for Athena, Goddess of Wisdom amongst other jobs and useful to me as well. It's at least intriguing to me what the muse will say next, and when the bubble will arise. Constipated or not, I am content to sit on the stoop and wait for it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mountain Climber

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration. Those who climb the mountain to the top will be changed if not transformed. To reach the top is not to stay there. The hardest part is to go back into whatever valley your have to deal with where you wanted to be cool,  not giving up and giving in to the new view. The priest today said that some of us may have been at the mountain top and were transformed. I was, I was, my hand is up! I didn't ever really diserve to get there, but I was placed there by a Holy Helicopter. I felt like a bird with wings for three months and moved with the wind but was probably considered mildly mad by my colleagues and friends. I may have been dreadfully eager to reach all those I saw in need who treated me with compassion, but it all gradually faded since living on a mountain top too long addles the brain. Transformed, no, transfigured, no, but changed and slowly adapted, yes. The valley is where we are to be, not the mountain, not Olympus, not Mount of Olives, not the Acropolis not even the mount of the Transfiguration. I actually prayed a prayer that the feeling of religous euphoria would leave me because it was interfering with my ability to do my work. Not to worry, some of it all sticks. You may be lucky enough to have your string jerked as well, but gradualism is the thoughtful and longitudinal way to go. That's just the work part that is demanded of those of us in the valley. Partly blind, partly poor, partly weak, control recused, hardly cool, that's us.

Testing the Waters

You never know what you are capable of until you are tested in the waters. Once one has come through a testing we can say, "I know that I can cope with that and get through it, so I can push through that much storm thus far, which opens my possibilities." When the family of the pianist and I managed a wooden cabin cruiser for over twenty years it was scary at first running the inland Salish Sea. I had at first made tentative forays on calm days till I mustered up courage and took three of my friends for a weekend of fishing several kilometers out in the briny deep. I had taken the Power Squadron course and read a book on seamanship as well. I guessed that I was ready. The weather was calm for two days and we had a great time putting into moorages along the way and celebrating our feats of seamanship on land and sea . On the way back to the homeport the weather changed and the boat, already an older boat at that time, with a wooden dingy that would accomodate one, blew off the transom and broke up. We secured our life jackets and stayed whitefaced at the large following high seas, that swung our backside from side to side like a dog in heat until we entered the first safe harbour along the way, still far from home. We anchored out and called to the waterfront houses till some one rowed out and rescued us. The pianist picked us up and drove us home. She said to all of us, "You guys stink." That of course compounded the chagrin. Sailors indeed. Stinky nonsailors indeed. That foolhardy experience, notwithstanding however ill prepared I was, taught me what our boat could cope with; tested by the waters. Yet, whatever foolhardy lack of preparation was present, I learned in spades. It's hard to learn everything from a course, when passion will teach you from experience.  As one prepares for, and expands what you thought were your limitations, as in the limitations of your craft, one pushes the boundary further and further incrementally, always aware of the endpoint of pushing the boundaries to foolhardiness. There has never been a shortage of life without risk in the young, but calculated risk unfortunately only comes with experience. Mistakes if you survive can frequently teach more than success.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Casuistry may seem an obscure word, but it is a noun more employed in the world at the moment than any other I can think of, from all advertising, political rhetoric, advocacy groups and legal selectivity. It is not hyperbole, it is worse. It is more subtle, more damaging and employs both anabole and hyperbole as well as deceptive reasonableness. Anabole at what it wishes to ignore and hyperbole about what it wishes that you not ignore. It can be seen in newsprint and internet and in the clever constructions from the comment sections. It is convincing to those who hear or read things, the spectators of life, than those who do things. Unfortunately, there is such a limited breadth of things we can do, and such a wide breadth of things we can watch! The only object of the casuist is to convince. We must always ask what is the interest of the convincer? The reaction of the audience may be cynical and believe nothing, or gullible and believe everything, or somewhere in between. You may in fact have already become aware that this paragraph I have written is an example of casuistry. It may not rank as a clever construction but it smacks of too much generalization to be on the high road. Still, it probably contains a tuppance worth of truth that those who already share the premise will find it wholely satisfying. If the file folder in your cerebral cortex is only available for A and not for B, then A will be accepted and B rejected. We have been programmed as spectators. As always, evidence is in the eye of the beholder. How do we get to a folder AB? I wish I knew!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Vaillaume cello

