Stalin, Heart Surgeons, and Ben Carson

 

DSC05950So as you can imagine, my family has been having a lot of conversations lately about cardiology and cardiac surgery. My father was already quite well-informed about the subject, because his own father suffered from cardiac disease (confirming the well-established wisdom that such things run in the family, and making me think it might be wise one of these days to have my own ticker checked out: What keeps me from doing it is not wanting to know, which I know isn’t the most courageous way to approach these matters. I’ll get around to it. I think I’m okay for now.)

Anyway, we’ve been talking about the personalities of people who go into cardiac surgery as a speciality. There are lots of stereotypes, of course: I liked this blog, written by a woman who in no way would I consult for any medical problem, given that she’s “a physician who is intuitive and a Reiki Master/Teacher discusses healing from ‘the front lines’ of the mind-body connection in the hospital setting.” But her description of the temperaments of cardiovascular surgeons seemed interesting to me:

Cardiovascular surgeons are the last of the “old boys school” for the most part. There are notable exceptions, which I will discuss later. They are emotional, angry titans who split sternums and work on some really sick people. Some contain it better than others. … I have seen patients die from pride of the surgeon and the anesthesiologist and the rest of the team. … Pride is an element in the heart room. Ego reigns. Dominance, aggression, control, continuity. There is no compassion. Not for anyone…

On this blog, Aaron Singh asks why surgeons have such big egos:

[The surgeons] were the ones who walked past you with a sense of purpose, with an expression that sent lesser medical personnel scurrying out of their paths in terror, and with eyes whose gaze could physically melt medical students if you weren’t careful. Several walked past us, instantly recognizable, and those who bothered to look at us did so with a disdainful expression, dismissing our existence as being too trivial to bother their exalted minds. They were Lords of their Domain; entire operating theatres were built as shrines to their greatness. Why shouldn’t they walk around as if they owned the place?

I’ve always wondered why surgeons seem to be more affected by the famous God complex that seems so prevalent in the medical profession. Recently, my cousin brother underwent surgery, as I talked about in my previous post, and the surgeon who operated on him, whilst perfectly competent, also demonstrated this uppity demeanour. She strode into the OT (fashionably late) without seeing him pre-op, and didn’t even check on him post-op. During the surgery she didn’t bother to reassure him; it was the nurses who did this.

Or take this quote from Frank C. Spencer, MD, FACS, Cardiothoracic Surgeon:

“Stepping into the operating room to perform heart surgery on a sick patient, being fully in control of the large team of people who are required to do the procedure, and feeling totally prepared to perform the task at hand is an unbelievable feeling that can barely be described.”

Or this one from Dr. Paul Corso:

Heart surgeons are aggressive, intelligent, driven people who have mental, emotional and physical endurance. We are born with all of these factors, but need to develop them into their highest form. Some people say heart surgeons are jerks, and we’re probably that, too.

“Cardiac surgeons,” writes Kathleen Doheny, “driven and dedicated, tend to see things in yes or no terms, says a physician in another specialty. ‘Fish or cut bait. They tend to be stalinpushy.’ When a cardiac surgeon decides it’s time to head to the operating room, stand back.”

Anyway, this morning my brother and I were wondering how this personality type — and it is, it seems, a distinct one — would translate into a politician’s leadership style. We were playing a little game, trying to decide which figures from history would have been good cardiac surgeons. Perhaps Stalin missed his calling: Might he have been a fine cardiac surgeon instead of a bloody tyrant?

What about Ben Carson? I imagine that neurosurgeons and cardiac surgeons share CarsoninOR-590x398similar temperaments, as a rule. Is a neurosurgeon’s temperament the right temperament for the President of the United States?

Are any of you cardiac surgeons? Neurosurgeons? Know any? Are the stereotypes true? Would knowing that surgeons share a personality type seem relevant to you in trying to figure out what kind of politician a surgeon might be? In Carson’s case, after all, knowing that he was a great surgeon is really all we know: So would that kind of personality be an asset in the White House or a liability?

