Saturday 14 July 2012


When people ask me to describe what a trauma surgeon does, I generally tell them that I fix holes. Holes in the spleen, colon, stomach, neck, liver, etc. That's a drastic over-simplification, but it's also only half of what I do. The other half is education.

I can generally put my patients into one of five categories: innocent, uninformed, ignorant, stupid, or terminally idiotic. If the uninformed, ignorant, or stupid ones survive and leave my hospital having learned nothing, either I haven't done my job properly or they don't have the brain power to learn anything. Fortunately the subject of this post fits into both "innocent" and "uninformed". At least he used to.

The subject isn't even a patient of mine - he's a teenaged reader of this blog. I get fan mail every so often (a huge thanks to all those who send it, by the way), but this one is the most powerful yet. I received this particular email from him a few days ago, and it perfectly illustrates the potential power of words. In case you're wondering, I have his approval to publish it.  I'm still keeping it anonymous for his protection:

I recently stumbled onto your blog, I think from FML or something, and I wanted to thank you. I never really wore seat belts before I read your blog. Incredibly stupid, yes? I just never thought about it. My parents always tell me to, but they don't enforce it and they don't wear a seat belt unless they're driving, and only sometimes at that. I highly respect you as a person and as a surgeon, and I felt the need to thank you for probably saving my life in the future. I put on a seat belt without even thinking about it, after a week or so of consciously putting it on. 

Again, thank you.

Sure I can save your life by putting your body back together, but sometimes saving lives is a passive thing made possible by prevention. So to this reader (and whomever else may have learned something):

You're very welcome.


  1. As someone whose life has been saved by a seatbelt, this post really got to me. Well done, Doc. If your blog can save just one young life through education, then you're time spent writing it is well worth it.
    I enjoy your blog for a variety of reasons, but this is the first time I've been compelled to comment. Thank you for what you do.

  2. Doc this really got me. The only time my mother would enforce us to wear seatbelt is when we were in the passenger seat. I was always the younger brother who would yell during road trips "MOM SISTER X ISN'T WEARING HER SEATBELT." morale of story. Mom usually doesn't care and sister gets away with it. Darn.

  3. This reminds me of something that happened to me about six years back.

    I always wear my seat belt, no exceptions. In fact, if someone else gets in my car, the car doesn't move until everyone has their seat belts on. At the end of 2006, I was in a car accident. I lost control in the rain, and rolled my car. I was told that if not for my seat belt, I would have been much less likely to walk away from the accident as I did.

    Now, naturally, I was without a car for a while, and had to get rides to and from work where I could. One woman I worked with offered to give me a ride home one day, which I happily accepted. When we got into her car, the first thing I did was put on my seat belt. To my surprise, she gave me a weird look as I did. When I asked her what was wrong, she replied, "You actually wear your seat belt?"

    I was dumbfounded. The only thing I could think to say was, "You don't?" To which she responded that she had never worn her seat belt. I couldn't believe it. I tried to explain to her that if not for seat belts, chances are I wouldn't have been there at all anymore, but she was hearing none of it. And with the way she drove, I was even more glad I was wearing mine.

    Needless to say, I never accepted a ride with her again. One car accident in a two month period is enough.

  4. I find it incredible when people don't wear their seatbelts. Like the guy from your fanmail said, its a matter of habit. I don't know how you can not have the habit of automatically putting on your seatbelt! I mean, here in the UK when your learning to drive & taking your test the first thing your instructor will tell you before you can even turn on the ignition is: PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON. I know some people are taught how to drive by their parents who may or may not enforce the seatbelt rule, but many people have a good few weeks of lessons before their tests, so surely you should have the habit of putting your seatbelt on as soon as you can drive at the very least. But that's just my opinion, as I ALWAYS wear my seatbelt and always have done, so well done Doc for enlightening others about the safety of seatbelts!

  5. I have to say that "I fix holes" is the funniest description ever for a trauma surgeon, and it honestly dumbfounds me how many people ignore basic safety protocols. I know plenty of people who rarely wear seatbelts, and I once got a ride with a coworker who stopped for gas and refueled with her car running, and her baby inside it with me. I really don't understand why people are so unwilling to take a few minutes to ensure their and other's safety.


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