The stakes are high on Seven’s med­i­cal doc­u­men­tary Last Chance Surgery. Guy Davis got the prog­no­sis from its host, Dr Ker­ryn Phelps.

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‘ Most of us will never know what it feels like to be faced with one last chance at a life-sav­ing or a life-chang­ing med­i­cal pro­ce­dure,” said Dr Ker­ryn Phelps, for­mer head of the Aus­tralian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion and host of Seven’s new fac­tual med­i­cal se­ries Last Chance Surgery.

How­ever, the pa­tients fea­tured on the show know ex­actly how it feels, and the pro­gram presents their sto­ries – and the sto­ries of the sur­geons work­ing to help them beat the odds – in an in­ti­mate and in­spi­ra­tional way.

Not long out of the op­er­at­ing the­atre her­self, Dr Phelps took a few min­utes to talk about the new pro­gram.

All med­i­cal shows have some­thing at stake, Dr Phelps, but the stakes cer­tainly seem to be raised in the sit­u­a­tions pre­sented on this pro­gram.

When we talk about the stakes, I think we’re talk­ing about risky pro­ce­dures where the odds are stacked against the pa­tients be­cause of the na­ture of what’s try­ing to be achieved and be­cause all other op­tions have been ex­hausted. That’s ba­si­cally the theme of the show; ev­ery­thing else has been done. The only pos­si­bil­ity for th­ese peo­ple is a pro­ce­dure of this na­ture, which by its defi ni­tion is go­ing to be more risky than oth­ers.

It’s a bold move on the part of both the pa­tients and the sur­geons, hav­ing such im­por­tant pro­ce­dures per­formed un­der the gaze of the cam­era.

First of all, let’s talk about the sur­geons; they are com­pletely fo­cused. I’ve spent a lot of time in op­er­at­ing the­atres my­self and the sur­geons are ab­so­lutely fo­cused on the job at hand. They’re quite un­aware of their sur­round­ings. And with the re­sults of their work in the op­er­at­ing the­atre there to be seen, they are also con­stantly judged by their peers and their co-work­ers. So I don’t think that’s ac­tu­ally an is­sue for sur­geons op­er­at­ing at this level. They are well and truly ex­pe­ri­enced, and their skills have been tested in the tough­est fo­rum.

And for the pa­tients?

When you’re talk­ing about the pa­tients, well, dur­ing the surgery they’re un­der anaes­thetic so they’re un­aware. But where the show has quite an emo­tional im­pact is when the pa­tient is be­ing told about their op­tions and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing risks, then hav­ing to make their de­ci­sion. And then there’s the af­ter­math of the pro­ce­dure – some re­sults are spec­tac­u­larly suc­cess­ful, some are a qual­ifi ed suc­cess and some not so much.

Again, it’s bold of the show to present sit­u­a­tions where there may not be a pos­i­tive out­come.

When you’re talk­ing about the re­al­i­ties of medicine, it doesn’t al­ways in­volve a happy end­ing. That’s some­thing that gives this show per­spec­tive – if you thought that ev­ery case would have a bright and shiny fi nish, that’s some­thing that just wouldn’t be real.

Is that some­thing you hope the show con­veys? The fact that medicine doesn’t al­ways pro­vide a happy end­ing?

It can be the case, but medicine can also off er tremendous hope. That’s the yin and yang of medicine. What you’re aim­ing for is an im­prove­ment or an ex­ten­sion of life or, in the best case sce­nario, a cure and com­plete re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

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