A FRIEND WHO had eye surgery not long ago remembers being told that her ophthalmologist was "the same guy who worked on Sugar Ray Leonard's eye."
This is how we measure our surgeons today: What famous patients have they cut open?
We want to hear that our surgeon is the same guy who worked on Orel Hersheiser's arm. Or the same guy who worked on Cher's breasts. Or the same guy who did Larry King's triple bypass.
Or -- if we're really lucky -- the same guy who transformed Salman Rushdie from a bearded novelist-in-hiding into a 55-year-old housewife with a terrific complexion in Surrey, England.
Understand, I'm not saying Salman Rushdie is, in fact, now living as a 55-year-old rosy-cheeked housewife in Surrey. Although it would make sense to me. What does the man have to lose?
At least he'd get out to a restaurant or a movie every once in a while. At least he'd have a decent conversation with someone who wasn't wearing a Scotland Yard ID tag.
The point is, it's only human nature to feel more comfortable with a surgeon whose hands have been entrusted with the bone, tissue and organs of rich and powerful celebrities.
Whereas if they're wheeling you into the operating room and you hear someone say of your surgeon "This is the guy who removed the varicose veins from the legs of Marvin Weinstein, that postal carrier down the block," it might not fill you with the same warm feeling of confidence.
Which isn't to say that Marvin Weinstein does not deserve the same degree of skill and knowledge from his surgeon as does, say, Marvin Hamlisch.
Marvin Weinstein is a human being. He has thoughts, feelings, does he not?
Marvin Weinstein does not want be lying there on the operating table, only to see his surgeon squash out a Salem and reach for a hip flask just before the anesthesia knocks him out.
And Marvin Weinstein does not want to wake up in post-op with bourbon stains on the sheets and bayonet scars running up and down his legs any more than the next person does.
Salman Rushdie wouldn't stand for that sort of shoddy surgery (if he were ever to have surgery, transsexual or otherwise. Remember, I didn't state categorically that he did.)
Why should Marvin Weinstein be any different?
Getting back to my friend who had the eye surgery, she felt much better knowing her doctor was considered so good that he had been retained by a famous prize fighter (and former soft drink spokesman, we should mention that.)
Still, it begs the question: What did they tell Sugar Ray Leonard when he first started shopping around for an ophthalmologist?
Obviously, there was no doctor then known as "the same guy who worked on Sugar Ray Leonard's eye." What if the doctor recommended to Sugar Ray hadn't operated on any famous patients at all?
Imagine if the sole reassurance they could give Sugar Ray was: "Well, your surgeon is the guy who worked on Constance W. Barbieri's detached retina. Constance works in the Junior Miss department at Sears, you know."
Maybe you see what I'm getting at here.
If I'm Sugar Ray, I want to see something a little more impressive on my doctor's resume than: "Repaired Connie Barbieri's retina. Patient returned to work at Sears; transferred to light fixtures dept. when eyesight improved dramatically."
On the other hand, if I heard that my ophthalmologist is the same guy who saved Oprah Winfrey's eyesight after a grueling 7-hour cornea transplant, I would feel a whole hell of a lot better.
Understand, I'm not saying Oprah did, in fact, undergo major eye surgery. Then again, I'm not saying she didn't. What's she hiding, anyway? Why doesn't she just schedule a news conference and clear up this whole thing before the tabloids get a hold of it?
I can see the headlines now: GREEDY TALK SHOW HOST TO DYING ORPHAN: "GIVE ME YOUR EYES, DAMMIT!"
Are you kidding? The tabloids would pounce on that story like a dog shaking a bone. An army of network TV people would be camped on her front lawn. Lifestyle reporters from every major newspaper would be calling her at all hours of the day and night.
The woman's hair would be falling out by the third day of the siege.
No. I wouldn't want that on my conscience.