|Ruins of the basilica of St. Achillios, Lake Prespa, Greece. Photo by the author.|
The supine and inert feminine form has been reduced to a few square centimeters of uncovered skin between the jaw and the sternum. Strategically placed green surgical drapes shroud the rest of the body. A series of electronic tracings on various monitors, each accompanied by its own distinctive warning note, remind us that the patient is alive, albeit deep in the arms of the drug-induced sleep of a modern anesthetic cocktail.
The procedure begins. Millimeter by millimeter, the tissues of the white throat part at the careful touch of the scalpel. Every so often, a smell of burning flesh reaches our nostrils after each application of diathermy: an “offering” on the surgical altar has its own incense and emits its own ceremonial smoke. The patient’s pulse rate has settled long ago, but my own still races with the anxious, unspoken question: will the surgeon manage to remove the evil mass invading the trachea and restore free breathing and a clear voice to this gravely sick woman?
The slim fibers of the laryngeal nerves appear intact and untouched by the growth. The tumor is removed, its surroundings look clear. The windpipe is closed around the tracheostomy tube, the tissues are brought together in appropriate layers and left alone to complete the surgeon’s comparatively crude handiwork by their wondrous healing properties. Gradually our heart rates return to normal, and the supplicatory prayers of the previous days turn to thanksgiving: the sacrifice has been accepted.
ANTHONY PAPAGIANNIS is a practicing pulmonologist in Thessaloniki, Greece. He graduated from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Medical School. He trained in Internal Medicine in Greece and subsequently in the United Kingdom, and specialized in Pulmonary Medicine. He also holds a postgraduate Diploma in Palliative Medicine from the University of Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom. He is a postgraduate instructor in palliative medicine in the University of Thessaly, Larissa, Greece. He also edits the journal of the Thessaloniki Medical Association, and blogs regularly.