The Surgical Wait

For patients and their relatives, waiting for answers can be both unnerving and exhausting

“How long will surgery take?” a family of four nervously asked me outside the operating room, as I prepared to walk in to remove a jumbo brain tumour from their matriarch. “It’ll be about 4-5 hours, but don’t be surprised if we finish earlier or get worried if we take much longer,” I cautioned, always giving myself some room so that relatives don’t panic. “It’ll depend on the consistency of the tumour and the ease with which we can peel it off the internal carotid artery, which is the main blood vessel encased completely by the tumour and supplying blood to half the brain,” I explained.

“All the best,” they said, apprehensively. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” I signed off with the trademark sentence I give every family before disappearing into the mysterious world of the operating room, the sanctum sanctorum of every surgeon.

Once there, we studied the MRI in detail again as the anaesthesiologist effortlessly put the patient to sleep. We fixed the head on a clamp to stabilize it and then turned it to give us a straight trajectory to the tumour, locking it in the final position. I shaved a strip of hair behind the hairline and marked our incision site with a marker. Then, I cleaned the area with a combination of three differently coloured solutions to sterilize it and allowed for it to dry. Finally, we draped the patient in the usual fashion by neatly arranging wires, instruments, and suction devices, ready to start surgery.

Within the hour, a nurse walked in with a message. “The relatives are asking if everything is going well,” she said. “Tell them we’re just about to start,” I said, a little irritated, especially when I needed to be in the zone. “Also tell them, gently, that I will come out and talk to them once it’s over,” I course corrected.

I made a curvilinear incision behind the hair line and retracted the scalp to bare the bone. We drilled a few starry holes in the skull and cut off the bone in a shape resembling an almost perfect constellation of Orion. For the next hour, we drilled the bleeding bone down to the base of the skull, flattening all the ridges that looked like a mountainous terrain. Just as we were about to open the covering of the brain, the dura, another nurse came and mumbled something in Malayalam, her voice muffled by the sound of the drilling. “The relatives want to know, how much more time?” “Ask them to have breakfast and then some lunch, sister, and to come back after that. And the next time they ask, please handle it yourself because we cannot be disturbed now,” I instructed, even asking that a Do Not Open sign be put outside the operating room door.

Once we opened the dura, we saw the tumour that occupied the entire temporal lobe, displacing the brain several centimetres behind its usual position. Having disconnected its blood supply, we got into it, coring out its contents in a steady and meticulous fashion. We then went under the frontal lobe to remove the portion that had crept through. We spent the next 2 hours separating the tumour from the carotid artery and optic nerve, which it had straddled, in very slow and precise moves, because one wrong cut could be catastrophic.

“Sir, the relatives are crying outside,” one sister came in frantically. “They want to see you.” I looked at the clock and realised with surprise that it was already 6 PM; we had lost track of time and space. “It is we who are passing when we say time passes,” I remembered a quote from French philosopher Henri Bergson. “Tell them that surgery is over and everything went well,” I announced, as I removed the last piece of tumour and closed back everything the way we usually do it.

I walked out to meet the relatives, who looked like they had gone to war. I calmed their anxious nerves, explaining to them why surgery had taken longer than expected, but they were relieved only when they saw their mother being wheeled into the ICU fully awake, telling them she was okay.

Until that day, I had never stopped to wonder what waiting patients go through – outside the operating room, ICU, or even a doctor’s office. The chief surgeon with whom I trained in the United States, when asked how long surgery would take, always told relatives, “It’ll take as long as it does,” and never gave a timeframe to probably mitigate the family’s anxiousness. We in India offer a more emotional response. I, at the very least, give my patients as much information as I can because I simply cannot fathom what they must be going through, waiting without any idea. However, I get some sense of that desperation when patients take longer than usual to wake up and gain consciousness after brain surgery. I believe no patient or their relative will ever be able to gauge the myriad thoughts and emotions a surgeon goes through in that brief period of waiting, which seems to stretch as long as eternity.

Outside every ICU of every hospital there are relatives who wait for their loved ones to be shifted out. The lucky ones wait for a day, the unfortunate ones wait for weeks or even months. Day after day, we shower people with various bits of information that we don’t know how much longer it’s going to take, whether it’s for someone to wake up or for an infection to subside or for a swelling to resolve or for someone to come off the ventilator. But there will always come a time when the wait is over. Oftentimes, it’s in our favour; sometimes, it isn’t.

In some sense we are all waiting. But it is important to remember, as the famous American professor Jason Farman once said, “Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to our fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans.”

If you’re a parent, you’re waiting for your kids to go to school, and then you’re waiting for them to come home every evening. If you’re a housewife, you’re waiting for the maid to show up. If you have a corporate job, you’re waiting for the weekend. If you’ve lost a job, you’re waiting to find another. If you’re pregnant, you can’t wait to deliver. If you live in America, you’re waiting for July. If you live in Mumbai, you’re waiting for January. If you live in Canada, you’re simply waiting. Some are waiting to win the lottery. Some are waiting to move into their promised redeveloped buildings. If you’re single, you’re waiting to be married. If you’re married, you’re waiting to be single again. If you have five senses, you’re trying to cultivate the sixth. If you’re in the 10th, you’re waiting for your exams to get over. If you’re in the 12th, you’re waiting to prepare for the next entrance exam you have to take. Some are waiting for the war to end. Some are waiting for the stock market to go up, while some are waiting for it to go down. Some of us are waiting to climb Everest. Some of us are waiting to go deep sea diving. Some are waiting for their next meal. Some are waiting for the next messiah to save the planet.

