The Mental Game: Preparing for Brain Surgery
Twenty years ago, Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa hopped a border fence from Mexico into the United States and became a migrant farm worker, living in the fields in a broken-down camper he bought for $300. When told he would probably be a farm worker for the rest of his life, he signed up for English classes at a community college, where one of his teachers encouraged him to apply to UC-Berkeley. There, he developed a passion for science, and showed remarkable aptitude. He went on to Harvard Medical School and graduated with honors, followed by a residency in neurosurgery at UC-San Francisco, where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in developmental and stem cell biology. He later received the American Association of Neurological Surgeons Ronald Bittner Award. Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa is now an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology at Johns Hopkins and serves as the Director of the brain tumor program at the The Johns Hopkins Bayview campus. There, his focus is on the surgical treatment of primary and metastatic brain tumors, with an emphasis on motor and speech mapping during surgery.
Question: How do you prepare yourself to perform a brain surgery?
Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa: The way you prepare to go into the operating room is an absolute concentration, an absolute love for what you do, and you have to have that passion in your heart, you have to feel that fire in your belly, right before you go into the operating room. Why? Because you are literally walking a fine line every day in what we do between life and death. And even though we're walking that fine line every day, you can never be too prepared. So what I do all the time before I go into the operating room, nights before, days before, every time I meet a patient, I think about their disease.
Their case gets put in my brain. I think about it, I dream about it. I conceive the different avenues, the different corridors, the different ways that I'm going to treat this disease, how I'm going to approach it, which angle I'm going to take, how the tumor is going to look. And I dream about this and I think about this in such a way that when I come into the operating room, my heart is palpitating. I have all this amount of energy and passion and concentration. All my senses are hyper-acute. This is this patient's most important day in their life, and as a consequence it's my most important day in my life, and I come in to work with them, side by side, man to a man, as I said before. And I concentrate and I put all my efforts, all my passion, my determination, my resilience-- my dreams come together that moment.
Recorded on: July 2, 2008
When you walk the fine line between life and death, you can never prepare too much, says Dr. Q. He'll even plan his strategies for a brain surgery in his sleep.
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