(By the way, although I didn’t get to spend much time with him, my father’s surgeon seemed to defy these stereotypes: He’s a gentle and very devout Catholic who goes to Mass every morning, and seemed in no way a bully or a jerk. So obviously, there are exceptions.)

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  1. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Harrison Flynn: “[Redacted],”” he said. “”There go the music lessons.”” That may be the quote of the year in medical circles. …

    My mother had brain surgery three times, and the second one did indeed cause her to lose her perfect pitch. Since she was a professional musician, this was … I won’t say “tragic,” since she lived a fine life without it; “tragic” was the pancreatic cancer that actually killed her — but it was sad.

    • #31
  2. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Claire, do you think it might be sort of wrong to be comparing Stalin and Carson? I find it disturbing and wish you would address the concern.

    • #32
  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:I am having trouble getting my head around this post: Stalin has the temperament of a cardiac surgeon. Hey, Ben Carson is also a cardiac surgeon! Not that they’re the same or anything…

    Huh?

    I was just having one of the conversations one has with the family when sitting around the hospital watching the heart monitor. We were passing time amusing ourselves with the “Which politician should have been a cardiac surgeon and vice-versa” game; so I thought I’d share it. It kept us amused, after all.

    • #33
  4. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:Claire, do you think it might be sort of wrong to be comparing Stalin and Carson? I find it disturbing and wish you would address the concern.

    I see no obvious comparison at all, but Carson’s the only major figure in American politics right now who’s anything like a heart surgeon, so I chose him. And Stalin’s one of the figures who came to our mind when we were comparing the stereotype “heart surgeon” personality to “famous leaders in history.” (Lords of their Domain; entire operating theatres were built as shrines to their greatness, etc.) Carson sounds more like my Pop’s surgeon, by all accounts.

    • #34
  5. LilyBart Inactive
    LilyBart
    @LilyBart

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:Claire, do you think it might be sort of wrong to be comparing Stalin and Carson? I find it disturbing and wish you would address the concern.

    I have to agree.  I find this post concerning – a bit of a ‘smear by association’.

    • #35
  6. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    So, no, you don’t think it might be sort of slander by association?

    You don’t make any claims about Carson’s megalomania, just juxtapose him and one of the most evil people in human history?

    I’m not a Carson fan; I think he’s a weirdo, but Stalin isn’t fair.

    I protest.

    • #36
  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:So, no, you don’t think it might be sort of slander by association?

    No, putting his name in the same post isn’t slander by association. I think everyone on Ricochet knows that Stalin wasn’t a cardiac surgeon — and that Ben Carson seems like a very nice man.

    You don’t make any claims about Carson’s megalomania, just juxtapose him and one of the most evil people in human history?

    I’m not a Carson fan; I think he’s a weirdo, but Stalin isn’t fair.

    I protest.

    • #37
  8. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: What about Ben Carson? I imagine that neurosurgeons and cardiac surgeons share similar temperaments, as a rule. Is a neurosurgeon’s temperament the right temperament for the President of the United States?

    So, after talking about how Stalin’s temperament indicates that he might be a good surgeon because of the arrogance, entitlement, disregard for human suffering, refusal to accept personal blame, etc, you ask the above question.

    Where do you say Ben Carson is a nice man in the OP? I must’ve missed that…

    • #38
  9. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:So, no, you don’t think it might be sort of slander by association?

    You don’t make any claims about Carson’s megalomania, just juxtapose him and one of the most evil people in human history?

    I’m not a Carson fan; I think he’s a weirdo, but Stalin isn’t fair.

    I protest.

    Insistently manufacturing a foul where clearly none exists?  This smacks of Progressive smears.  Or mayhap this thread isn’t a sufficiently safe space for you?

    Eric Hines

    • #39
  10. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Eric Hines: Insistently manufacturing a foul where clearly none exists?  This smacks of Progressive smears.  Or mayhap this thread isn’t a sufficiently safe space for you?

    Ooh, Eric, how clever.

