As surgeons, there's instant gratification. Often times, you can fix whatever is wrong. If someone has appendicitis, they're doing terrible and they could die from such a simple thing. After a 45-minute operation, they go home the next day and they do great. The same thing happens with thyroid cancer. A lot of times, when people come to see me they're distraught. They have cancer; they're really worried. They think they're going to die. It's pretty common in teenage girls, and when the mom and dad are distraught I hold their hand and describe the whole thing for them. I say, "Ninety percent of people do really well, we're going to treat [the cancer] with one surgery, it's a pretty low morbidity surgery, and most of the time patients do great." They go home the next morning. They're feeling good.
Overall, it's a very positive profession. Certainly, there are some areas of surgery—pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancers, lung cancers—where as a surgeon, you feel a little like you keep operating on people. They’ll do great with your operation, you take out the lung cancer, their breathing gets better, and they get chemotherapy. But then two or three years later, it recurs in their liver or brain.
I have patients that I've been following for 10 or 15 years that have been seeing me from the very beginning of their cancer every year. I have had a handful of patients die of thyroid cancer, but when they do poorly I see them all the way through to the end. I see their families, and go to the funerals. They know I love gardening, so they send me gift cards or plants to put in my garden for their husband or wife who passed away.
Green: The operating room seems like a very high-stress environment. What is it like actually being in surgery?
Parangi: I do think that the operating room is a little bit of a high-stress environment, because when you put a patient to sleep and you've got two hours to do surgery, you've really got to stay focused. As a surgeon, you might have done this operation 100 times or maybe just two times. Then you've got a very complex team—an anesthesiologist, a surgery resident, a medical student, a nurse—that you’re working with and you're sort of captain of the team.
Also, the technology used in surgery these days has gotten immensely complicated. We use laparoscopic equipment, robotic equipment, endoscopic equipment, and you have to learn so many different machines parts.
Green: What is an average day like for you as a surgeon?
Parangi: Two days a week, I operate full-time for the whole day. I'll usually get up at 6:15 a.m., send my kid off to school, and then I'll be in the hospital by 7:30 a.m. to meet the first patient of the day. I usually do three or four cases in one day. Each surgery is about two hours, with about an hour-and-a-half of clean up in between. I do the surgery, go down and talk to the patient's family, and then come back up and meet the next patient to start that operation. Usually, those days end around 5 or 6 p.m.