Thursday, May 5, 2011

3 Cool Facts About Orthopedic Surgeons

Most medical specialists have some kind of stereotype associated with them: Dainty dermatologists, nerdy neurosurgeons, friendly pediatricians... So that a male medical student who is tall or big, sports-minded and good-looking (Ok, maybe with exceptions to the last one), will most likely be told, “Uy, pang-ortho ka” ("You should be an orthopedic surgeon"). 

However, orthopedic surgeons are also stereotyped as menacing and intimidating.  Armed with tools of the trade such as drills, mallets and nails, an injured patient at the ER takes one look and freezes with terror.  In fact, an orthopedic OR pretty much looks like a carpenters' workshop with all the gadgets and tools--- only sterilized!

So what got me interested in orthopedic surgery  in the first place (aside from being tall, sporty and ...)?

Well, first of all, during my hospital internship,  the orthopedic consultants and residents I met were some of the coolest doctors around.  Other specialists were much too busy or cranky, in med lingo, “toxic”, but orthos always managed to keep their mojo.

Secondly, most orthopedic patients immediately feel the improvement in their condition. They come to the E.R. in severe pain or all broken and torn, then they go home relieved of pain, in one piece and all stitched-up. The sense of fulfillment in treating ortho patients was immediate and gratifying.

Third, I was amazed at the orthos' gung-ho attitude and knack for improvisation. 

For example, early in my training, one of the  first patients I encountered in the E.R. was an old patient  with a wrist fracture.  My senior resident instructed me on how to fix the fracture using an antenna-like structure called an external fixator.  The power drill needed to attach the device to the wrist could not be located, but since the patient was already anesthetized, we had to make-do with an ancient, rusty, hand-powered drill. (Did I say sterile? Yes, it was sterilized, rust and all!)  

As the senior resident showed me how to drill the bone, I got really nervous.  Prehistoric equipment older than my grandmother was definitely NOT going to work, I thought.  In spite of the lack of modern equipment, he deftly guided me from drilling my own hand and getting the treatment done.  As the pin went through the bone, I felt like a medic in a World War II hospital camp.  But the job was accomplished and I marveled at how cool this surgeon was about improvising when the situation wasn't exactly like ortho textbooks said it should be. 

In my city-based private practice, I still occasionally find my improv skills very useful, but glad  that I do not have to use it as often as some of my colleagues in the provinces.

These are some of the cool facts about orthopedic surgery that attracted me to this field of medicine. Besides, outstanding orthopedic surgeons has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Orthopedic joke:

A 70-year-old man sat down in the orthopedic surgeon's office.
Patient: "You know, Doc," he said, "I've made love in more exotic cars than anyone I know. Must be at least a thousand."
Orthopedic Doctor: "And now, I suppose, you want me to treat you for the arthritis you got from scrunching up in all those uncomfortable positions,"
Patient: "Hell, no," the old fellow replied. "I want to borrow your Lamborghini."

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