Alexandru Blidaru: “The person who is coming to see you puts his life, his health or the shape of his body in your hands”

Considered “the best breast cancer surgeon” of nowadays Romania, he wears, involuntarily, an “aura” of success. He is the son of surgeon. Professor for many surgeons and founder and member of professional associations. He is the father of two girls and a boy. Aged 58, he has a remarkable career behind, but still fights cancer in the dozens of surgeries he performs every week. Although difficult to catch for an interview, because of his very busy schedule, dr. Blidaru spoke to us about how he regards his job, the medic-patient relationship and the society he lives in.

What makes a good surgeon, besides studies and lengthy practice?

There is no standard recipe for this. My father was a surgeon so I think that this is why I became a surgeon myself. During the `60 -`70s, I couldn`t see myself doing anything else but this – medicine, and most of all, surgery. Long time ago people were saying that a surgeon must have these three qualities, and in the English language they would all start with the letter H: “hand, head and heart”. There are all sorts of surgeons. I am rather a thorough, systematic, rigorous, and precise surgeon.

And this helps me a lot. Because of the fact that I am precise, I am also somehow exigent. And this means trouble for my team, my family and my friends. I am very demanding of them and I am always unsatisfied. Sometimes, this annoys them. I torment the people around me very much, but I do not demand more from them than I ask from myself.

Therefore, I am rather a down to earth surgeon, although, considering my temperament – I am a choleric person. And the surgeries are not always going smoothly. There are many dramatic, difficult moments when the control over the situation is almost lost… And, in this sort of moments, you need to be most cool-blooded. I often get angry during surgeries, but I do it in a demonstrative manner for the young ones, for them to remember something, to emphasize the moment and to help them learn. Usually, I don’t scold them the first time, nor the second time, but only when they repeat the same mistake several times.

At my age, I believe one of the most important things that I do right now is teaching others as much as possible. I want to tell them how something should be done and why it is done; I want to explain and to make them improve all the time. For example, last week, I went to a course of study with some young doctors and residents from our department. It was the same type of course I went to almost 20 years ago.

But I joined them, to give them an incentive. I care that my team knows as much as they possibly can. We cannot get stuck in the same things we used to do 10-20 years ago, but we try to improve our practice, learn from one another and teach others.

How is surgery taught today in comparison with 20-30 years ago?

My practice started about 30 something years ago. Since then, surgery has come to use a lot of technology. And in the field of cancer there are many things that have nothing to do with the surgery itself, but with biology, radiotherapy, chemotherapy – all sort of treatments that a surgeon must have knowledge of. The types of surgical interventions have become more and more diverse, technology has evolved, but surgery continues to be an apprentice type of work; it is the relationship between the student and his disciple, as in the once upon a time beautiful fairytales.

Plus, there are more possibilities to go abroad and get a major in a certain field. Yet, a trouble came up. I was lucky because Professor Alexandru Trestioreanu send me abroad before 1990, and that was an absolute exoticism; nobody thought I would come back, but I did and everyone was completely amazed.

At the beginning of the `90s we were welcomed with open arms; they would talk to us, they would answer our questions, they would invite us into their homes and we would learn a lot. Full of enthusiasm – because there are all sort of scholarships right now – I sent out many residents, sometimes in the same places where I had been 20-30 years ago.

I found out that things have completely changed, that there is a certain reservation, hostility; they don’t speak English anymore, but some French or Italian that is incomprehensible for a foreigner, and there are no more explanations provided. There is a great fear of competition, of the people that come from everywhere in their own countries.

On the other hand, we have the advantage represented by the Romanian Society of Breast Surgery and Oncology. We organize each year international conferences; we have the opportunity to present the newest activities that we carry in Romania, but we also enjoy some of the most prestigious specialists in the world who come here and are ready to friendly share with us all the great things they do. We shall send there the young people for studying.

Have you ever imagined yourself doing something else other than surgery?

I though many times that, if I were to do some other job, I would like to meet people only when they are happy, because right now I meet them during some very hard moments of their lives – when they find out our they just found out about a great difficulty that troubles their existence in all possible ways.

And this is the moment where I come up into the picture. I am person who gives people the bad news, although I try to use all sort of euphemisms when I do this. I don’t know if I would have been good at it, but I would have loved to direct movies; I have even prepared for this.

Even today, I am crazy about image, I do pathology photography. Because I have such a hectic schedule – I leave home at 6.30 and I get back at 20.30, I hardly ever get to see a movie. But it is a great joy for me to watch a film together with my family, at the end of the week.

Appreciated or blamed – doctors have a special place in society. How do you see the doctor – patient relationship and how should it be, ideally speaking?

Full Interview