Steve Hubrecht/Columbia Valley Pioneer
Retired Cranbrook surgeon Mort Doran has been named a member of the Order of Canada for his efforts to raise awareness about Tourette’s Syndrome and for his contributions to medical education.
“It’s a bit embarrassing; somehow I feel I don’t match up to the criteria of others in that league (members of the Order of Canada),” said Doran, who now lives in Fairmont Hot Springs. “But I’m honoured and grateful that people would think I deserve it.”
Doran has lived with Tourette’s Syndrome his entire life.
But for almost four decades, he was unaware of the neurological disorder, having never even heard of Tourette’s — even though he had gone through medical school, been a general practitioner of medicine for five years and done his surgical residency.
It was only when listening to a neurosurgeon in Halifax being interviewed on CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks program about Tourette’s Syndrome that he realized the symptoms being described matched those he’d had since kindergarten.
“In the 10 minutes I just happened to listen to it, it was like a life description of me,” he said of the moment. He had previously assumed his symptoms were just an unexplainable part of his personality.
Growing up, Doran worked hard to hide or camouflage his Tourette’s symptoms — which include tics (non-voluntary motor movements, some of which have associated vocal sounds), ritualistic obsessive behaviours and compulsions, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder type behaviours (impulsiveness, distraction, non-compliance, and low tolerance for frustration).
“It was difficult in the sense of teasing and bullying,” said Doran. “I just kept away from everybody as much as I could. I had my own little world.”
Although having Tourette’s complicated Doran’s life, it hasn’t prevented him from being a top-notch, laser-focused surgeon in the operating room. He likens his tics to an itch on your nose — when one arose while he was operating, he’d pause, deal with it by taking a quick micro break and then immediately pick up the scalpel again and continue with the surgery. Like the tension from an itch being relieved from a quick scratch, the tension from the tics would dissipate with a break.
“What I would do is every so often, sometimes every three or four minutes, I would just step back and adjust my gloves or adjust my gown and then go back to cutting and dissecting. I was never concerned nor were any of the other doctors concerned that I would go and uncontrollably cut something I shouldn’t. You could certainly control,” said Doran.
The former surgeon has spoken all across the continent about Tourette’s Syndrome, often on behalf of the Tourette’s Syndrome Foundation of Canada, and likes to tell others who have the disorder (as well as their families) not to let it prevent them from doing what they want, saying that if he’d been diagnosed with the disorder as a kid or early on as a medical student he, or those around him, might have thought surgical residency impossible for him — something that’s clearly untrue.
“I probably wouldn’t have gotten into surgery. It was my ignorance of Tourette’s — and everybody else’s ignorance about it — that helped me to become a surgeon where otherwise I might not have,” said Doran.
“I tell kids, and their families and teachers, having Tourette’s is not easy and it’s not great, but don’t let it be the factor that holds you back. We (those with Tourette’s) are just as worthy as anybody else to do what we want to do. You can be pretty well whatever you want to — as much as it’s difficult, you barge on ahead,” said Doran.
Raising awareness about the disorder among not only those who have Tourette’s Syndrome and their families, but also among the general population is important, according to Doran.
“People are often not so kind and accepting of mental aberrations or any kind of abnormal behaviours,” he said. “Nobody laughs at somebody in a wheelchair, but they will laugh at people who display physical tics.”