Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hat Trouble

Years ago, I was invited to observe a craniotomy. I was writing a patient education booklet about brain aneurysms at the time, and one of the doctors I had worked with extended the invitation to the medical illustrator, who was busy and passed it on to me. I was curious to see it, but I had never observed any surgeries before, and thought a craniotomy would not be a good place for a former English major to start. I had visions of fainting as the surgeon cut and peeled the skin back to reach the patient’s skull, knocking over trays of instruments with such a clatter that the surgeon’s hand would slip, with gruesome consequences.

Although I find medicine fascinating, and I’ve been known to page through pictures of diabetic foot ulcers over lunch, I am not now nor will probably ever be a clinician. I know that hands-on experience is completely different from book knowledge and PubMed articles. Since I write about medicine, though, when my husband took a business trip to Boston he brought back a Harvard Medical School baseball cap from the Coop in Harvard Square.

I’m a hat person who constantly loses hats, and I wear that hat because often I can’t find any other hats to wear as I rush out the door. Besides, the quality is quite good: cloth with a metal buckle to adjust it, rather than a cheap plastic fastener. But I knew the hat might have some unwanted consequences. I have been asked by other Moms at various playgrounds whether I went to “HMS” (to which I replied “what?” the first time someone asked). One Mom turned away in a huff when I said no.

My greatest concern about the hat is that some day I might be wearing it at a playground when a child falls and is critically injured. As the parents swarmed around to help, a Mom or Dad might turn to me and say, “You! Harvard doctor! Save this child!” I know first aid and CPR, but beyond that (ideally before I needed these skills) I would call in the professionals. Perhaps if a child is injured and a parent calls out for help, the first thing I should do is staunch the wound with my hat as I elevate it above heart level, so no one can see what it says and expect miracles.

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