Sunday, October 9, 2011

Haunted Houses

It’s that time of the year again; the time for witches and ghosts and other creepy things that come out top frighten us at night. In recent years, Haunted Houses have become big attractions. Scarier and scarier effects, live actors and actresses made up in ghastly displays, multiple themes are all created to make us scream, cringe and soil our underwear.

I have to admit that I’ve only been to a few haunted houses over the years and these have been at commercial theme parks. The Haunted House at Disney World is a tame, whimsical ride that barely calls for a peep of fear; the one at Universal Studios is a bit more frightening, but still pretty innocuous. One thing that almost all commercial haunted houses share is the certainty that, no matter what may seem to be happening, the visitor will, physically at least, be left unharmed.

But, suppose this wasn’t the case? Suppose the evil characters were allowed to touch their hapless prey. I believe there is one haunted house in New York that requires its patrons to sign a release which specifically allows physical contact. Certainly, such contact, even if relatively benign, considerably heighten the scare factor. But, suppose it is taken a step beyond mere incidental touching. Suppose, the character was allowed to accost his “guest” and cart him or her away. Allow Vampires to grab the unsuspecting soul about the neck and pretend to drink his blood; faux mass murderers could throw their victims onto a table while a buzz saw hovering overhead descends ever so close to their uncontrollably quivering torso. Scenarios like these and others would be overnight smashes. People looking for the extreme fright would line up days in advance for such an opportunity.

What about taking it all a step farther? Introduce the real possibility of physical harm. Not for customer; perhaps one out of every thousand or so visitors would actually be attacked and have to to fight off Leatherface’s chainsaw or battle ghoulish Zombies or face the consequences. Let’s have a random client be locked in a room overrun with live rats and scorpions and snakes and then have the room gradually shrink in size until our poor visitor is buried beneath a mountain of deadly vermin and reduced to shaking bowl of jello. That would be a real scare and well worth the price of admission. I’m sure there would be endless self described macho men who would go through the house over and over, just to have the opportunity to show their stuff.

What about going even beyond? Instead of bored, out of work actors pretending to be monsters, psychopaths and villains, employ the real thing. When I was in medical school I spent at day at the state psychiatric hospital and I can attest that the patients there were beyond bizarre and I wasn’t even allowed to venture near the high security ward for the criminally insane. Let’s give those inmates a meaningful job, doing what they do best. Instead of a fake ax murderer chained to a wall brandishing a rubber ax, bring in the real thing and, just for screams, let him loose every thirty minutes or so. The pyromaniac behind bars? Give him or her some real fire to play with. Hannibal the Cannibal? Keep him locked away, but every so often give him a knife and fork, open the bars to his cell and let him provide the smug visitor with a truly worthwhile and cleansing scare.

You, dear reader, may think all this far too extreme, but in this day and age, where we read about murders and arson and violent assault on a regular basis, where such evil is all around us, on television, our computers, in our schools and workplaces, it is necessary to push the envelope if one wants to be a success in the fright business. And if someone ends up injured or worse, there are always a gaggle of lawyers ready and waiting to step in.

Now that’s really scary.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Looking Cool

When I was in medical school, during my surgical clerkship, I was introduced to a large number of surgeons from a variety of different specialties. I always found the actual surgery to be fascinating, which is one reason I decided to specialize in this area. But, I also was fascinated by the surgeons. They all seemed so confident and comfortable in the operating room, like they were born to be there. In those early years, I also noticed that there were certain things that the surgeons did that looked “cool”. I distinctly remember being impressed by one surgeon’s ability to orient a needle exactly how he wanted it by manipulating it with only the needle holder. To my neophyte eyes this was the ultimate cool; recently I started thinking, again, about what it takes to look “cool” in the OR.

The cool OR fa├žade begins with appearance; properly styled, slightly form fitting scrubs, preferably monogrammed or inscribed with the individual’s logo, are a must. Designer scrubs are most cool for women. Scrubs that are too tight or too loose are a no-no. Scrub bottoms that are pulled too high or hang too low are definitely uncool. Even slightly different colored tops and bottoms disqualify the wearer from membership in the cool surgeon fraternity. Men should sport surgical caps jauntily worn slightly to the side. Bouffant style head covering is not acceptable for male surgeons, which leaves me among the uncool. Women may wear the bouffant style, but custom designed ones are required. There are no requisite shoes to be amongst the cool, although clogs tend towards being cool.

The real test of coolness comes during the operation. The aforementioned ability to manipulate a needle without holding it is still way cool. Holding multiple instruments on one hand is also considered essential cool. This skill involves putting your ring finger through ringed handle of scissors and/or clamps and flipping them back out of the way while operating with a different instrument. One instrument on the ring ringer qualifies for mild coolness, two brings the surgeon to the intermediate level, three raises him or her to expert and four means membership in the exclusive “superstar” club. Of course, any fumbling at any time, no matter how many instruments are involved, demotes the surgeon to complete uncool status. Similarly, attempting to manipulate the needle sans hands, being unsuccessful and then having to use fingers to adjust it also is very uncool. As a resident, one particular attending repeatedly tried to teach me to hold instruments on my ring finger instead of putting them down, which was my preference. He wasn’t really trying to teach me to be cool, he ws trying to teach me to avoid wasted motion. I never really mastered this skill; I still put the instruments down when I’m not using them and exchange them as necessary. I guess I’m still making unnecessary wasted movements. I don’t think my patients have suffered because of this deficiency.

Music played in the OR also can be a major contributor to achieving the proper state of coolness. Heavy Metal Rock and Roll played at over 100 decibels is supposed to be cool, while country western is not far behind. Listening to Swiss yodeling, classical music (my preference) or no music is not cool and also relegates me to the uncool category.

Being cool in the OR has the potential for all sorts of benefits. Having one’s choice of surgical techs and nurses is one perk. Being forgiven rude or ill tempered behavior also seems to be the province of the “cool” surgeon. Charming the OR scheduler to get a favorable start time for surgery also comes much easier to the coolest surgeons.

After thinking about all this coolness I realize that nothing I do fits into the aforementioned cool category. But, there are some things that surgeons do that are really, really, really cool. Treating the surgical staff with the greatest respect, being attentive to the worries and needs of the patient before, during and after surgery and making their families fully aware of what has or may transpire throughout the course of surgery; all these are the true epitome of coolness.

Throwing instruments, belittling and berating staff, ignoring patients and their family’s questions and concerns are definitely uncool. The coolest surgeons put patient first, do what’s right whether it’s the middle of the day or 2:00 am. Doing the right operation, at the right time and staying on top of any bumps in the surgical journey is what’s truly cool. All the rest is empty window dressing.


However, being able to flip the needle around with just the needle holder still looks pretty cool.