I’ve never been a particularly superstitious person. I’ve been known to walk under a ladder with reckless abandon (and without adverse outcome). I’ve actually had a black cat for a pet (and aside from the fact that he preferred pissing on the bath mat, nothing bad ever happened to me...to him though, well, that's a different story). And I’ve certainly broken a mirror or two. But the bad luck associated with that only seems to manifest in bad luck for mirrors: I’ve now broken several of them.
My Dochechka, however, is Russian. And Russians, as luck would have it, are a very superstitious people. I learned this when I stayed with Dochechka’s aunt, Mrs. Complainsalot, for one month when I was still in medical school. She lived very close to the county hospital where I was doing a trauma surgery rotation and was gracious enough to let me stay in her extra room. Free of charge. Well, almost free of charge…there were conditions. I had to listen to her complain. Which she did. (A lot.) And, I had to tell her, in explicit detail, about all the operations that I participated in as soon as I came home from each shift.
So one of my first evenings in the house, I came home from a 28-hour shift, over which there’d been several car accidents, shootings and stabbings and thus, several operations.
“Tale me, tale me…I wunt to know about zis operations you do.” She pointed to a seat in her kitchen and I sat down as instructed.
“Well, we had an 18 year old kid come in last night with several gun shot wounds to the abdomen, so we took him to the operating room…” she was still looking on with wonderment. “We did what’s called a exploratory laparotomy where we make an incision straight down the midline from just under the sternum to just above the pubic bone…”
I began to demonstrate the line of the incision on my own abdomen just to be sure she understood. I traced, with my index finger, the path that the scalpel had made the night before. I hadn’t even made it down to my belly button when she smacked my hands. Hard.
“VHAT ARE YOU DOING?!? You do not do zis! Zis show me of incision! You do not show me on your own body!!!” She looked at me with an incredulousness I’m sure she’d used before.
“What?” my hands still stinging from her ring-laden smack.
“You do not draw zis…zis line on your body. It is bad luck. Bad things will happen to you when you draw zis on yourself,” she explained.
Needless to say, it was a tough month. Bad things happened to me, alright…I got smacked a lot. It was just too hard a habit to break, this demonstrating of the incision on my own body. And four years into my surgery residency I still do it. I am happy to report though, that in spite of myself, and despite Mrs. Complainsalot’s warnings, I’ve somehow managed to survive the (non-existent) repercussions of the sternotomy we use for open heart surgery…the laparotomy we use for emergency abdominal operations…the chevron incision we use for pancreatic cancer resection…the inguinal incision we use for hernia repairs…