Dr. Max was one of the first surgeons I ever scrubbed for in the operating room. As a total green hand, I was prone to confusing instruments. Dr. Max took my errors in stride- no screaming, no grabbing instruments from my Mayo stand. Just calm advice: “no, Lou, I want that retractor there.” After an incredibly long hard case, I asked him how he kept so focused and unperturbed. Here is his answer:
“I was a machine gunner in the First World War. The machine gun was one of the game-changing weapons of that war, like tanks. When the war ended, I had all the violence I ever wanted to see. So I trained as a surgeon. But history had other plans for me. I had just finished my Residency when World War II broke out. I enlisted and eventually found myself in a mobile army surgical hospital – what you would call a M.A.S.H.
We worked under awful conditions, saved countless lives, and learned to handle whatever was handed to us with little or no preparation.
By comparison, almost all my civilian work is leisurely. I have to prepare and think in advance. But the experience of the operating room in wartime makes you ready for the unexpected. The keys are experience, preparation, and not being afraid of the unexpected.”
His advice to us was the same as General Eisenhower’s – “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.“ In his private life, Dr. Max started to learn the piano at age sixty and was an agile hiker into his seventies. He was one of the people who convinced me that lifelong learning was not just important but essential.