I have no background knowledge of music or musical instruments since I am a surgical mug and tone deaf, but I am married to the pianist so I glean her occasional droppings. I go to the occasional soiree and nod at expressions of ecstasy expressed by friends so as to join in, but I know where I belong and it's in the other kind of  theatre, the operating theatre. I have tried! The pianist's mother was a concert cellist, and she played until she was eighty five, and practiced in our home rather than her apartment since she was driving her adjacent apartment dwellers crazy with her unending scales! I was working one day years ago in the operating room with a colleague doing a long case and he was going on at the time endlessly it seemed, about a side occupation that he did in addition to his general practice. He was a classical music lover and scholar and had an interest in brokering string instruments! He was enthusiastic about a Stadivarius that he had aquired the rights to, and had traveled to Olympic City, "Where the money is, "he said, to show it to a client. I idly listened to him as he rattled on gaily about his forays into the precious instrument trade, while keeping track at the same time to the surgical matter at hand. Then he said, "I have a bead on  a Vaillaume  cello as well and they are very rare but there is a client of mine who is in the market if I can find one. There is a beautiful one in Olympic city I can't access." "Oh yah," I said, half listening, "We have one of those in our closet at home." There was silence. He knew I  was a barbarian and couldn't tell the difference between a cello and a kettledrum. At least that's what he thought. "No,"he said. "Yes,"I said, "I think it's in a closet somewhere."  Well, there was no way that he wasn't going to see it that night. He said nothing more and assiduously paid attention to what we were doing to his patient for the balance of the case. He bounded up the stairs at our home at 10 pm and said in an air of profound disbelief to the pianist, "You don't have a Vaillaume cello in your closet, do you?" "Yes", she said,"my mother bought it in Paris in 1920." My friend examined it carefully and then looked at me as if I were a newly hatched giant of the music industry. I felt like a poseur, but after all that talk, I wasn't going to let him know that I was just a surgical mug who knew what was in the closet.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Busy Hands

In the olden days when my children were teenagers, from time to time, when lassitude struck and indolence lurked around the corner, I would observe the axiom that, "Busy hands are Happy hands!" It was and is a tenet of faith I carry, but of course they would respond immediately by gagging motions into a fake barf bag. I expected such a response of course, but we had communicated and they  knew it, though it became sort of a joke, (CBS) Corny but Satisfactory. I was astounded to get a communication from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada the other day with information that we had unemployed Orthopedic surgeons, Neurosurgeons and Cardiac surgeons, newly graduated, that couldn't find places  to work in Canada now. The cream of the crop that we can't seem to fit in after all that training and skill; not being utilized to the fullest. One of the most satisfying aspects of my career in Lotus City was part of the recruitment and utilization of young Orthopedic surgeons added to our roster every three to four years throughout most  of the past thirty years. They added greatly to the health of our Service with the contribution of current knowledge and new skills. Rather than competition, the addition of these surgeons added to the energy of all and confirmed the adage that busy hands are indeed happy hands. Rationing of health care in this country by governments may save money, but in the face of inordinate waiting lists, inadequate expansion of high tech facilities, and unwillingness to address the antiquated Canada Health Act for fear of political suicide, the slow erosion will continue. Where is a latter day Edmund Burke when we need him? He may have been turfed by the electors of Bristol after a term, but he lives on in our minds and literature, while the ever compliant politicians of his day were never heard of again. My long association with surgeons has taught me this: these brothers and sisters under the skin would work for nothing if the tool shop is excellent and the team is topnotch. Money is not the big issue; it is the side issue, even though the money is good. I too am cognizant of the over all major costs these surgeons secondarily generate for the health care budget. Let's face it!  Health care Delayed is Health care Denied! A stitch in time saves nine. The work is fascinating and truly, "Busy Hands are Happy hands!"