What should people know about the emotional and physical challenges of your work?
The first thing I do every morning is look at my phone to check the reports on patients who are in a serious condition. At China INI we perform some 60 operations daily – many of which are complicated. The work really touches my heart, as some patients respond well to the operations and others less so.
To see a patient recover is the biggest source of joy, especially when they are very sick to begin with and the operation really helps them. There have been so many successes over the course of my career, but some very challenging situations too.
For example, 20 years ago I treated a two-month-old baby who was born with a spinal defect. It was so complicated that nobody wanted to operate on the baby, but the mother asked me to try. The operation was a success, and just recently I discovered that the patient – now an adult – took part in a TV quiz show in which the smartest person wins. This brought me immense joy.
There have unfortunately been sad stories along the way too. Also 20 years ago, we had a patient who was in terrible facial pain due to a problem with the trigeminal nerve – the largest of the 12 cranial nerves. I performed the surgery, but tragically the patient died afterwards. This was of course terrible and left me very depressed. I couldn’t sleep at night and I questioned my abilities as a neurosurgeon. How could I trust myself to do another operation?
Then I visited a temple where I received some spiritual guidance that gave me the confidence to continue with my work. You really need to put your heart into this field of medicine, and even when things go wrong you need to accept that you gave the best you could to the patient.