I have a lot of memories of medical school, some pleasant and some that I would rather not remember. Most of these memories are associated with faculty who have had some impact or other on my time in training. After all what is the purpose of medical school and residency but a highly structured apprenticeship program, and what good is an apprentice who fails to take a piece of the master with them.
I know very well that most of my colleagues who have all gone on into different fields of medicine, like my good friend Arizona (Dr. Michael Ntumy) who were with me on our first surgery rotation with Mr. Rudolf Darko have a piece of him in them. Why else is Dr. Ntumy such an excellent obstetrician gynecologist?!! We called him Sticky for his penchant of not allowing a student or resident who did not have a good answer to his questions on rounds an easy way out.
Though I had gone on to enter the field of internal medicine and did not enter a surgical field my colleagues and all my staff that I have ever worked with know that I am not one to ran away from a procedure. As a matter of fact one of my nurses in a discussion of how to appropriately apportion nursing and other assistants to physicians complained about my excessive unscheduled use of nursing and other supporting staff on account of my ever enthusiastic tendency to get a procedure over and done with rather than reschedule which was more comfortable for our support staff and did improve revenue.
So today when I heard of Mr. Rudolf Darko’s passing I cannot help but express my shock and sadness at the loss of a surgeon and a teacher who has influenced so many lives. I can almost see him in my mind’s eye with just a slight grin showing on his lips and cheeks which almost never broke out into a laugh but yet was an ever present feature of his demeanor. I sometimes wondered whether this was him trying hard not to laugh at our total lack of knowledge and inexperience or his ever present joy with his chosen field.
As with most of my teachers I remember them with a specific patient that we shared. I cannot tell why, but with Mr. Rudolf Darko with all his surgical skills I remember most the one case that I shared with him that he refused to send to the OR. Yes Rudolf loved the OR and appeared to live for that yet this was one case that he would not send to surgery even though both myself with my lack of experience and the patient was worried as hell that he was making a mistake.
It was a fortyish looking obese female who had been involved in a motor vehicle accident and had been admitted with abdominal pain. The lady was on our unit because of a concern for possible trauma to the internal abdominal organs. This happened sometime between 1993 – 94, before the magic of computerized tomographies (CT) scans replaced the clinical skills and sturdy judgement of physicians. We had no CT scans in our hospital at that time.
My patient had me confused and concerned for her life but my surgeon would not budge. Rudolf did not share my concerns at all but showed the same concern with this patient as with others on the unit. He was still very conscientious in his evaluation of this lady. Eventually after many days on the surgical ward on observation we discharged this lady home knowing fully well that if after more than a week post trauma with stable BP and labs whatever was causing her abdominal pain could be managed with careful and close follow-up and reassurance.
A lesser surgeon would have caved to the pressure and put this lady under the knife but Rudolf did save this lady an incision. I cannot confirm though what this watchful waiting did to her mental health, but after all we were were surgeons not clinical psychologists.
Today as Mr. Rudolf Darko walks down this well worn path to join our ancestors, I would like to say a big word of gratitude that he still leaves behind in our hearts.
Rudolf we still remember what you taught us and will continue to remember you fondly, for you were really a great teacher and an excellent surgeon.
Leonard Sowah is a Physician in Baltimore, Maryland