    CB Toder

    • #40
  11. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I’ve made no demands or told Claire her comments scare me.

    If Claire can’t handle my questions, I’m sure she’ll let you know.

    • #41
  12. Vicryl Contessa Thatcher
    Vicryl Contessa
    @VicrylContessa

    Surgeons are kind of their species of physician. They can be temperamental, exacting, full of themselves, and crass, but they have to be in order to do what they do. Someone said in a comment something about how surgeons would do if their lives were on the line every time they stepped into the OR. It’s not their life that’s on the line, it’s someone else’s life. I know very few surgeons that take a flippant attitude about that. The cockiness and over confidence keeps people that operate (myself included) from becoming paralyzed with doubt and indecision that can cost a patient their life. It’s for that reason that a lot of surgeons I know won’t operate on someone they know. During one bypass I was assisting on, the surgeon said that his favorite nurse told him after he saw the patient in pre-op that the patient was her very best friend in the world. It tore him up. The case was a little touch and go, and he repeatedly said, “I can’t let Venita’s best friend die.” Surgeons are much more caring than people think, but they don’t broadcast it, and it’s only expressed at certain times. Caring too much during a procedure can cloud your judgement. There are douchey surgeons, for sure, but I don’t know that it’s as bad as people think. Or maybe I’ve been blessed to work with great surgeons.

    • #42
  13. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Eric Hines: Insistently manufacturing a foul where clearly none exists?  This smacks of Progressive smears.  Or mayhap this thread isn’t a sufficiently safe space for you?

    The fact that people have liked my questions and even commented in support means that it is less “clear” than you may think.

    Can you explain your hostile tone? Have I demanded, silenced, screamed, flagged?

    Your sanctimonious preening is a tad hyperbolic, methinks.

    • #43
  14. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad: Can you explain your hostile tone?

    Nothing hostile about it.  Just noting a similarity.  Your own hostility is suggested by the fact that OP has clearly answered your question and you’re still on about it, arguing the matter.

    Eric Hines

    • #44
  15. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Eric Hines: Nothing hostile about it.  Just noting a similarity.  Your own hostility is suggested by the fact that OP has clearly answered your question and you’re still on about it, arguing the matter.

    my disagreement over the OP’s comparison, politely phrased as questions asking Claire to respond = hostility

    you calling my questions “Progressive smears” = not hostility

    Check.

    • #45
  16. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Lucy Pevensie:But, honestly, the best of these surgeons are respectful of others and have the humility to recognize their limits. I’m a radiologist, and sometimes I know more than they do about what’s going on in the patient’s imaging. I’ve known a few really skilled surgeons who won’t listen to me, but most of those who won’t listen to others have a bit of the Emperor with no clothes about them.

    My favorite doctor, btw, is my radiologist not only because at age 75 he continues to teach at U-Florida med school but because he wants to teach each of his patients how to read an x-ray!

    As for this remark:

    Cardiovascular surgeons are the last of the “old boys school” for the most part. They are emotional, angry titans who split sternums and work on some really sick people. I have seen patients die from pride of the surgeon and the anesthesiologist and the rest of the team. … Pride is an element in the heart room. Ego reigns. Dominance, aggression, control, continuity. There is no compassion. Not for anyone…

    Fewer and fewer talented people are choosing to practice medicine and frankly, I don’t blame them after reading this diatribe.

    • #46
  17. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Manfred Arcane: Yeah, Clint Eastwood movie characters smoking those cheroots killed more people (my dad included). But a heart can be fixed. Emphysema, COPD, no.

    Yes — a heart can be fixed. But not always, and let me tell you: From what I’ve seen of it, open-heart surgery is hell. It is not worth even the pleasure of a lifetime of smoking, and as a former smoker who knows how much pleasure that really is, I can say that confidently now.

    My husband, a physician, had triple bypass almost two decades ago.  He made them release him the third day after his surgery. He hates hospitals. What the human body must endure . . .

    But beyond that – the great miracles of modern science – the art of medicine and the imperfect humans that practice it . . .

