Lunch at the MassGeneral Bistro

Flash fires during surgery–similar to a flambe’, according to one physician–are more common than thought. 

                                                            The Boston Globe


BOSTON.  Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the world’s most prestigious healthcare institutions, has undergone a radical transformation since it was founded in 1811 to serve the poor.  With health care costs spiralling out of control and Medicare reimbursements flat, hospital trustees have found a new way to boost revenues–gourmet dining at the operating table.

Massachusetts General Hospital


Today interns from Harvard Medical School will observe as Dr. Claus Heinz, the dean of the fiercely competitive Boston-Cambridge appendicitis community, performs an emergency appendectomy as part of a three-course brunch to the Wedge family, who bid $1,000 for the privilege at the hospital’s annual gala last month.

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.:  “I’ll have an appendix and tomato sandwich, hold the mayo.”

“The first thing you must remember,” the eminent physician says to the med students, “is to do no harm, and make sure your guests have rolls or bread sticks to munch on while they’re waiting for their salads.”

Appendectomies are normally performed under emergency conditions, and today is no exception as orderlies wheel in the first patient, Ron Abelson, a student at nearby Suffolk University who has mistaken his abdominal pain for heartburn from a submarine sandwich he ate at Buzzy’s Fabulous Roast Beef after an all-night study session.

“The veriform appendix is delicious when sauteed with onions or garlic,” Dr. Heinz tells the students.  He melts some butter over a burner, makes an incision just above McBurney’s point (one third of the way from the anterior superior iliac spine and the umbilicus), and plops the already-inflamed organ into the pan.  “Now for the spectacle!” he says with a gleam in his eye as he adds brandy, which bursts into an enticing blue flame.  “Voila!” he says after layering slices of the sizzling meat over a salad of Boston Bibb lettuce, mandarin oranges and almond slivers.

“Yum!” says Susan Wedge, who has taken a few adult education cooking classes herself in an effort to spice up her family’s mealtime routine.  Next comes the main course, and Dr. Heinz gives way to his colleague, Dr. Marcia Overbay, a recognized specialist in adenoid surgery.  “Today we’re going to have a very basic ‘comfort food’ entree–deep fried adenoids.”

“Yay!” says 12 year-old Linda Wedge, who is developing a sophisticated palate at an early age thanks to her mother’s efforts.  “I didn’t want her to go through childhood eating nothing but chicken fingers, hot dogs and hamburgers,” says Susan.  “We’ve been taking her to ‘grown-up’ restaurants since she was a toddler.”

Mass. General was one of the first hospitals to experiment with anaesthesia during surgery, and as the Wedges clean their plates they appear a little drowsy themselves.

“You’re not done yet,” says Hospital Administrator Charles Kowalczyk, who has spearheaded the drive to combine fund-raising with cutting-edge advances in medicine.  “Feast your eyes on this!” he exclaims as a dessert cart with a flaming mound of cake is wheeled next to the table.

“That looks scrumptious–what is it?” Ron Wedge asks with excitement.

“I think you’d better eat it before I tell you.”

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