Dr Thomas Abraham sat in his office staring at his hands. He’d managed to keep his fears concealed for a while now. He’d been a surgeon and one of the best. The list of his diplomas and citations surrounded him on the walls of the office and he looked around the wall remembering each event over his long career earning him these certificates of recognition. He’d advanced over the years as a respected member of the College of Surgeons and for five years after retirement age he was the ranking elected officer representing surgeon’s interests. He remembered with pride those years where doctors enduring exhausting studies at the advanced level had gathered around observing as he performed his operations commenting as he went through each methodical procedure and having them assist in turn.
He was in his late sixties, but the event of this day necessitated swift retirement. Demonstrating to aspiring neurosurgeons a delicate procedure he realized his hand was not steady enough to keep the instrument true enough and the patient’s life was in the balance if he proceeded. Quickly grasping the reality of what was happening to him he calmy told his understudy for the day to take over. This would be a part of the understudy test to see how her skills were developing he rationalized. Dr Janet Herbert had quickly and expertly taken over while Dr Abraham kept up his directive comments trying to make this a normal procedure. It had all happened so smoothly he thought he’d covered the situation well. That is until he glanced at the other doctors gathered around watching and saw their eyes fastened on his shaking hand. He realized they knew why he’d handed this delicate procedure over to Dr Janet.
She finished the operation professionally with skills she’d learned over those two years with Dr Abraham as her mentor and everyone nodded in acknowledgement at the success of the operation. Dr Abraham dismissed the class and cleaned up silently then headed for his office where he now sat staring at the wall. He’d read the looks in the eyes of his students as they glanced at each other while he handed the instrument over to Dr Janet. His career was over.
He reviewed the signs he’d memorized as an intern doctor in his late twenties. Tremors, trembling of hands arms legs jaw and face. Stiffness of the arms legs and trunk. Slowness of movement and poor balance and coordination. Speech difficulty. Parkinson’s?
Well, he certainly didn’t have all of those symptoms but some of them had been slowly revealing themselves, so he’d need to undergo tests. But while he waited the results of tests he obviously couldn’t continue in his role as demonstrating teaching surgeon. Teaching theory at a lower level was still something he could do but what a blow to his ego to do that when he was a revered figure known for his skill in surgery.
He continued to muse over his situation. What should he do now? Well, his advice to a patient would be to get a complete neurological examination. He shrank at the thought of having one of his peers observe any changes in gait, check his handwriting and facial expression and any difficulty in getting up from a chair or walking. That was not a real problem now but obviously his unsteady hands ruled him out as a surgeon.
There was a knock at the door, and he got up and opened it. Dr Janet Herbert stood there smiling. “Just a quick call to find out if we are still on for this evening? Your wife Geeta invited my husband and I over for a pool side supper remember.”
“Yes Janet, we are expecting you both tonight.” He forced a smile.
She turned to go, and Dr Abraham suddenly wanted her help as he weighed up what to do with his life. “Janet do you have some time I need to take your advice.”
She turned and entered the office smiling taking a seat opposite.
He blurted it out. “Janet, I think I’m in the early stages of Parkinson’s and wonder if you’d arrange the tests privately. I’d like to know quickly as decisions have to be made about my usefulness here.”
“I agree with your diagnosis and was going to talk with you privately this evening about it. I’m glad you handed that last procedure over to me this afternoon. That was the riskiest part and needed a steady hand.”
“So, you knew Janet. You really should have talked with my before the operation if you suspected I could be a risk to the patient.”
“Today’s the first time I noticed you having trouble.”
“Do you think the doctors in theatre know?”
“No one has said anything, but I believe they do.”
“Thanks, Janet, for your support I’d appreciate you arranging a confidential assessment for me with someone outside our environment here. In the meantime, I’ll write a letter of resignation from the work I’m doing here stating health reasons effective immediately. There are other’s who are qualified to take over my role so the change over will not cause any disruption. I look forward to seeing you and Bill at our place tonight.”
Janet came around the table and gave him a hug then left the office closing the door behind her. She felt sad to see her mentor come to grips with his affliction and end a stellular career this way. He would still be a valuable contributor to the medical profession in theory presentations for some time to come if he chose but surgery in future would not be possible.
At 7pm Janet and Bill sat with Geeta watching Herbert teenagers enjoy the Abraham’s pool. Geeta looked at her watch.
“Looks like Tom has one of his unexpected meetings. He usually isn’t this late so perhaps I should get our help Mary to bring out the food and we can eat around the pool.”
Bill shook his head. “We can wait a bit longer Geeta.”
At that precise moment as he spoke Thomas Abraham burst through the sliding doors to the pool area greeting everyone cheerfully. He headed for the group and Janet studied his face professionally to judge his present state of mind. She’d said nothing to her husband or Geeta about the afternoon event and her interview with her mentor before leaving surgery for the day. She was surprised that Thomas was so cheerful considering his mood when she’d left his office.
Thomas smiled and turned to his wife. “Geeta I decided to retire and put in my letter of resignation this afternoon. I’ve been in session with the urgent committee called to consider my letter. I suppose Janet may have given you a forewarning?”
Geeta turned to her young friend accusingly. “Why didn’t you warn me to expect this Janet?”
Dr Thomas Abraham laughed. “Dr Janet knows how to respect patient and doctor privacy.”
Janet smiled while her mentor continued.
“I was expecting the committee would just accept my letter but while they understood the need for me to discontinue surgery, they requested me to continue teaching on the theory side and to update our teaching materials in the light of constantly changing knowledge in neurosurgery that had not found its way into teaching materials yet. So, I said yes to that for the present Geeta.”
“Isn’t this a bit sudden Tom? Your mind is active, and you are at the top of your game as a surgeon.”
“Geeta I’ve been watching some of the symptoms developing over a few weeks now and this afternoon had to hand over the most vital part of an operation to Janet while demonstrating to young doctors the techniques of neurosurgery. My hand was too unsteady to proceed and a person’s life was at stake. Janet will be supervising the tests to confirm my self-diagnosis. I’m sure I’m in the early stages of Parkinsons.”
Geeta nodded looking at her husband’s hand tremor. “It was a right decision Tom, and the good news is I’ll get to see a bit more of you now.” She patted her husband’s hand gave him a hug then shouted to Mary to bring the food out for them to enjoy.
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