Monday, February 25, 2013

C. Everett Koop: Little Known Stories

Dr. C. Everett Koop and wife, Cora, at he Painted Bride
It was a play, based on himself.  And so former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop --not short on ego --- traveled from Hanover, N.H. to Philadelphia last winter  at age 95 for a reading of it. It's an evening I've been thinking about since I heard of his death today.
For the several dozen people who gathered to hear the play -- about the extraordinary surgery he attempted in 1977 to separate twins conjoined at the heart and chest -- it was an intimate gathering.
Afterwards, he and my husband, who was training at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia when Koop was chief of surgery, shared some war stories.
Koop confirmed that he always kept his right  index fingernail long to use as a tool in surgery for pyloric stenosis -- it was blunter than a scalpel and it allowed him to feel what he was doing, he explained.
Koop also talked about a memorable night when he was laid up at home with the flu and the phone rang. A pediatrician at the hospital told him that one of his patients needed an appendectomy and the grandfather was insisting that only Koop could operate. "I can't operate," Koop said. 'I've got a 102 fever."
"You have to come," the pediatrician said. It was an offer that Koop decided he could not refuse: the grandfather was a top ranking wise guy -- a big shot in the Philadelphia mob.
So Koop dragged himself out of bed. showed up at the hospital, introduced himself to the family, and then went to take a nap while someone else operated.
You can read more about the play and its ethical controversies by Donald C. Drake and my original blog about his visit to Philadelphia last year.

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