The Surgical Questions

Restless, devastated and unable to reconcile with their condition, patients often inundate doctors with queries. But, not everything has an answer

“Will I be able to have vigorous sex after surgery?” a robust Parsi gentleman in his late sixties enquired. I had been explaining the procedure for a lumbar spine surgery that would relieve the compression of his pinched nerves. He was in immense pain; his body contoured and tilting to the right in an awkward looking posture gave him some relief. Patients often ask me questions such as how long before they can get back to work, are there any postures they should avoid, will their implants beep while passing through metal detectors at airports, what are the chances of this happening again, was there a possibility that this could lead to paralysis or problems with passing urine or stool, and so on and so forth. I guess, in our community, the priorities are slightly different, or rather, simply elementary. I wanted to understand in some depth his definition of ‘vigorous’ but refrained.

I met him the first day after surgery, when he was completely free of his agonizing pain and walking around like a king in the hospital corridor. On greeting me, he bobbled his head and raised his index finger as if to remind me of the question he had asked me in my office a few days ago. I, in return, gave him a thumbs up. In that single unspoken gesture, I communicated a confirmation that everyone else watching us was baffled by. Two weeks later, he sent me the message “Doc, my back is as good as my front!” followed by an emoji, which suggested he was ‘back in action’.

Some patients have the propensity of asking the same question repeatedly, even if it has been answered just a few minutes ago. A patient who got admitted for surgery the next day asked me, “I have my period, can we still do the cervical spine operation tomorrow?” I reassured her that it was perfectly safe and alright to do so. She then asked the same question to my colleague who would assist me in surgery, the anaesthetist who came in to check on her fitness levels, the nurse on duty, the dietician who recorded her food preference, the janitor lady who came to clean the washroom, and even the ward boy who was left befuddled. Within a few hours, the entire hospital knew that the patient in 1832 had her period.

We have the hardest but most fun times with superstitious patients. “Doctor saab, our pandit has said to do the important part of the operation between  11 AM-12 PM and then between 2 and 2:45 PM… will you?” “Of course!” I say with an ever-pleasant demeanour, wanting to ask if the entire surgical team should simply go for a 2-hour lunch break while leaving his brain open to air. I have replied to so many messages from patients’ astrologers that the word ‘neurologist’ now autocorrects to ‘numerologist’ on my phone.

Another avid Gujrati stockbroker had bought some shares on the morning of his operation for the removal of a tumour from within his spinal cord. As he was being wheeled out of the operating room, I asked him to move his legs, which he did so very well. Then, still groggy and slurred from the anaesthesia, he asked me what time it was. Most patients usually ask how the operation went or how long it lasted, but he was insistent on knowing the exact time. When I told him it was 5 PM, he looked thoroughly dejected, and when I probed a little deeper for why, he lamented, “It’s past 4 PM, I can’t trade on the market anymore today!”

Why did this happen to me? This is the eternal question that most people seem to ponder about and even struggle with. For the longest time as I sought to comprehend how to answer this question for my patients – those who had fractured their spine, slipped a disc, or developed a brain tumour – I used to point at the big guy in the sky or stroke two fingers across my forehead to call it destiny, almost as an escape route. Until, one day, I heard Eckhart Tolle on my drive to the hospital. He says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Whatever the illness, accept it as if you have chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy, and this will transform your life.” Those who have been able to do this have healed well inside, and soon. But for many others, the struggle of acceptance continues.

Some even have a more arrogant attitude to illness. They say “I don’t deserve this. I have never harmed anyone in my life. I have never done a single bad deed or even told a lie. How can I have cancer?” To this, I simply say, nobody deserves anything. The rich don’t deserve to be rich and the poor don’t deserve to be poor. Mediocrity doesn’t deserve success and extra-ordinary talent doesn’t deserve failure. Princess Diana didn’t deserve to die the way she did, but no one asked if she deserved to be a princess in the first place.

“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives,” the prolific American author Annie Dillard wrote in her timeless reflection on presence over productivity. Doctors spend a large part of their day answering all kinds of questions. Often, it’s the same spiel on the surgical procedure, its possible complications, and what recovery would look like. Sometimes, the questions are insightful and make you ponder; sometimes, they are repetitive and make you wander. Occasionally, they are heart-breaking. Periodically, they are accusatory. Consistently, they are hilarious, and that’s what makes up for all the other kinds.

“Will I be able to play the piano after surgery,” a Christian guy in his mid-forties asked me after I explained the need to remove a brain tumour pressing down on the motor cortex of the brain that is responsible for hand function. My reflex reaction was to say “Of course!” but the therapist in me resorted to asking him a counter question instead: “Could you play the piano before surgery?” Very serenely, he nodded his head sideways and said, “No.”

I was done for the day.

24 Comments on “The Surgical Questions
  • Chanda says:

    Hi Doc,
    This is exactly how a Sunday shoud be. Having to read your fantastically humorous yet true incidents so well penned down. Surely could accompany you on your coffee breaks just to listen to your wonderfully portrayed narrations. Thank you Doc. Eagerly await your next writeup.
    Bless you!

  • Dr Indu Bansal says:

    What an elegant way to express your thoughts doc. The way u spin marvellous stories around simple life incidents and simplify medical jargon is beyond words just “wow”. It’s a perfect way to start your day on a lazy Sunday morning.

  • Arun Pushkarna says:

    Once more ….. you score!
    There is an empathy, gentleness even, that shines through in your wonderfully humourous articles.
    Love reading them.
    Bless you!

