This is about a doctor’s unwarranted comment to a patient that landed him in deep trouble. The incident happened some 40 years ago but the message it gives is still valid—a doctor should always maintain decorum.
Cancer, as we all know, is a dreadful disease that can affect any part of the human body except the teeth, nail and hair. So, it was nothing unusual when a middle-aged gentleman came to the medical college hospital I was studying in with cancer on his private part. This type of cancer is still common in our country.
The usual tests were done including a small biopsy and the disease was confirmed as advanced cancer. The diagnosis was revealed to the patient and with not many options in the 1970s, he was eventually told the unpleasant truth that the part had to be fully removed. When the word “cancer” itself can shake a man from head to toe, it is anybody’s guess how devastating this could have been to him.
After serious consultation with his family and relatives, and with no other option left, he agreed to the surgery. As a usual preoperative procedure, a signed consent form for removal of the affected part was also taken from him. The surgery proceeded well. But an unexpected problem cropped up. The cancer was in a very advanced stage. It had spread to some adjacent areas. This became apparent only during the surgery. So, the surgeon thought of removing the adjacent organs also. The surgery was past midway and the patient was unconscious under anaesthesia. There was no way he could get consent for it from the patient. But the surgeon wanted to take no chances for the patient’s benefit. So, he removed both testicles.
In short, in our professor’s hands, the surgery was neatly completed. The patient was okay and was shifted to the post-operative ward. At that time, I was just a medical student posted under this surgeon. The entourage of a senior professor during morning rounds was usually around 40 in number with other doctors and medical students. The group was usually nicknamed by patients and their bystanders as Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. (Yet to learn the tricks of the trade, “40 would-be thieves” would have been more accurate!)
We reached the gentleman’s bedside. Obviously, he would have noticed that some other parts were also missing. Understandably, he was totally upset. But he politely put this question to our professor: “Why did you remove the other parts too?
All our professor had to do was just explain the situation to the gentleman. Instead, he shot back a question to the patient in front of his dear relatives and of course us, the 40 “thieves”.
His reply was, “Do soldiers who don’t have guns carry bullets?”
All hell broke loose. The rest is history. It was only after apologies and arguments that our professor was allowed to wield the scalpel again.