Operating room No. 5 at University Hospital in Denver is chilled almost to the point of refrigeration, but already the team of surgeons is sweating. The noxious scent of burning flesh fills the air as a cauterizing instrument slices through the skin. Next comes the snapping sound of bone, first one rib removed, then another, until finally the target is in view. ”His lung looks awful,” says Dr. Marvin Pomerantz, one of a small fraternity of surgeons in the world who would even attempt this operation. ”I always hope it will be better than expected, but it never is.”
The young man on the table has tuberculosis. His is a sinister strain, resistant to all known medication, and his right lung, or what remains of it, shows the devastation of the disease. A lung should be pink, nestling in the chest like a delicate balloon. This one is mottled and marbled, a red so dark it is almost black. Beneath it, unseen, is the heart. As it beats, the lung jumps, looking dangerous and angry.
The scarring from both the illness itself and the techniques used to fight it have left the landscape of this chest cavity scrambled beyond recognition. ”Nothing,” Pomerantz explains, ”is where it should be.” This is less a surgery, therefore, than an excavation, as the surgeons chip their way through the anatomical debris. The operation began at 9 in the morning. More than two hours pass before Pomerantz finds something familiar. ”Here’s the edge of the diaphragm,” he says, his eyes dark with concentration over his surgical mask. ”This is my first good landmark.” READ MORE