On Wednesday I walked in theatres around 8 am in a dark blue suit. My patient who was about to go to (anaesthetic) sleep was surprised, “are you not wearing your scrubs?”, she was worried that I might not do her brain tumour operation myself! No, I don’t normally wear a suit in theatre! But I was coming from an interview… No, I am not leaving Queen Square!… I was interviewed for the position of Clinical Lead, a Neurosurgery Director to join efforts with a senior colleague. A lot of responsibility to run the biggest (and more prestigious) Neurosurgery Department in the country and the most famous in the whole world! At 7:30 am I gave a 10-minute presentation and then answered questions to the interview panel for twenty minutes. How do you convince someone that you are the best person for the dream job? Bombard them with numbers and data? dazzle them with grand plans and inside knowledge? stand straight, make eye contact and smile a lot? I prefer a different approach…I prefer to love and to feel my ideas, to own my words, to let go of what others might think of me…I know it sounds too abstract, but you either feel what I am talking about or you are not…
After the interview I put on my scrubs and went to the operating theatre. There was some stiff competition for the job, but I focused on my patient’s brain tumour who was now my next difficult opponent… for these hours, the only thing that mattered to me in the whole world was to bring my patient back from the other side…these hours the time disappears, I don’t know if what was elapsed was minutes or hours, I don’t feel thirsty or hungry or tired, no matter for how many hours I ‘ve been standing there, my mind is empty from all thoughts but one, how to bring my patient back alive and intact…My next case was an awake surgery, I had to remove a tumour from a part of the brain that has important functions in moving the mouth and affecting articulation, the safest way is to map the brain and its dangerous areas by temporarily paralysing parts of the brain while the patient is fully awake, talking and moving. You have to select the right patient for this operation. The brain itself has no nerve endings and feels no pain! On my dark operating theatre with dim lights that looks to me like a real-life dramatic painting, I still find looking at a patient, who’s talking normally with a brain exposed, as one of the most extraordinary and magical things I see in my life.
In cases like these the operating theatre is crowded with speech and language experts to test the patient, neurpphysiologists with EEG equipment, numerous assistants and observers and my current entourage of medical students who follow me wherever I go (luckily in the hospital only :-) I sometimes mistake their names but still respond despite being called the wrong name! one of them said “its alright Mr Samandouras, just call me the name you find more easy!” Bless! Then I had to make extra effort not to mistake his name again! When I finished and walked out my operating theatre, I saw happy faces, colleagues were congratulating me and shaking my hand, people were genuinely happy, you can always tell a fake from a true smile, yes (!) I did get the job!!!
The next morning, somewhere on A40, I slowed down as I was approaching a speed camera. Then I resumed my “normal” speed on a three lane road. I did notice a biker, quarter of a mile behind me, who was riding slightly more carefully than most bikers, but didn’t look like a policeman so I didn’t think much of it and carried on. Well…the “careful” biker started speeding up and a flashing light suddenly appeared on his bike…when he was closer I saw the “Met Police” sign and he signalled me with his hand to pull over… Grrr, “here we go again”, I thought. But while he was riding next to my window for 100 yards or so, we eyeballed each other, and then he must have changed his mind and waved at me to just slow down and took the next exit and dissapeared in the traffic. Phewww, that was close! I was wearing my seatbelt, a crisp shirt, tie, tidy hair (by the way I changed my hair style, now fade-cut and glued at the back… okay, okay I will update my photo!), was that it? or he was in a hurry? don’t know…At least I wearing my seatbelt. Two weeks ago I was stopped by a (quite pretty) policewoman who talked my ear off for not wearing a seatbelt in the city. After fifteen minutes (!) of lecturing stationary in my car, I was so bored that I thinking seriously to go for the three points instead. She finally made me take an online course, where – would you believe it? – at the end I had to answer 40 multiple choice questions! The fact is that, despite being pulled over by the police at least once a month, getting caught on speed cameras, taking speed awareness and seatbelt (and ony other imaginable) courses, my driving license has still zero points, which is hilarious :-) But that’s it folks, I won’t mentioned again my driving adventures (except from when I am banned for driving…)
Last Wednesday night (after a busy day in operating theatres) while getting ready to have a night bath my phone rang. It was my hospital’s switchboard. Channel 4 news wanted an interview for next day’s evening news. A new electronic 3D atlas of the brain at a cellular level would be released worldwide the next day and wanted a brief interview on its impact on brain surgery…So I had to speak on National TV to several million people on a project I new very little (=nothing) about. But I am always camera ready :-) so I accepted! without thinking twice. I had an hour to prepare, so I downloaded the article and read it while soaking in the water (holding my hands outside the water!) and listening to (oriental-trance mix) music. The concept of the paper was easy, I got it in a minute (which was handy as, despite my efforts, the paper was already wet from the bath water). Then I went to the website to view samples and videos from the atlas. But they wanted registration and authorization that can take days before you can log in! Great… I thought, but I registered anyway and put in capital letters that it is “for UK national TV”. I got a reply (and access) in 10 mins! God bless all the computer nerds who stand by their computers! I downloaded videos, played with software, yes! I now knew excactly what this was all about.
Next day I met with the crew and the media and communication lead for the hospital, outside theatres. Bright lights, cameras, no make up artist! They wanted me out of my sleek suit and in my blue scrubs. Apparently viewers looove surgeons in scrubs (I had to play the part) …no problemo…scubs are in my cool book too! Tom Clarke, Science Editor of channel 4, gave me the heads up on what’s coming and started a little Q&A in front of millions… I delivered some great lines!!!… When Tom asked how thin are the slices of the new Atlas, I put my thumb and index finger together and said “look! my fingers, they are nearly touching! This is one millimeter. Imagine a slice 50 times thinner than that!” Tom seem very impressed (these guys are really pros in getting emotions across whithout talking) and asked me surprised “How much information is there in this small space?” “The number of nerve cells in this space, are more than the number of stars in the sky at night”, replied.
With no preparation and without knowing the questions beforehand you have to think on your feet and improvise in front of millions! It turns out (=they told me) that I got a knack! :-) Do you want the trick?…Here’s the trick: forget the camera, forget that you are talking to many million of people. Just imagine that you talking to one person only, someone you really like and trust…We finished shooting and they were all soooo pleased! Later the same evening, while on call taking emergency referrals and after a whole day’s outpatient clinic (what a day!) I sat down to watch the clip on my iMac. I was waiting for everything (or most of what) we talked about to be on TV. It turns out that TV time is different that real time! :-( They had a short segment and missed some of the best parts and my punch lines including my “starry night” line!!! :-( They asked me ten questions and showed one! Hey ho… still the short segment was cool, and Tom will be back for more. So don’t despair my lovely funs, my TV career is just starting!! :-) Later that night I had tons of texts and emails from friends who were super excited to see me out of the blue on national TV, some wathced it twice, on channel 4 and then an hour later on 4+1 and recordered it! thank you guys!
For the last 30 days I am doing a self-experiment (I love self-experiments!) Here it is: No news, no newspapers, no magazines, no TV, no mindless internet browsing (emails and bookings only) for a whole month straight! Some people are shocked!… Can you live your life without news?! No TV?! Why?!…Well…its not that complex. I want to shed (some more!) a false world imposed upon us, some unimportant details blown out of proportion and presented to ourselves as essential facts, what forms “socialization”, which is universally agreed conventions on what matters and how we should live our lives. Fact is, we already know what is important, we know how to live our lives, we know how to get whatever is we are looking for, every man is born with a marvellous internal compass.
Two and half thousand years ago, my great-great-…great-grandfather, Plato, the greatest philosopher to ever walk the face of the earth, theorised that we are all born with the knowledge we need and later in our lives we don’t learn anything new but we only rediscover this knowledge. What an astonishing concept! Would you do something for me? Remember the last time you were in a dilemma, a very difficult situation, especially when the stakes were high…Did you or did not know instantly what you had to do? and I literally mean “instantly“! But what did you do instead? You tried to rationalise, filter it through socialization, “what other people will say”, “is it the right thing to do, seems too bold”, “nobody would do that”. And you did something more convenient, because socialization filters and distorts the internal knowledge, our true voice is being berried in an external amorphous noise…
Have you ever wondered why we go to school, listen to stories, watch movies? why we do research and look down microscopes, send rockets to the stars and study the core of the earth? why we ask friends for opinions, why we are drawn to emotions, why we want to learn pretty much everything from what’s on cheap newspapers to timeless classics? There is a reason, the only reason… in reality we don’t really care about what’s happening in the outside world, we only want to learn what’s happening inside us, we want to understand ourselves, every one of us… famous and totally unknown, ridiculously rich and starving to death, illiterates and scholars, saints and sinners, we all want to understand ourselves…This world does not exist beyond our mind and our heart, this world cannot be more beautiful (or ugly) than our mind is… it cannot be more brave (or timid) than our heart is… All knowledge is self-knowledge… all anger is anger to ourselves… all forgiveness is self-forgiveness…all craving for external power is a cry to battle ourselves, the most difficult battle of all…If we master ourselves the whole world will surrender…
…In the meantime the summer has landed full of promises…This week am off to feel the hot sun of Athens during a conference; then invited lectures in London; short trip to Tate Liverpool to see the seductive colours of Marc Chagall’s dreamlike paintings (I adore Chagall since I was medical student. Yes, I am even going to Liverpool (!) :-) to indulge his colours. Then my World Course, the biggest in the world (!), with one hundred and twenty people coming from the four corners of the earth (=hundred and twenty new friends!); and then off to… somewhere with silver white sands… infinite tranquil ocean…cerulean waters wrapped in endless sky…but you know it, you’ll never read about it in this blog!