TalkCleft-palate-operation, patient died, but surgeon finished job

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Cleft-palate-operation, patient died, but surgeon finished job

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Aug 17, 2015, 7:28pm

I read this nonfiction account in the 1990s. I've been told that it may be in a "Reader's Digest" collection or anthology. It was a single chapter, not an entire book.

It was written by a plastic surgeon about a colleague who specialized in craniofacial surgery, repairing cleft lips and palates. They had gone to Mexico to work in a clinic, and an impoverished woman brought her teenaged daughter in for surgery. Tragically, she died from an allergic reaction to the anesthetic (or something like that). But the surgeon completed the repair of the disfigurement, and returned the girl to her mother—never to wake up, but with the disfigurement gone.

The doctor who told the story recalled his feelings towards his colleague, whom he initially judged as being cold and mechanical, but was impressed by his act of compassion, since he did a meticulous job of repairing the unfortunate girl's disfigurement.

Edited: Aug 18, 2015, 1:45pm

Oh, I think I read this! The ending I remember had the doctor and the colleague giving a presentation with slides, showing sequences of medical before, during, and afters with detailed explanations to the clinical background of each slide. A slide of the deceased patient came up and the doctor couldn't vocalize the clinical background, only referred to the patient softly and by name. And the colleague operating the slide machine ripped the rest of the slide sequence out of the machine so that the doctor would not have to dwell on the details of the operation.

ETA: The Richard Selzer essay, Imelda (Letters to a Young Doctor). I'm not seeing the full text available online, but various summaries mention matching details on the cleft lip/palate, sudden death before surgery, post-death repair, general location (Honduras), and slides.

Aug 18, 2015, 2:19pm

It's definitely the Richard Selzer story. It is collected in"Mortal Lessons: Letters to a Young Doctor", a wonderful read.

Aug 18, 2015, 3:49pm

Thank you so much!

Oct 2, 2016, 1:01am

I thought it sounded like the plot of an episode of the TV show Chicago Hope.

Oct 3, 2016, 3:09pm

TV shows are notorious for ripping off stories from books.

Oct 3, 2016, 6:47pm

So true, accordingto

Dec 19, 2018, 2:34pm

Just want to say thanks!