Doesn’t the surgeon get any credit?

As the Detroit Free Press reported, Kelly Stafford, the wife of the Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (parents of three), just had 12 hours of brain surgery to remove a benign tumor impinging on her cranial nerves.

Stafford announced on Instagram earlier in April that doctors found an acoustic neuroma, or a benign tumor, resting on her cranial nerves after she complained of dizziness earlier this year.

She wrote at the time that she was “completely terrified” of her pending surgery.

On Wednesday, Stafford was admitted for a surgery that she said was supposed to take six hours.

It actually took twelve hours, as there was a complication—an abnormal vein. Fortunately, as she wrote in her Instagram post below, the surgeon knew how to deal with the complication, as he’d written a paper about it. 

“Now I am home and learning my new norm,” Stafford wrote Sunday. “It’ll take some time, but I really just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for all your support, thoughts and prayers. It means more than y’all will ever know.”

I’m very glad that she’s fine and managed to have a surgeon with fortuitous expertise in the complication, but notice below that the surgeon is neither named nor gets any credit: Stafford says “That’s truly God’s work.” If I were the surgeon, I’d feel a bit deflated!

I won’t mention the prayers. . .

This reminds me of Daniel Dennett’s wonderful essay about his hospitalization for an arterial issue, “Thank goodness!” Read it if you haven’t. An excerpt:

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence  is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea,  India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other’s work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan—you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who’s counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, ofScience, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning  out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws.

And a late but totally necessary addition from reader Colin:


  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, the surgeon gets totally shafted in this scenario. Also, the other gods….what if it was really Thor or Ganesha that helped?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Thor and Hephastus made the tools. Ganesha remembered all the complicated anatomy. Who to blame for the anaesthetics that don’t get a mention either (and I’m sure that without them, there would have been much screaming as the scalp flap was cut and even more as the skull was cut open) … well would that be Asclepius, or Bacchus?
      Teamwork, guys and guyesses!

      • James Swetnam
        Posted April 22, 2019 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        Hypnos, maybe?

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 23, 2019 at 8:24 am | Permalink

          I considered him, and Hygeia (spelung?) too, but they’ve got too many nice associations.

  2. Mark R.
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    The prayers worked? Oh goody! Why would a benevolent g*d afflict her with a tumor in the first place? I never get that…praise some supernatural being for the cure (that scientists and doctors discovered/administered) but never a peep about how/why a cure was needed in the first place. So g*d never afflicts, only cures. So utterly dumb, but that’s the basis of faith- dumbness.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Why would a benevolent g*d afflict her with a tumor in the first place?

      He’s a sadist on days without an ‘n’ in them. In Hebrew spelling, naturally.

    • Wunold
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Why would a benevolent g*d afflict her with a tumor in the first place?

      Maybe he/she/it was fishing for compliments.

      • Posted April 22, 2019 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

        Wait… couldn’t the tumor be caused by the Devil’s mischief? Isn’t there a division of labor on this- a Good God / Bad Devil?

        • Mark R.
          Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

          That’s a common comeback, but omniscience overrides mischief…at least by definition.

        • Wunold
          Posted April 23, 2019 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          You mean the employee who got demoted to the basement department of the Capital G Ltd.?

  3. Frank Bath
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Not thanking the surgeon and the theatre team is disgraceful. Nor did she criticize god for giving her the tumour in the first place and the ensuing complications.

  4. Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Hell, why didn’t they just pray and avoid the surgeon’s bill?

  5. Gasper
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but wasn’t it god that gave her the tumor in the first place.

  6. Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I suppose this means that the loved ones of all those that died that day of some medical complication will now know that God could have intervened to save their loved one but for whatever reason, decided not to.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes, god didn’t like them and smote them.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        God has given my car an oil leak and I’m most annoyed with him.


      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted April 22, 2019 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

        Neat turn of phrase.
        Made me smile.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 22, 2019 at 9:49 pm | Permalink


  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    G*d always gets the credit but never the blame. That is brainwashing at its best.

