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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

The Importance of Lightness

Though his experience with body-altering surgery took place 33 years ago, Kevin Sweeney still recalls the episodes of lightheartedness and humor that made his ordeal bearable.

The surgeon who operated on him was a bearded fellow from Baltimore—Sweeney can’t remember his name—and he had “a light side to him that really made me relax.”

On the day of his procedure, Sweeney, who sported a beard himself in those days, cut it off, assuming that surgeons would need easy access to his jaw.

When his surgeon saw the newly trimmed Sweeney, he exclaimed, “Why’d you cut your beard? I would have done it for you.”

Later, during Sweeney’s post-op treatment, when all he could handle was soft food, an ice cream party was thrown in his honor. Upon learning the party took place without him, the surgeon upbraided his patient: “What? You didn’t invite me?”

Another time, during radiation treatment at NIH, Sweeney showed up at his appointment and noticed the smell of burning popcorn in the air. Sweeney made it clear that whoever had burned the popcorn better not be manning his radiation treatment.

“The technician started howling with laughter,” Sweeney recalls. “She was screaming, ‘You’re nuts!’”

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