How would an ophthalmologist respond when faced with death?

September 15, 2015

How does any of this relate to ophthalmology? In our offices, we don’t face dramatic this-or-that moments of choice that define us in the way these young men were defined by their decision. For ophthalmologists there is always only one option-to do whatever is in the best interest of our patients.

 

By Peter J. McDonnell, MD

“Love handles,” according to the McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine, is “the popular term for the bilateral overhangs of fat and soft tissue on the anterolateral flank common in older men.” As a member of the community of older men, I feel it is also a more charitable name.

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To try to keep my own overhangs from approximating in size the Goodyear blimp, I exercise on a treadmill. Because I detest exercise for its own sake, I distract myself with a blasting television. This morning, my attention was distracted by “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, in which a former congressman and his posse opine on current events.

Dr. McDonnell

A big current event this morning was the three American men who, while traveling together for fun in Europe, encountered a terrorist toting an automatic rifle and knife on a train from Amsterdam to Paris. Faced with the choice of crouching behind their seats or attacking their would-be assailant, they rushed the 10 m-French trains use the metric system-to tackle and subdue him, with only their bare hands as weapons. One of the resisting passengers was stabbed in the neck and hand for his trouble, with his thumb reportedly being “almost severed.”

French President François Hollande awarded them the Legion of Honor. “Your heroism must be an example for many and a source of inspiration,” he said.

Next: In the face of danger

 

In the face of danger

After the news report, the host of the program offered the comment that the French train employees had fled the scene when the bad person appeared, locking themselves away in a part of the train for their own protection. His facial expression and tone of voice made clear, but he did not vocalize, that he judged these workers to be cowards.

Is that a fair verdict, I wondered?

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No doubt it takes bravery of a sort to run for Congress and to host a morning talk show, and it clearly requires a manly man to spend an hour exercising at 6 a.m. But who really knows how he or she will respond in the instant when, like the people on that train, they find themselves literally face to face with death? The instinct for self-preservation is very strong in our species, stronger I suspect than the instinct to risk one’s own life with the altruistic goal of saving others.

Anyone can admire the heroism and quick action exhibited by these three friends.

“But what man who has not been in that exact situation,” I asked the overhanging flabs of fat and soft tissue on my anterolateral flanks, “has the right to judge the actions of those who were there?”

“Certainly not you,” they whispered, barely audible over the swishing sound of my treadmill.

Next: 'For ophthalmologists, there is only one option'

 

How does any of this relate to ophthalmology? In our offices, we don’t face dramatic this-or-that moments of choice that define us in the way these young men were defined by their decision. For ophthalmologists there is always only one option-to do whatever is in the best interest of our patients.

 

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