  8. Simon Hayward
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    pointless, of course, to refer them to the STEP trial…

    In the 2 groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not (relative risk 1.02, 95% CI 0.92-1.15). Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer (relative risk 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups.

    Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.

    • Linda Calhoun
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      There was speculation that this was due to performance anxiety.


    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Well if a surgeon comes to you and tells you there is a group praying for the good outcome of your operation, you’d be blerry stressed out.

  9. Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I have recently been through a very serious illness (multiple cancers, which required seven weeks of intensive chemotherapy to treat, and I will at some point in the not oo distant future have to undergo an operation to remove to cause of the trouble) and I was careful to give full credit to the medical staff who treated me, and whose care and support was incredible. Thus I find it unconscionable that no credit is given to the medical staff in this case

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Best wishes, Thomas. I hope your future treatment goes well. You are clearly in good hands. You also clearly have your priorities right.

      Stay strong.

      • Posted April 23, 2019 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        Thank you for your good wishes.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      I hope your treatment can go well. It’s always nice to have good competent caregivers around you as well as good friends.

      • Posted April 23, 2019 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        Thank you for your kind comment (both parts are fully appreciated).

  10. jhs
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Maybe K. Stanford has written a private thank you letter to the surgeon and nurses.

    • Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Thanks God in public but the health-care professionals in private? That’s nice. I’m sure God hears private thoughts and prayers just as much as he reads Twitter.

  11. Steve Pollard
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Dennett’s piece is of course just to the point. The only thing I might add is that it is also important to allow people to make mistakes, so that we can learn from them; indeed, to celebrate mistakes and the way in which science provides opportunities to correct them.

    All too often we hear about cutting-edge science, particularly medicine, without being informed about the risks, challenges or indeed the chances of success. I hope Ms Stafford has the opportunity to think, and maybe comment, again.

  12. Colin
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    To all the non-thinking god believers:

    You’re in a car with your seriously injured child, and you have no phone.
    To your left, one mile away, is a faith healer renowned for curing many people.
    To your right, also a mile away, is a hospital.
    Which way do you turn, left or right? And why?

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:02 pm | Permalink


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      If you are really devout you drive straight on in the knowledge that (a) Jesus will do whatever needs to be done and (b) if the kid dies, he/she will be with Jesus anyway.

      (What, me, sarcastic?)


      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        Reminds us of (paraphrased) you show me a POMO in an airplane and I’ll show you a hypocrite.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          Oops: paraphrasing Dawkins.

  13. Filippo
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:38 pm | Permalink


  14. Steve Gerrard
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Twelve years ago I joined the club (The Acoustic Neuroma Association), having been diagnosed with a fortunately small one.

    The relevant thing is that AN patients always discuss which doctors they went to, and which are the best ones, and such. The forum for the group chatters away about it every day.

    The doctors involved in Kelly Stafford’s case remain unmentioned, as far as I can tell. It may be a publicity issue. It would certainly be routine, though, to mention them at least anonymously, and thank them for doing a good job.

  15. Michael Fisher
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    For those interested, here is the Wiki on VESTIBULAR SCWANNOMA [or acoustic neuroma] as Steve above says. It is a benign tumour around the main (vestibular) nerve leading from inner ear to brain. Branches of this nerve directly influence balance & hearing. Pressure from this growth can cause hearing loss, tinnitus, unsteadiness & sometimes even a loss of feeling in the side of the face. Surgery doesn’t necessarily remove the symptoms & she may well have to adjust her lifestyle accordingly. Her use of the phrase “new norm” suggests she knows that although it probably hasn’t sunken in & maybe more surgery will be required [I gather generally from reading around].

    I can understand no names, but it’s peculiar that her sentiments/thanks are addressed solely towards the portion of her six digit Instagram following that prayed for her & her family. No request in passing to “give it up” for the neurosurgeon, surgical team, mri unit, hospital staff etc.

    If she’s unhappy with the outcome in two years, will she be suing God?

  16. David S Hammer
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Maybe we should cut this lady some slack. Less than a week before she sent this message she underwent twelve hours of brain surgery. Was she still on medication less than a week later? Was she thinking clearly? Did she even compose the greeting that went out?

