We were in the operating room, performing a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy on a dog with a cranial cruciate ligament injury. Prior to cutting the proximal tibia with an oscillating saw, we measured 9.4 mm. Not once, but twice. We needed to be certain that we measured 9.4 mm so that we could rotate the proximal tibial segment exactly 9.4 mm. The stifle had to be stabilized and we wouldn’t get a second shot once the saw was powered on.
“Measure twice, cut once.”
As the surgeon measured the degree of rotation, not once but twice, he also stated that phrase twice as well, signifying how important the phrase, and subsequent action, really was.
I swore I had heard the phrase before, somewhere, on some television show or YouTube video. But I couldn’t immediately recall where I had heard it. After a couple minutes of deep, introspective thought I remembered where I had heard the phrase. I chuckled. Rick and Morty. Of all the shows on television, Rick and Morty. The scene includes Rick, who when working on a bioweapon to defeat the Chudds, a race of underground cannibalistic horse people, is rushed by Morty who doesn’t want him finding out his secret. Rick goes on to explain the importance of being methodical because, in science, once a decision is made there is no going back. Obviously, and in true Rick and Morty fashion, disaster ensues because Rick was forced by Morty to disregard checking his work. Morty didn’t care, his secret was too embarrassing.
It was interesting to hear a board-certified veterinary surgeon using a phrase that appeared in an adult cartoon. But I was sure Rick was not the originator of the phrase, so I went to Google, as always, and did some research.
For literal reasons, the phrase has historically been used by carpenters. Makes perfect sense. There’s also a similar Russian phrase, “Measure seven times, cut once,” which may be based on an even older Gaelic expression, “Better measure short of seven, than spoil all at once.” There’s another older, 19th century Cheshire proverb “score twice before you cut once.” But, predating the 19th century by 300 years, there’s evidence of a phrase coined by Benvenuto Cellini, an Italian man of many skills who lived during the 1500’s. Writing in his autobiography in 1588 he states, “mark seven times and cut once.” But who knows where the phrase truly originated? There are some other prominent Italian figures who stated similar words and the phrase, sort of, appears in a Bible passage as well.
Regardless of the true origin of the phrase, “measure twice, cut once” has made its way into veterinary medicine and we should all live by it. Keep it in your mind in the OR, exam rooms, wherever. It’s always good to check your work and make sure things are done appropriately.
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