    What a curious, amazing, and at times – wonderful world.

    • #47
  18. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    As for surgeons and politicians sharing certain personality types –

    Certainly ‘confidence’ is an essential element.  And Vicryl Contessa says it best, above: “The cockiness and over confidence keeps people that operate (myself included) from becoming paralyzed with doubt and indecision that can cost a patient their life.”

    In a politician . . I think this could be a bit more problematic given the maze and vacillations of complicated international affairs.  Witness our current “fearless” over-confident leader and the mess we’re in now.

    • #48
  19. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Trink:As for surgeons and politicians sharing certain personality types –

    Certainly ‘confidence’ is an essential element. And Vicryl Contessa says it best, above: “The cockiness and over confidence keeps people that operate (myself included) from becoming paralyzed with doubt and indecision that can cost a patient their life.”

    In a politician . . I think this could be a bit more problematic given the maze and vacillations of complicated international affairs. Witness our current “fearless” over-confident leader and the mess we’re in now.

    Actually, Obama is a classic example of fear of failure which is precisely why we’re “leading from behind.”

    I have been dismissive of a surgeon running for president, but you may have given this strident Rubio/Fiorina/Trump fan a reason to pause and reflect.

    • #49
  20. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    EThompson:

    Trink:As for surgeons and politicians sharing certain personality types –

    Certainly ‘confidence’ is an essential element. And Vicryl Contessa says it best, above: “The cockiness and over confidence keeps people that operate (myself included) from becoming paralyzed with doubt and indecision that can cost a patient their life.”

    In a politician . . I think this could be a bit more problematic given the maze and vacillations of complicated international affairs. Witness our current “fearless” over-confident leader and the mess we’re in now.

    Actually, Obama is a classic example of fear of failure which is precisely why we’re “leading from behind.”

    I have been dismissive of a surgeon running for president, but you may have given this strident Rubio/Fiorina/Trump fan a reason to pause and reflect.

    Perhaps, but my sense is that his “leading from behind” is an example of his general desire to reduce the power, prestige and prosperity of America. (Not his fear of failure)   Remember his apology tour where he bowed and kowtowed around the world as he turned his fanny toward the cameras and us.

    • #50
  21. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Trink:

    EThompson:

    Trink:As for surgeons and politicians sharing certain personality types –

    Certainly ‘confidence’ is an essential element. And Vicryl Contessa says it best, above: “The cockiness and over confidence keeps people that operate (myself included) from becoming paralyzed with doubt and indecision that can cost a patient their life.”

    In a politician . . I think this could be a bit more problematic given the maze and vacillations of complicated international affairs. Witness our current “fearless” over-confident leader and the mess we’re in now.

    Actually, Obama is a classic example of fear of failure which is precisely why we’re “leading from behind.”

    I have been dismissive of a surgeon running for president, but you may have given this strident Rubio/Fiorina/Trump fan a reason to pause and reflect.

    Perhaps, but my sense is that his “leading from behind” is an example of his general desire to reduce the power, prestige and prosperity of America. Remember his apology tour where he bowed and kowtowed around the world as he turned his fanny toward the cameras and us.

    Absolutely agree with this.

    • #51
  22. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    EThompson:

    Trink:As for surgeons and politicians sharing certain personality types –

    Certainly ‘confidence’ is an essential element. And Vicryl Contessa says it best, above: “The cockiness and over confidence keeps people that operate (myself included) from becoming paralyzed with doubt and indecision that can cost a patient their life.”

    In a politician . . I think this could be a bit more problematic given the maze and vacillations of complicated international affairs. Witness our current “fearless” over-confident leader and the mess we’re in now.

    Actually, Obama is a classic example of fear of failure which is precisely why we’re “leading from behind.”

    I have been dismissive of a surgeon running for president, but you may have given this strident Rubio/Fiorina/Trump fan a reason to pause and reflect.

    He’s not my first choice, but I could vote for him (as opposed to voting against Hillary).

    • #52
  23. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    I have met Ben Carson, and he is not, in any way, a weirdo.