    I don’t think we should apply first principles in judging Instagram messages written less than a week after brain surgery.

    • Gabrielle
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      Agreed, my thoughts exactly.

  17. Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Good points!

  18. KD
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Anthropological observation.

    If you have some kind of situation, say diabetes, then you take action to control the condition. Perhaps you change your diet, lose weight, etc., etc.

    At some point, with some problems, you run out of ways to control the situation. If you go in for some extreme surgery, they basically put you in a coma and play around with your vital parts. Maybe you wake up, maybe you don’t. Maybe you are better, maybe its just phase one of your exit.

    When in a situation of fear and anxiety, where you have exhausted all constructive means of control, people start bargaining with supernatural entities. They probably can’t help themselves. And if they survive, they feel gratitude to the supernatural entities. I’m not sure how you actually stop that practice.

    I suppose as an atheist you should pray to the god of human ingenuity to create a new technology so that humans have a new, constructive means of controlling a previously uncontrollable condition.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      I’m alive thanks to technology (see my comment at #22 below). And also thanks to some very competent medical professionals.


    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      I never did.
      There are no supernatural entities.

  19. Posted April 22, 2019 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    She thanks god in the generic sense, for the surgeons, nurses, insurance company, the fact she doesn’t live in Sudan…

    • Taz
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Or live a hundred years ago.

  20. Gina
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m confused. I am quoting this from above:
    Fortunately, as she wrote in her Instagram post below, the surgeon knew how to deal with the complication, as he’d written a paper about it.
    Is this not giving credit to her surgeon??

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      ‘He had seen it before and written a paper on it. That’s truly God’s work’.

      In other words, the surgeon was just a tool in God’s hands.


      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that is very common here in SA too. They thank the Lord, and when you point out that you don’t even believe in God (something I rarely do), the default reaction is that he guided your hands nevertheless, unbeknownst to you.

  21. Taz
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    A multi-millionaire had a really good surgeon? Must have been divine intervention.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      🙂 🙂 🙂

  22. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Having had a heart valve repair ten years ago, I can fervently echo Dan Dennett’s paean of thanks. Without in any way wishing to dilute the thanks due to my medical team, most of whom I never saw (because I was out of it), I’d spread it wider and credit the whole of modern civilisation (right down to clean water, electric power and digital ‘devices’) which makes it possible for such operations to be performed. Fifty years ago I’d have been dead by now.


  23. Steve
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    It always amazes me when “God” gets the credit for results that are entirely man made! Next time Stafford should try an experiment using two options:
    1 – just prayer , or
    2 – choose medical intervention, with or without prayer (preferably without).
    I know which one I’d choose….

  24. Posted April 23, 2019 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    Patient: “Thank God!”

    Surgeon: “I’ve never been called a god before, but you’re welcome.”

    That’s the only appropriate response.


    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted April 23, 2019 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      “In the intimacy of the operation room, you may just call me nicky”. I tried that a few times, but it rarely registers, and my nurses don’t like it, they think it is kinda blasphemous.

  25. Roger
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    “Truly”, as in, completely the opposite of truly.

  26. Posted April 23, 2019 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Yes, we should call this as “Thank Goodness”. There is lot of goodness in the world, specially in the hospitals during surgery. It is the power of our inner spirituality called as humanism.

  27. CAS
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I always liked the Yiddish saying that applies to all those not helped or saved…

    If God lived on earth people would break his windows

  28. CJColucci
    Posted April 23, 2019 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Why are we piling on the previously unoffending wife of an NFL quarterback, who has just come out from under a medical crisis, and done an utterly conventional thing — however much we disagree with it — for no apparent purpose other than to recycle obvious observations?

  29. Posted April 23, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer three years’ ago.
    I have undergone radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Finally received the all-clear last week.
    Thanks to medical science, my oncologist, and the professional staff at my treating hospital.
    I cannot give any credit to external powers.

  30. Andrea Kenner
    Posted April 26, 2019 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Thank Goodness!

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