I am waiting for my weight to go.

What are you waiting for?


25 Comments on “The Surgical Wait
  • Laina says:

    Beautiful. And I think you captured what relatives go through so well!

  • Chanda says:

    True, everyone is waiting. So we’ll said.
    I’m waiting for Dr. Mazda’s next write up

  • Chanda says:

    So well said (correction)

  • Dr. Shilpa Tatake says:

    Again an amazing piece…..we were also with you on this tour of emotions and anxiety of both surgeon and the relatives…

  • Dr Divya says:

    I loved the waiting part sir. Even i don’t know what I’m waiting for… Entire life literally goes in waiting. Waiting to be successful.Waiiting for all the studies to end which is never gonna happen🥲

  • Supriya Correa says:

    Waiting for Godot

  • Gladys T K Kokorwe says:

    This reminds me of my daughter’s experience during my operation. Remember I took long to wake up.. She says the waiting was so long and she complains that after that length of time the nurses just came and gave her the screws and did not even tell her I was ok and had been taken to ICU. She was there alone crying wondering what had happened to me. Our experience with the some nurses even in the ward is so distasteful that my daughter does not want to think of it.
    But my doctor Mazda Turel is the
    Best. If only some of the nurses could up their game.

  • Anil Karapurkar says:

    Congratulations. Excellent as usual Mazda. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  • Marzin R Shroff says:

    Brilliantly captured Doc. I remember the time I was waiting for my Blood Counts to come up after my Bone Marrow Transplant. It’s a horrible feeling mixed with a feeling of negativity and interim patches of hope.
    Not all Doctors can empathise with this (especially since they don’t fully have the answer themselves)
    Thank you for understanding these feelings and capturing them so well for all of us to read
    Cheers to all you lifesavers

  • Kashmira Kakalia says:

    Engaging as always.
    Waiting to read your next beautifully penned thoughts.

  • Salim Ally Hamady says:

    You are the best Tuchel

  • Kersi Naushir Daruvala says:

    Now I know what waiting outside the operation room feels, you should know right now it’s not in God’s hand but the skillful hand of the Surgeon.
    So do not disturb, trust him and will go well for your loved ones.
    Hopping to here the next experience from you Doctor. God bless you always and help us in our different problems.

  • Martha says:

    Great work !!!!
    I remembered when I was waiting for my MRI results before the surgery in your hospital in 2019.
    Thank you Dr Mazda

  • Navzer Irani says:

    Psychology plays an important part in handling ALL situations. Patience an even bigger. Add humour to it and Dr. Mazda appears. Well done as usual.

  • Chandan Sanjana says:

    Super piece of writing again. Yes, no one is altogether sure of what they are waiting for. At the moment I am waiting and waiting for our relocation to Mumbai to happen smoothly and no hitches at all. 🤞


    wow! again your pen has touched another corner of human life. It’s quite a thought provoking article on brain tumors and the journey of waiting. You always amazed your readers with your detailed explanation of the surgery and surgical preparation, I mean that’s what I feel being a non medical background. Your perspective also  sheds light on the challenges that Patients and their families face both physically and emotionally as they navigate this difficult journey. I really liked the way you emphasized the importance of clear communication and providing patients and their families timely updates throughout the process, which really helps them to ease the anxiety and uncertainties. Again a well observed description about different types of waiting we all experience in our lives’ now to answer your question about what I am waiting for, as I am a greedy soul it would be so unfair  with my other wait or dreams to just write about one, but again it’s a good reminder to appreciate the moment we are in while still having goals and dreams for the future. Thank you for writing this beautiful article!

  • Nadya Hussein says:

    The detailed descriptions of your pre-op procedure is so interesting to read about, and the way you derived the heaviness of waiting. It does seem like the anxiety of anticipation can outweigh any negative outcome. It really goes to show the breadth of your work, and that pacifying patients is a sizable part of your job. The rhetorical question is certainly food for thought.

  • Rita singh says:

    Dear doctor, a wonderful reading, worth the wait of a fortnight. Waiting is part and parcel of our life in which ever stage of life we may b.Thank u for the reminder in such an interesting way.

  • Anjali Patki says:

    A lovely concept of analysing waiting. Seeing things from the relative’s perspective shows your empathy. True that…we all are waiting for something or the other. Something to think about.

  • Ruchi Sharma says:

    Wow. You have put it so well together.
    I felt exactly so while waiting for my sister’s surgery to get over.

  • Bikram Shakya says:

    “It’ll take as long as it does”

  • Gloria Msampha says:

    Fortunately they waited for a long time and it was a good outcome. Imagine waiting for 6 or so hours and then being told the patient didn’t make it or the operation didn’t go as planned.

  • Sunita Jimmy Masani says:

    I’m waiting to develop khanti – patience so i can better work to dissolve ego
    Love your writings especially your personal experiences during surgery 🙏

  • Dr Mrs Vishpala Parthaarathy says:

    I loved reading it…. And what am I waiting for? Everyday I wait to hear that a patient is better… I am a Homoeopath so we do not have a specific prescribed and definite way to prescribe. So the more we understand the patient the better are our chances on finding the right and exact remedy- which then wrought s great changes and. Benefits… so ye s waiting for the good word make me deliriously happy

  • Mukund says:

    For an old, retired Doctor with physical disability with no responsibility in life, what is his waiting for ?
    Just a thought for the brain.


Leave a reply

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