    • #53
  24. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    RushBabe49:I have met Ben Carson, and he is not, in any way, a weirdo.

    I’m glad you think so, but I remain politely unconvinced.

    • #54
  25. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    To be clear, I intend no censure in the term weirdo. I consider myself a bit of one, although for different reasons, and the aspects that make my beloved husband a weirdo are core reasons for my love and admiration.

    • #55
  26. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Don’t forget the ability to be decisive when it matters. And there’s a time scale, too: There aren’t too many split second life or death decisions in primary care. Surgeons, especially neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons have to be prepared to make them once they pick up the knife. The good ones know that they are inflicting major trauma, and don’t do it unless the risk/benefit calculations are favorable… to and for the particular patient.

    Here’s a story of surgical ego: In the (pre-AIDS) mid ’70s I worked as a tech in a research lab. A surgeon was taking a couple of years doing basic research in a nearby lab in the course of picking up a PhD to go with her M.D. She had done her residency in the UK under a legendary heart surgeon. She told us he preferred operating without gloves. He had a very low wound infection rate which he attributed to his meticulous scrub technique and “soft” hands which minimized tissue injury. He also kept one of his little fingernails shaped and sharpened to open up stenotic heart valves.

    • #56
  27. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:

    RushBabe49:I have met Ben Carson, and he is not, in any way, a weirdo.

    I’m glad you think so, but I remain politely unconvinced.

    I don’t watch television, so I don’t think Ben Carson is a weirdo.

    • #57
  28. Vicryl Contessa Thatcher
    Vicryl Contessa
    @VicrylContessa

    Ontheleftcoast:Don’t forget the ability to be decisive when it matters. And there’s a time scale, too: There aren’t too many split second life or death decisions in primary care. Surgeons, especially neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons have to be prepared to make them once they pick up the knife. The good ones know that they are inflicting major trauma, and don’t do it unless the risk/benefit calculations are favorable… to and for the particular patient.

    Here’s a story of surgical ego: In the (pre-AIDS) mid ’70s I worked as a tech in a research lab. A surgeon was taking a couple of years doing basic research in a nearby lab in the course of picking up a PhD to go with her M.D. She had done her residency in the UK under a legendary heart surgeon. She told us he preferred operating without gloves. He had a very low wound infection rate which he attributed to his meticulous scrub technique and “soft” hands which minimized tissue injury. He also kept one of his little fingernails shaped and sharpened to open up stenotic heart valves.

    Whaaaaaht? We double glove, and change our gloves multiple times throughout our open heart cases to cut down on infection.

    • #58
  29. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    My mom worked for a surgeon who had been a fighter pilot in WWII. He was very demanding and god-like. But when there was an accident, and the hospital called at 2 am, he was there. Many times the office had to clear his appointments for the day because he had been in surgery for 8, 10, 12 hours–all night. A good man.

    • #59
  30. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Lucy Pevensie: In more recent years, neurosurgery is attracting a different kind of person, I think. Neuroanatomy is extraordinarily difficult, and I think the current neurosurgery group tends to be dominated by the most intellectual of surgery-minded folk.

    Vicryl Contessa: Surgeons are much more caring than people think, but they don’t broadcast it, and it’s only expressed at certain times. Caring too much during a procedure can cloud your judgement. There are douchey surgeons, for sure, but I don’t know that it’s as bad as people think. Or maybe I’ve been blessed to work with great surgeons.

    I’ve had brain stem surgery, and I witnessed my surgeon break down and cry at a later time because he could not cure a child with a brain tumor with his skills. Yet he was able to manipulate a nerve unseen by the naked eye to cure a damaged nerve for me.  Excellent book: Working in a Very Small Place; The Making of a Neurosurgeon. It’s about Peter J. Jannetta, who perfected the techniques of Micro Vascular Decompression. My neurosurgeon greatly admired him and studied his techniques.

    Dr. Carson is not my first choice but I would vote for him if he became the front leader and not regret do so.

    • #60
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