When Arrogance Is Bliss

Arrogant Surgeon

“I am an arrogant guy,” I wrote on a Facebook post.

And it’s true.

Most people think of arrogance as an undesirable trait. Not me.

I have a slightly different perspective. And believe there are certain roles it’s practically impossible to play well unless one is. Like being a paediatric heart surgeon.

Kids with heart defects are often gorgeous, beautiful. It’s as if Nature compensates for one mistake by being abundant in another way.

An infant’s heart is the size of a lemon. My tiny patients weigh just a few kilograms. The smallest baby I’ve operated was barely 750 grams! Some have defects where their largest arteries are just a couple of millimeters wide.

There’s absolutely no room for error while operating on them. Even an inadvertent muscle twitch could kill my patient. And everyone in the room knows.

As I stand over one of these little angels, holding an instrument of cold, cruel steel in my hands, how could I possibly take the next step… unless I am supremely arrogant?

French surgeon Rene Leriche says: “Every surgeon carries about him a little cemetery, in which from time to time he goes to pray.”

He’s right. I have my own. And each time I scrub for an operation, fear grips my heart. A British consultant I trained with replied, when I asked him: “The day I’m no longer afraid, I’ll stop operating on kids.”

Yes, the fear can be paralyzing when a child’s life hangs in the balance.

My arrogance stems from having to make split-second decisions that could mean the difference between life and death. Not once or twice, but hundreds of times.

Unless I absolutely believe, in the absence of any evidence or experience, that the actions I’m about to take next will save a life, I couldn’t do my job. I need the confidence of my ‘arrogance’.

For years, I thought one of our professors was a very arrogant man – until I watched him perform an incredibly difficult operation. Since then, I’ve changed my opinion!

Arrogance is confidence that is not backed by competence.

And that’s why, for as long as it helps keep a child alive, I’ll happily be arrogant!

P.S. – If you haven’t watched this clip of Alec Baldwin’s ‘I Am God’ speech, do it… and you’ll begin to understand!

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