Zurich Memories: Neurosurgery, Nostalgia, and the Seeds of a Pandemic

At the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, I was in Zurich, the capital of Switzerland, for a symposium on vascular surgery. The city reminded me of Ankara with its similar buildings, cold weather, and the pristine Limmat River flowing through the heart of the city. I left my home in Istanbul in the morning and, without much prior planning due to travel, found myself in a large auditorium within the University of Zurich by midday, thanks to my experience navigating the metro in a bustling city.

The university is renowned for hosting pioneering scientists like Wilhelm Röntgen, Albert Hofmann, Erwin Schrödinger, and even Albert Einstein. The auditorium was filled with neurosurgeons from around the world presenting their impressive work.

After the sessions concluded on the first day, I headed to my budget-friendly and clean hotel room, which I had previously spotted online. The second day featured a special session dedicated to Professor Gazi Yaşargil, a living legend in the history of brain surgery. Just as Hippocrates is considered the father of medicine, Gazi Hoca is revered as the father of brain surgery.

The auditorium was much fuller on the second day, with attendees not only comprised of brain surgeons but also individuals eager to hear the professor speak. Professor Yaşargil joined us online from Istanbul.

I cannot adequately express how moved I was as a Turkish brain surgeon. In the classroom in Istanbul, my friends were with the professor in the auditorium, sharing the atmosphere with me simultaneously. Witnessing the entire auditorium rise to its feet in solemn respect, with everyone scrambling to capture the professor’s speech on their phones and cameras, was a remarkable moment. I shared these emotions with Istanbul at that moment.

Other memories from Zurich include the abundance of theaters and performance centers, the aroma of coffee in the air, and the excessively expensive chocolates.

Another vivid memory is of the many Chinese colleagues in the auditorium. I shook hands with several of them. About a month later, the world was engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic, reportedly originating from China.