The Surgical Celebration

A patient’s decision to get operated on his birthday is a timely reminder of why we need to celebrate the little things in life, even the end of an affliction

It was a routine Wednesday and I was on my regular evening rounds to check on all my patients before I left for the day. I knocked and entered the room of a patient I had operated upon the same morning. I saw him sitting in a chair, his sizable single room suddenly appearing cramped because of heavier-than-usual family traffic. His 2-year-old baby (who they must have sneaked in somehow, probably in a spacious IKEA bag) was plonked on his lap. His wife, a few sisters, parents, grandparents, and a bunch of cousins encircled him. Only a few hours after spine surgery, he was in great spirits, rambunctiously guffawing away with his gang. My team and I were greeted by happy and smiling faces. “Come, come, doctor, you’ve come at the right time! Everyone, this is Rawnak’s doctor,” his wife said, introducing me to rest of the extended family, breezing through four generations in a jiffy. I was still a little befuddled as to what was going on until I saw a tall mango cake on the table with ‘Happy Birthday’ artistically engraved on it.

Clapping hands, we sang the quintessential birthday song while the little girl on his lap wisely blew out the candle before the smoke detectors went off. They offered us a big piece that we readily gobbled. Rawnak fed his daughter, his wife fed him, and then she went around the room, unloading a tiny bite into everyone’s mouth in traditional celebratory fashion. “Why would you choose your birthday to get an operation?” I asked aloud, intrigued. Rawnak laughed out loud, his hilarity contained only by the stretch on his stitches. “I was so bothered by this leg pain because of my slip disc, and like you know, I tried everything, but nothing worked. I just wanted a new lease of life and what better a day to do this than on my birthday!” he reasoned. “I didn’t want to spend my birthday in pain,” he said, devouring his cake. It was a strange perspective but an interesting one.

“What if something were to go wrong?” I mused, raising my brow, but before he could answer, I followed it up with something more positive. After some more conversation, the team and I exited. “Good luck, buddy, have a great year,” I said waving goodbye to everyone in the room. As I walked out, I realized I had completely forgotten to check on him and his pain and almost stepped back into the room to ask him when my colleague stopped me, “Let him enjoy his day, he’s obviously okay if he’s smiling so much!” was the justification.

As we walked the corridor toward my next patient, I turned around and asked my team why anyone would get operated on their birthday, still trying to get under the skin of this viewpoint. “It’s the same reason why you make it a point to operate on yours,” my assistant retorted, reminding me of my quirk. Earlier in my career, when I didn’t operate every day, I would make it a point to schedule surgery on my birthday, citing my unavailability a few days before or after stating any reason I could. “That’s completely different,” I argued. “I want to start the year doing something I love. Nothing gives me more joy than operating!” I told them. But I understood what they were trying to say.

“By the way,” my assistant added, “Did you read the article published in the British Medical Journal on ‘Patient mortality after surgery on the surgeon’s birthday’?” “You’ve got to be joking,” was my reaction, and he pulled it up on the phone for me. I scanned the paper quickly. Apparently, patients ‘who received surgery on the surgeon’s birthday experienced higher mortality compared with patients who underwent surgery on other days. These findings suggest that surgeons might be distracted by life events that are not directly related to work’. “Oops,” I thought, recollecting the outcomes of recent surgeries done on my birthday to confirm that I wasn’t contributing to the statistic. “From next year onwards, we’ll keep these birthday cases short and simple,” I announced, unwilling to give up the tradition.

It has been my personal experience that patients put aside surgery for festivities. In the West, almost nobody has elective surgery in the last week of December. In India, hospitals see a drop in routine surgical admissions around Diwali (but injuries related to the festival make up for those). A few weeks ago, on the day of a planned admission, a patient called to cancel scheduled surgery for the next day. I was a little annoyed, as it scrambled a schedule I’d now need to rearrange, and in a slightly irritated fashion, I asked, “Why?” “Sir, there is an emergency wedding in the family tomorrow, so we’ll get admitted the day after that!” Amusement instantly replaced frustration. Their problems were clearly greater than mine.

I’m not a big celebrator but I want to change that about me. I’m inspired after I attended my daughters’ school orientations for their entry into the first and second grades. The principal emphatically spoke about celebrating the little things in your lives. She said, and I paraphrase, “Even if your child comes 5th in a race, celebrate; if a parent gets a raise or switches a job, celebrate; if a family member excels in a hobby or even participates in something different, celebrate. Don’t only honour and laud the big events, but rejoice in small victories, even if they cannot be measured.”

There is something miraculous about the mundane that we must celebrate. A simple surgery done well, a patient relieved of their affliction, a diagnosis cracked, a colleague’s recruitment, a staff worker’s promotion, the hospital’s accreditation. If we are able to revel in small successes, we might be able to deal with failure more comprehensively. We might be able to treat the spectrum of emotions that traverse the highs and lows in a slightly more equanimous manner. We might be able to acknowledge the many ways in which we are human.

