between confidence that we will be
able to safely remove the mass and
anxiety about the decision to operate.
This isn’t straightforward, I think to
myself. If we don’t take it out now,
it will be even a greater challenge
next year or the year after that. Then
I think, but is that reason enough?
On Monday, I stand across the
operating table from Henry and Susan
Cordes, one of the other American
surgeons. My son, David, a fourth-year
medical student, is holding retractors.
Just as we predicted, the procedure is difficult. We immediately face
a tangle of blood vessels ranging
from fragile, corkscrew-like veins
to large pulsating arteries. There
are diffuse, dense attachments to
the surrounding tissues and direct
involvement of the vagus nerve (which
controls movement of the vocal cord
among other functions). Every move
requires planning and care as we
dissect the mass away from the major
blood vessels and critical structures.
The mass begins to ooze, a little
at first and then disturbingly. I try to
cauterize the bleeding points but
it only makes things worse. I hold
pressure on the mass. This helps, but
every time I release the pressure, the
blood begins flowing again. “Just keep
going,” I say. As long as I keep pressure on the mass, things remain under
control. We press on.
Time telescopes. My whole body
is on high alert. Everything is in sharp
After two hours, thanks to great colleagues, caution, and good fortune, the
mass is removed. The bleeding stops.
Normal time resumes and I realize that
the temperature in the operating room
is in the mid-80s and I am drenched in
sweat. We close the wound and send
the patient to the recovery room where
he wakes up quickly. He seems fine.
We make Morning Rounds the
next day. The young boy is sitting
in bed, not quite smiling but on the
mend. The mass is in the pathology
laboratory; hopefully, we will get a
final report in about a month. As I look
at his neck wound, I realize that I am
still reeling a bit from the case and am
incredibly grateful that he is alive and
recovering nicely. I feel alive, as well.
As soon as we finish Morning
Rounds, we head back to the operating room for another day of surgery.
Thanks to the MCW Moving Pens
and Kim Suhr of Red Oak Writing for
help with this essay.
Dr. Bruce Campbell is on Surgical
Products’ editorial advisory board
and practices as a Head and Neck
Cancer Surgeon. Since completing
his fellowship at M.D. Anderson
Cancer Center, he has been a leader
of the MCW Multidisciplinary Head
and Neck Cancer Program of the
Froedtert Cancer Center.
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