  • Vishnu Mulchandani says:

    Patients really feel at home comfortable when u answer all their questions correctly honestly with confidence – evidence based medicine ….Dr. Vishnu Mulchandani past president A ward medical association colaba Mumbai India

  • Avinash Karnik says:

    Dear Dr. Mazda
    Your humorous article laced with reality is a perfect reading material on a lazy Sunday morning. Normally a very stressful time when the patients are under a knife for brain or spine surgery, I’m sure and convinced that they all without an exception must be getting cured at least 50% by your jovial and assuring talk.
    Keep up helping all your patients with your magical tongue and your expert hands. God bless

  • Zarine Pastakia says:

    Oh what a VIGOROUS 😉😉😉 start to the Sabbath…thanks to our precious Dr Mazda of precocious humour / humane perception fame!

    Surgical Questions .. SUCH FUN as Miranda’s mum in the sitcom would say!

    A few snippets of reaction..

    I remember my gynaec Dr Kurush being gobsmacked by my dear friend’s prime query before my hysterectomy :
    What about DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) in case z doesn’t make it thru surgery ?
    Till today he remembers her fondly as Ms DNR 😀

    The nurse who wheeled me up to the OT found me strangely serene ..but i was answering HER non surgical queries. Her mum had been killed by a hit n run rider and she was trying to come to terms with her life in the aftermath.. her last question to me before i disappeared was .. may i come talk to u later?
    Sure i smiled and cheerily Lady-Diana-waved at her!

    I did ask a question in the OT. As i was being prepped for surgery i found my derrière repeatedly but gently smacked on the side by the nurse who parroted instructions. .”Lift this thing! Lift this thing!”

    I turned to her and roared my question :


    And i dropped down a multiple choice menu :

    Her drop down mandibular expression was followed by peals of merriment .. and that was the last thing i did.. LOL ‘ ed my way into anaesthetic oblivion.

    Right you are about accepting the illness as if we’ve chosen it. Acceptance ups the serenity factor.
    Get off the R&R (raving & ranting)
    So you can get on the path of R&R (rest & recovery)

    On one of his visits the doc looked at my cheerfilled face saying..
    “If there’s one thing that’s got you through all this it’s your attitude. .
    Now let me say hello to Ms DNR 😀”

    I was squirming at the clinic of a well known colorectal surgeon being barraged by my neighbour’s erroneous self diagnosis, “scientific facts” and the most outlandish questions that redefined idiocy.
    I marvelled at the doc’s patience.
    After examining her and pronouncing her fit he was not a little surprised to be barraged by the same bovine faeces (work that out 💩) that spewed out of her oral cavity.
    He shut her up .. repeatedly. .but ever so politely. Some folks just love wallowing in misery and singing non stop the Why Me? refrain.

    That superstitious neurologist / numerologist bit had me in splits. But no seriously. .
    The same colorectal surgeon had to take an urgent call ..
    Couldn’t help overhearing. . the patient’s relatives were rattling on about kala jadoo and going on n on with their illogical ideas n demands. 😱😨😲

    Man! What you surgeons have to deal with!

    Let’s end with a question albeit rhetorical and non surgical :

    Will we ever see the end of our Dr MArvellouZDA’s greatreads with fascinating insights that oft induce a warm internal glow as well as cachinating laughter?

    With love light gratitude n blessings always..💖

  • Pouruchisti Ukaji says:

    Love reading your articles Mazda! Insightful, humorous, touching – All in one!!

  • Shruti says:


  • Gloria Msampha says:

    Interesting life you lead. Enjoyed reading the article especially the last story. We expect our doctors to have all the answers and to perform miracles. I believe it gives you satisfaction when a patient walks out of the hospital completely healed. Here is to performing more miracles. 🙏

  • Bikram says:

    Gave me big smile at the end 😂

  • Naresh Jani says:

    Mind blowing article sir🙏


    Another super article and as always there is such humour in your way of writing. You always nail it!

  • Gladys T K Kokorwe says:

    A very refreshing article. You are a good writer. Keep on writing and we will keep on reading. 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

  • Supriya Correa says:

    Achingly beautiful writing talent. You are all heart, Maz.

  • Sumit Singh says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading once again Dr. Mazda.

  • Rita singh says:

    Every time ur article comes,I think what next interesting thing will he write,and there comes another one to top all others before. Lovely way of story telling even about most commonly heard talks.

  • Samina says:

    All your articles bring a smile on our faces …enjoy reading them …so true we ask questions to them …. questions which even they would not know the answers to …eg ..why me ..!!! .thank uy doc

  • Anita says:

    So realistic, into patients’ hearts. Thank you 🙏😍

  • Dr Ram Dama says:

    Enjoyed reading your article . unexpected questions but in simple way and correctly in patients language explained it’s tough job sir you are really cool calm neurosurgeon 👍👍

  • Dharmendra Desai says:

    Great article Dr.Mazda
    I think education of Medical science should include this ( questions of Patients ) in their syllabus or even extra subject

  • Priyadarshan Pradhan says:

    Doctor saheb
    Well written as always
    Enjoyed reading
    Thank you

  • Sameer says:

    Love your sense of humour along with the deeper reflections. Great way to express and share.

  • Di says:

    Another super article! Love ur wit and sense of humor… Liked the funny bits.. definition of vigorous, pandit timings and neurologist to numerologist…
    Lol in my family we love to ask many questions to the doctor which sometimes annoys them.
    true as u said nobody deserves anything… i agree need to accept the illness to deal with it

  • Lois Juma says:

    Dr. Mazda, I hope you will compile your writings into a book. I wish you well .


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