Rawnak got discharged the day after his surgery, completely pain free and thrilled with his decision to get operated on his birthday. New beginnings are beautiful; sometimes terrifying, but beautiful nonetheless. I am now also planning to conduct a study on patient outcomes when they have surgery on their special occasions: birthdays, festivals, promotions, anniversaries, etc. Do I have any volunteers?

26 Comments on “The Surgical Celebration
  • Dhairav shah says:

    Would you also agree that people tend to forget about their chronic pain they suffer 24 ×7 …on special occasions in life ..say like a birthday….

    That actually says sonething about how the mind perceives pain ….

    And with this i believe their bodies are more positive on the special occasions hence surgical outcomes are even better

  • Supriya Correa says:

    What a lovely piece!! Even tall mango cakes have a rightful place in a neurosurgery post. But then we’ve always had a front seat in the lives of your patients. If they only knew how they much they’ve impacted us, your readers

  • Dr. Pradip Kumar Tiwari says:

    Excellently written. Being optimistic with the operation is always a challenge.

  • Dr. Shilpa Tatake says:

    Superb article….as enjoyable as a cake 😊

  • Avinash Karnik says:

    The decision to get operated on his birthday has proved how much confidence he had in the ability of you and your team. He must have been sure about the success in the hands of yourself as we all also have explicit faith in you. Wishing you a very successful career.

  • Laina Emmanuel says:

    This piece brought a lot of joy !

  • Anita says:

    I learnt so much about you as a great human being not only a great doctor. Very interesting statistics and the piece was like watching a movie. Lovely job as usual 👍

  • Anita says:

    Wishing doc a very Happy Doctor’s Day ! May you continue the healing with those healing hands and your beautiful heart and mind

  • Samina says:

    Loved the article true celebrate smaller joys too ..n also so rightly said …we do lose our concentration due to other distractions …thank you doc for another lovely experience !!!

  • Arun Pushkarna says:

    I feel blessed that I am not your patient, not because I wouldn’t trust my life and health in your capable hands, but because I’d rather be grateful to the Creator for keeping me in reasonable health.
    And I feel even more blessed that I personally know a doctor – nay, a human – who has such compassion.
    More strength to those healing hands!!

  • Zarin Bahmani says:

    I loved that advice from your daughter’s principal…yes we should celebrate the little things in life….thank you for a wonderful article as always!

  • Marzin R Shroff says:

    Great article. Will now wait to read the article from your birthday. When is it?

  • Prasan Shanbhag says:

    Maybe he simply wanted to eat the cake instead of the hospital food 🙂

    Excellent article overall Doc …look forward to the next one

  • Aspi AIBARA says:

    Lovely article..
    U always seem to take out tha cat from ur box ..with surprise..
    A lesson for upcoming doctors…
    There are other subjects to be shared .. rather than only Doctorate…
    God bless u…

  • Porus k hinoy says:

    I too got operated for a 2″×6″epidural clot on my birthday by you. Will be grateful for ever Dear Dr Mazda. Living a rocking life.

  • Anuradha says:

    There is immense joy in celebrating the things that matter most in your life. Your patient did so by reposing his trust in you that you would do your best to get him on his feet. It’s a victory for both of you.
    The article as always is very interesting and thought provoking. Wising you the very best in your profession and your life

  • Porus k Chinoy says:

    Hi even I got operated on my birthday by you for a 2″×6″epidural clot. Brilliantly successful surgery, living a rocking life

  • Bikram Dr. Shakya says:

    Seems like there will be rise in routine cases during special occasions….

  • T George Koshy says:

    Encouraging and cheerful piece of writing..keep writing Dr Mazda

  • Anjali Patki says:

    You think of the most unusual topics to pen down your article. A very different perspective…thought provoking and intriguing as always. Keep up the good work 🙂

  • Burzin Panthaki says:

    Lovely article.
    Loved the advice that we should celebrate the small things in life then we will be able to handle failure better.

  • Rita singh says:

    Dear doctor, a very lovely picture of rawnak celebrating his birthday in his hospital room. Now u have given ur readers a new way to celebrate life.The little things in life.Big happenings do not happen much. But if we celebrate little things of life it becomes more likeable and easier. Thanks a lot for this much needed idea.

  • Homi R Cooper says:

    Such a Complex & Delicate Surgery you perform so well.
    We bow with our Heads & our Hearts.
    May God Always be with you.
    Thank for Sharing & Caring like A GOOD DR.

  • Aban Commissariat says:

    Always a different perspective every time. Want you to know dear doctor that your compassion and kindness stand out in a field where the connection between patient and doctor is so confined to the event of surgery and treatment unlike you. God bless

  • Gool Kotwal says:

    Your writing emanates from your perspective of life, which is positive. Keep on writing & bring out the best in your readers

  • Di says:

    A lovely, cheerful and positive article… So true… what the principal said… we can create beautiful memories by celebrating little things in life… Not everyone would choose to get operated on their birthday but it shows the confidence and faith he has on you… keep doing what you love to do on your birthdays


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *