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Chapter 62

A CONSULTATION OF MAN-OF-WAR SURGEONS.


It seems customary for the Surgeon of the Fleet, when any important
operation in his department is on the anvil, and there is nothing to
absorb professional attention from it, to invite his brother surgeons,
if at hand at the time, to a ceremonious consultation upon it. And
this, in courtesy, his brother surgeons expect.

In pursuance of this custom, then, the surgeons of the neighbouring
American ships of war were requested to visit the Neversink in a body,
to advise concerning the case of the top-man, whose situation had now
become critical. They assembled on the half-deck, and were soon joined
by their respected senior, Cuticle. In a body they bowed as he
approached, and accosted him with deferential regard.

"Gentlemen," said Cuticle, unostentatiously seating himself on a
camp-stool, handed him by his cot-boy, "we have here an extremely
interesting case. You have all seen the patient, I believe. At
first I had hopes that I should have been able to cut down to the
ball, and remove it; but the state of the patient forbade. Since
then, the inflammation and sloughing of the part has been
attended with a copious suppuration, great loss of substance,
extreme debility and emaciation. From this, I am convinced that
the ball has shattered and deadened the bone, and now lies
impacted in the medullary canal. In fact, there can be no doubt
that the wound is incurable, and that amputation is the only
resource. But, gentlemen, I find myself placed in a very delicate
predicament. I assure you I feel no professional anxiety to
perform the operation. I desire your advice, and if you will now
again visit the patient with me, we can then return here and
decide what is best to be done. Once more, let me say, that I
feel no personal anxiety whatever to use the knife."

The assembled surgeons listened to this address with the most
serious attention, and, in accordance with their superior's
desire, now descended to the sick-bay, where the patient was
languishing. The examination concluded, they returned to the
half-deck, and the consultation was renewed.

"Gentlemen," began Cuticle, again seating himself, "you have now
just inspected the limb; you have seen that there is no resource
but amputation; and now, gentlemen, what do you say? Surgeon
Bandage, of the Mohawk, will you express your opinion?"

"The wound is a very serious one," said Bandage--a corpulent man,
with a high German forehead--shaking his head solemnly.

"Can anything save him but amputation?" demanded Cuticle.

"His constitutional debility is extreme," observed Bandage,
"but I have seen more dangerous cases."

"Surgeon Wedge, of the Malay," said Cuticle, in a pet, "be pleased
to give _your_ opinion; and let it be definitive, I entreat:" this
was said with a severe glance toward Bandage.

"If I thought," began Wedge, a very spare, tall man, elevating
himself still higher on his toes, "that the ball had shattered
and divided the whole _femur_, including the _Greater_ and
_Lesser Trochanter_ the _Linear aspera_ the _Digital fossa_, and
the _Intertrochanteric_, I should certainly be in favour of
amputation; but that, sir, permit me to observe, is not my
opinion."

"Surgeon Sawyer, of the Buccaneer," said Cuticle, drawing in his
thin lower lip with vexation, and turning to a round-faced,
florid, frank, sensible-looking man, whose uniform coat very
handsomely fitted him, and was adorned with an unusual quantity
of gold lace; "Surgeon Sawyer, of the Buccaneer, let us now hear
_your_ opinion, if you please. Is not amputation the only
resource, sir?"

"Excuse me," said Sawyer, "I am decidedly opposed to it; for if
hitherto the patient has not been strong enough to undergo the
extraction of the ball, I do not see how he can be expected to
endure a far more severe operation. As there is no immediate
danger of mortification, and you say the ball cannot be reached
without making large incisions, I should support him, I think,
for the present, with tonics, and gentle antiphlogistics, locally
applied. On no account would I proceed to amputation until further
symptoms are exhibited."

"Surgeon Patella, of the Algerine," said Cuticle, in an ill-suppressed
passion, abruptly turning round on the person addressed, "will _you_
have the kindness to say whether _you_ do not think that amputation is
the only resource?"

Now Patella was the youngest of the company, a modest man, filled with
a profound reverence for the science of Cuticle, and desirous of
gaining his good opinion, yet not wishing to commit himself altogether
by a decided reply, though, like Surgeon Sawyer, in his own mind he
might have been clearly against the operation.

"What you have remarked, Mr. Surgeon of the Fleet," said Patella,
respectfully hemming, "concerning the dangerous condition of the
limb, seems obvious enough; amputation would certainly be a cure
to the wound; but then, as, notwithstanding his present debility,
the patient seems to have a strong constitution, he might rally
as it is, and by your scientific treatment, Mr. Surgeon of the
Fleet"--bowing--"be entirely made whole, without risking an
amputation. Still, it is a very critical case, and amputation may be
indispensable; and if it is to be performed, there ought to be no delay
whatever. That is my view of the case, Mr. Surgeon of the Fleet."

"Surgeon Patella, then, gentlemen," said Cuticle, turning round
triumphantly, "is clearly of opinion that amputation should be
immediately performed. For my own part--individually, I mean, and
without respect to the patient--I am sorry to have it so decided. But
this settles the question, gentlemen--in my own mind, however, it was
settled before. At ten o'clock to-morrow morning the operation will be
performed. I shall be happy to see you all on the occasion, and also
your juniors" (alluding to the absent _Assistant Surgeons_). "Good-
morning, gentlemen; at ten o'clock, remember."

And Cuticle retreated to the Ward-room.

Herman Melville