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NOTE: From a disability justice standpoint, this is very troubling, but it really did happen, and I feel a responsibility to provide a truthful account.

One day my dad made history at his hospital at southern Virginia, and it wasn’t pretty. If you’re at all squeamish about severed limbs, at this point you should probably stop reading.

Earlier, a man had been wheeled in to the hospital with a raging infection in his leg. The hospital reached a consensus that the leg needed to be removed below the knee. My dad, the surgeon in charge of the amputation, examined the man with great care and found the infection had spread to where the leg needed to be removed above the knee.

To save the patient’s life, my dad decided to modify the operation, even without the hospital’s consensus, and perform it immediately. To do this, he required the personnel to stay beyond their quitting time of 4 p.m., which upset many of them. One nurse ran off to complain to the director of the operating room, a brusque and intimidating woman who was feared by orderlies and surgeons alike.

My dad had finished the amputation when the director stormed into the operating room, demanding that he stop what he was doing. She yelled that surgeons could not break protocol by changing the surgery without consensus and keeping the staff after hours. Eyes blazing, my dad marched toward the director of the operating room—his boss—and shouted, “Youre here for the hospital. Well, I’m here for this man,” and pointed to the patient. Planting himself in front of the director, my dad screamed, “Get out of here!” The director didn’t budge, so my dad bellowed, “I’m going to count from 1 to 10, and if you’re not out of here, I will kill you!” In his blood-spattered gown, clenching a scalpel, he must have looked convincing.

The director stubbornly held her ground, and then my dad did the thing that made the headlines: He grabbed the amputated leg and hurled it at his boss. She dodged it and fled, screaming bloody murder.

Of course, my dad quickly suffered the consequences. He was immediately put on probation and forced to work under a famous and eccentric heart surgeon. This surgeon was known for scheduling operations at whatever hour caught his fancy—even 3:00 in the morning. “It took this guy hours to set every single machine before a surgery and we had to all stand and wait for him!” my dad recalls. But the surgeon was remarkably successful in his field, mainly because of his exacting, obsessive nature.

Thirty years after the leg incident happened, my dad visited his former hospital and was introduced to some young residents. The young men fell silent and one tentatively asked him, “Wait, are you the Dr. B.B. Lee who … ?” They probably didn’t know whether to get his autograph or dash out the nearest door.

As for the patient, he was said to have survived and lived several years longer than if the amputation had been below the knee.

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