Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Morphology Malarkey

Recently while visiting one of the teaching  hospitals here in Pittsburgh, I overheard a bright young physician claiming, "The MORPHOLOGY  of this EKG tracing is similar to the one before all the trouble started." It's a good thing Dr. Oddo, an international, Chicago neurosurgeon I used to scrub with did not overhear that young doctor muttering about morphology. I made the mistake of using that M-word term in the midst of a  surgery with Dr. Oddo and received a tongue lashing that made a life long impression. That young resident stirred up a distant memory from my ancient nervous system.

A little background. Before Dr. Oddo received his MD, he had acquired a PHD in one of the branches of a biologic science. I think it was zoology, but don't quote me on that. He was snobby, overly particular and a classic anal retentive personality. For some reason, I simply loved working with him and we were actually on friendly terms outside his OR.

When he launched into one of his blowhard lectures about trivial concerns, I always tried to act overly attentive. He could lecture for hours describing the difference between braided and single strand stainless neurosurgical wire. He would then quiz the residents about every minutia regarding the wire. On one occasion,  he tried to trick me up about which form of wire was easiest to handle and I was ready for him. "I prefer the way the overhead lights reflect off the braided wire. It's much easier to see. In order to handle something you have to see it first."  Dr. Oddo emitted one of his Haruumphs when he really didn't know what to say. His bizarre questions were usually met with stone silence. I usually had a stockpile of generic "answers" waiting for him in the back of my mind.

Neurosurgeons like to use tiny little sponges that we used to call "pattys." One day I was preoccupied with counting a new batch of patty sponges with the circulator when Dr. Oddo called out for a dura hook which is the instrument shown in the illustration on the right. I had my eye on the sponge count in progress and out of my less acute peripheral vision, mistakenly handed Dr. Oddo a nerve root retractor. (The instrument on the left.)
Dr. Oddo was not happy with my wrongful instrument passage. "That's a nerve root retractor, Fool, I asked for a dura hook. I think you need a new pair of eyeglasses or a new brain." I was attempting to come up with a good excuse and replied, "Dr. Oddo the morphology of the instruments is very similar."

That response generated WWIII from Dr. Oddo. "In your case, MORPHOLOGY is a word uttered by a dumb person trying to sound smart. Morphology is a term restricted to biologic reference. It has nothing to do with surgical instruments."  I apologized for my ignorant oversight and it was back to business as usual. One thing that I really liked about Dr. Oddo was that after he let off steam with his harsh and sometimes nasty comments you were once again his favorite scrub nurse.

It sure is a good thing that Dr. Oddo was not present to hear the bright, young physician  at that contemporary Pittsburgh hospital refer to EKG morphology. I smiled to myself and knew that 40 years ago the fur would have been flying had Dr. Oddo caught wind of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment