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By Mike McGough

March, 2019

Her health had been failing and her prospects for survival did not look good. Doctors from around the country all offered the same grim prognosis. Even though her husband had become a captain of American industry, he stood beside her all but helpless. There was nothing his money or influence could affect. 

Just as the family was about to resign themselves to a sealed fate, word reached them of a new surgical procedure. The family received the news as a ray of hope. Because of his wealth and influence he was able to have the two doctors summoned to the hospital where his wife was a patient. His sons and daughters were relieved that potential life-saving help was on the way. But he, a pragmatic and no-nonsense man, knew that he faced a serious challenge. How would he choose the surgeon who would afford his wife the best potential outcome? Because the surgeon selected would have to commit to staying with his wife for at least the first week, having both of them engaged with one patient was not an option. 

The backgrounds of the surgeons provided no basis upon which to make a decision. Both surgeons had educational backgrounds and levels of experience that were remarkable. Their credentials were impressive and impeccable. References were so similar, that they appeared to be offered for the same person. Their patient survival rates were similar. Endorsements by patients, hospitals, and licensing boards for each of the surgeons provided no indications of superiority. Regarding the complicated and experimental surgical procedure in question, both doctors had performed the procedure the same number of times with similar results. Patients upon whom the procedure was performed stood about a fifty-fifty chance, even with the surgical advancements that came in the aftermath of World War II. The search for some indication upon which to make this decision seemed hopeless.

The family was provided all of the information available on both surgeons. The four adult children debated, but they arrived at no conclusion. As the family anxiously awaited the arrival of the surgeons, they stood by the bedside of the one who they loved and feared they would soon lose. Through the open door of the hospital room they watched the surgeons approach. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, the two men even looked alike. They were about the same height, the same build, and the same age. Was there noting that would separate these two very skilled physicians? 

But then in an instant, as a result of a most simple and routine act, the industrial giant who wanted nothing more than to have his wife’s life spared, found the indicator he was looking so desperately to find. As he and his children had entered the room, he dropped a small piece of tissue on the floor just outside of his wife’s room. He purposefully dropped it off to the side. As the surgeons were about to enter the room, one of them stooped to pick up the small piece of tissue laying on the floor. Interestingly, he was the surgeon who was the farthest away from the tissue.

Without hesitation the patient’s husband stepped forward, greeted the surgeon who had not yet had time to dispose of the tissue, and said, “You will operate on my wife.” He quickly thanked the other surgeon for his time, and told him that he would be compensated for his time and that all of his expenses would be covered. Relieved that a decision had been made, the other members of the family did not question the selection. They were happy that it had been made and that the surgery could take place. In short order arrangements were made, and the procedure was successfully performed. The surgeon did remain to the end of the first week, at which time he offered a welcome prognosis for a full recovery.

Sometime later one of his son’s asked the industrial giant how he had made the decision. “It was simple,” he answered. “When the surgeons were about to enter the room, one of them bent down to pick up a small piece of tissue I had purposefully dropped on the floor. Immediately, I knew into whose hands I wanted to place your mother’s life.” 

“One of those men,” he continued, “had enough pride in what he did and where he did it to care about an insignificant detail. One of them was not above tending to something far below his level of expertise and experience. I have found those characteristics to be indispensable in business and industry, and I assumed they may be important in surgery as well!”

Regardless of what you do in life, do it with pride, and never grow too big to take care of the details!!!

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