By Rodrigo Guerra Sabongi, MD
My first memories of orthopedic practice come in a cloudy way. When I was eight years old, during a long car trip to visit my grandparents’ house in the country side of Sao Paulo state, I was deeply distracted with a radiographic film left in the car. During the long journey, I kept observing the osseous contours and characteristics that look a lot like the skeleton hands of my favorite cartoons.
My father, an orthopedic, hand surgeon, and anatomy professor, observed that scene and asked me: “What’s the diagnosis, young doctor?” I promptly answered: “It’s broken!” With a smile in his face, he replied: “No, son. This is an osteonecrosis of the lunate!”
The trip transformed into a hilarious song with me trying to memorize those difficult words. “Lostonefrosis,” “lumate,” “osteonelosy”…For five hours straight I tortured my parents and my brother trying to correctly recite the diagnosis.
When we arrived at my grandparents’ house, I jumped out of the car waving the x-ray in the air and shouting: “Look, Grandpa! An osteonecrosis of the lunate!” My grandfather promptly looked to my father and smiled as a gesture of profound pride for such a simple thing. Even at young age I understood what was not being said. I realized with such a simple act that gratitude could be passed on for generations.
Years went by, and despite no pressure from my family, I decided to go to medical school. I went to the same University where my father did his PhD years before – Escola Paulista de Medicina, Federal University of São. During my first year at med school my father was invited to the inauguration of the Hand Surgery clinic of my University. Although I was very shy, I couldn’t go unnoticed due to my freshmen’s peculiar haircut – at our University, the senior students traditionally shave the freshmen’s hair into a mohawk on the first day at med school.
At the inauguration presentation, the chief and future dean of the University, Prof. Dr. Walter Manna Albertoni, called me on stage and thanked the presence of the “future surgeons” that would benefit from the new installations in the future.
Professor Albertoni’s prophecies were right. I proceeded to orthopedic surgery and finally specialized in hand surgery at the same clinic I once saw inaugurate. Following my father’s footsteps was in the genes and blood as many said during my journey.
I have carried an academic career, performed scientific researches, and assisted many resident trainings at my University. Medicine taught me several things. I have learned from patients and professors. But ethics and dedication always came from the example I had at home. The privilege of having a teacher and mentor from birth was wondrous.
Recently, I traveled to Boston for an unprecedented oral presentation of a paper at the ASSH annual meeting. It was the first time I was traveling to an international hand surgery congress with my father. As the presentation went on the nervousness passed. On the last slide I was able to concentrate on the audience and could find my father in the crowd. I remembered how he was always present at my achievements.
As a surprise, I put his name on my final acknowledgments: Prof. Dr. João José Sabongi Neto. The same smile was there, now with watery eyes. The same pride in my achievements. The same transmission of love that doesn’t translate into words.
Together or apart, we will always be connected. Connected by the family. Connected by friendship. Connected by the profession. Connected by the achievements. This full cycle made me realize that love is translated into moments. And these moments bring life and happiness to those doctors who walk this hard path of medical practice.
It is not easy to deal with pain and illness. But I have learned from this long journey that dedication and hard work is fulfilling for us doctors and our patients. My father always joked about me being a better and improved version of himself. The truth is that I always looked up to him to achieve greatness.
Rodrigo Guerra Sabongi, MD
Orthopedics, Traumatology and Hand Surgery
Escola Paulista de Medicina – Federal University of São Paulo
São Paulo – Brazil