How a hyena mauling a boy in Africa holds a message for high-school grads

MIKE BOONE, The Gazette

Published: Wednesday, May 09 2007

The title character on House isn't the only doctor with a flair for drama.

Tarek Razek is no slouch. The chief of trauma at the Montreal General Hospital has smooth delivery, impeccable timing and a dramatist's grasp of what will move an audience.

I've caught Razek's act twice. He did a power-point presentation at a breakfast sponsored by the McGill University Health Centre Foundation in February, and yesterday morning he took the show to Lindsay Place High School, where his doc talk was designed to scare Secondary V students into behaving responsibly on their grad night.

Lindsay Place grad festivities begin June 29 at a hotel near the airport. Where they go from there will depend on how closely they paid attention to Razek.

Sitting in the high school's auditorium with 240 students, I sensed they were getting restless about halfway through the 40-minute talk. That's when Razek zapped them.

He cued up a video shot by a camera mounted on the dashboard of a van as part of a U.S. highway safety study. The driver was wearing a T-shirt, baseball cap, a drowsy grin - and no seat belt.

Suddenly, panic grips the driver as he begins to lose control of the van. He bounces from side to side and then he's out of his seat and flying toward the rear of the vehicle, where his head hits the side window.

"He was decapitated," Razek said.

"Oh s--t!" more than one student exclaimed.

Now he had them. Everyone sat up straight. There was an audible buzz.

And Razek was just warming up.

A native Montrealer who lives in Mile End, Razek, trained in Philadelphia and worked on an international team of trauma specialists in Africa. He showed photos of patients he'd treated in Sudan and Uganda.

First image was the right profile of a young man who had been shot in the face. The entry wound in his cheek was not much larger than a ripe zit.

A mouse click brought up the left profile, showing the exit wound. The horror of the image, which elicited another round of awed expletives from the crowd, cannot be conveyed in a family newspaper. Nor will I describe Razek's photo of an 8-year-old boy mauled by a hyena.

I'm not privy to precise plans for the Lindsay Place grad but I doubt anyone's planning to take a gun or a hyena. The point of those gory pictures, Razek said in his closing remarks, is that he and his audience are living in a part of the world that isn't beset by civil war or predatory animals.

"I was lucky to be born here," Razek said, "and to use my skills in a global environment." He hoped, the doctor added, that the high school grads will go on to become citizens of the world and help alleviate suffering. To stay healthy and realize that potential, they will have to make smart choices - like using seat belts and appointing designated drivers.

We've got the hyena problem licked in Quebec. Automobile safety is another story.

In running the trauma unit at the Montreal General Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre, Razek deals with the ravages of the road - ironic, he said, because his mother was killed when her stalled vehicle was hit by a truck.

He explained Newton's laws of motion as they apply to untethered passengers whose vehicles come to a sudden halt from 120 kilometres an hour. He told the students organ banks refer to motorcycles as "donorcycles." "If you saw me professionally," Razek told his audience, "you'd be having a very, very bad day." He's not a neurologist, but Razek offered the Lindsay Play Class of '07 some good advice about their heads: Use them - or lose them.

For information on Dr. Tarek Razek's presentations to students, phone MUHC special events co-ordinator Monica McDougall at 514-931-5656.