Do you remember that scene from Tommy Boy (hyperlink to YouTube video clip) where Chris Farley and David Spade’s character are driving drunk after it appears that Tommy Boy has lost the family brake pad business to the bank?! Even if you haven’t, picture two dumba$$es, depressed and dejected by their recent failure, driving drunk past a police car parked on the side of the road. The police begin their pursuit, lights flashing, and Tommy Boy has an idea to “redirect” the police.
Once they pull over, Tommy Boy jumps out of the car, while encouraging Spade’s character to follow his lead, screaming, “Bees! Bees! Bees!” At the same time, they’re miming their attempt to bat away killer bees that aren’t there. The police, concerned for their own safety, encourage the two young men to roll around in the grass as the police quickly flee the scene. Tommy Boy, in disbelief, exclaims, “Holy schnikes, it worked!”
What bees have to do with my surgery “origin story”
That scene from Tommy Boy, released in 1994, reminded me of something I had forgotten. Ten years before, when I was 11 years old, I went with my Dad to the emergency room for the first time. He was called to evaluate a woman with an open scalp wound.
Before we entered the exam room in the ER, I could hear my Dad asking the patient if it was alright for his son to come in, which she very generously agreed. Upon exam, I could see the patient’s scalp wide open from the top of her right ear, over the middle of her head, to the top of her left ear. It was a clean separation of the scalp, exposing this glistening red layer of tissue. I learned 10 years later in my first year of medical school that this layer of tissue is the galea aponeurotica,
So how did this woman split her scalp? As alluded to in the introduction, she was attacked by a swarm of bees! She started running from the bees and absent-mindedly ran into her garage where her husband had a boat hoisted up to the ceiling. As she ran away, she ran underneath the back edge of the boat. In the process, she hit the top of her head, splitting her scalp from ear to ear. Understandably, she drove to the ER.
While standing there, looking at her injury, I realized two things. The first was that this grotesque trauma didn’t freak me out. I mean, I was sorry for the patient. But she was awake and talking, and clearly going to live, so the experience was actually reassuring. Secondly, I knew this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life (be a surgeon).
But I always wanted to be a surgeon, right? Ever since I was four years old, a family friend always reminded me that when he asked what I was going to be when I grew up, I said, “I’m gonna be a surgeon,” (said with a very thick Louisiana accent). I didn’t know what I was talking about; I was just copying what my father did. Not an unusual thing for a child to want to emulate their parents, regardless of what their vocation was.
Until I saw Tommy Boy, I had forgotten about this pivotal moment. Again, I just figured I always wanted to be a surgeon. However, Tommy Boy made me realize that meeting this woman running from bees was “the moment.” It was the point at which child-like imitation turned into a deliberate career choice.
Not to give myself too much credit, but I bet no one was so genuinely affected by one of the greatest films of the 20th century as I was! Rest in peace Chris Farley.
Video of Bees, bees, bees! from Tommy Boy
That’s my story of what influenced me to become a surgeon. The decision to become a plastic surgeon? Well, that’s another story…