This post is a month-late but was actually written (mostly) at the LaGuardia Airport (edited in Ann Arbor much later though):
This past Labor Day weekend marked the end of my two-month Surgery clerkship and the final good-bye to summer. As I’m sitting here in the LaGuardia airport in New York, waiting for my delayed flight back to Detroit before beginning Family Medicine tomorrow morning, the weekend-long chorus of questions and comments from family and friends (none of whom work in medicine) runs through my mind: How was Surgery? You look so tired! Did you like cutting up people? Do you wear your white coat while operating? You look so thin. What do you actually do during the operations? Do you like surgeons? Here, eat more!
What have I seen during the past two months of Vascular Surgery in the gleaming green-glass building of the Cardiovascular Center and Surgical Oncology/Colorectal Surgery in the underbelly of the hospital (the operating rooms are located below the cafeteria—a very intelligent design as nurses, surgeons, techs can dash up the two flights of stairs for sushi or sandwiches and dash back down)?
A bulging aorta pulsating and gleaming beneath the surgeon’s headlamp, ready to rupture, before being neatly sliced and parted and the cream-colored plaque carefully scooped out. The shiny, hairless legs of peripheral arterial disease. The satisfaction of drawing the skin neatly together with a subcutaneous stitch. The smell of burning skin as I’ve “bovied” my way through an ancient incision into the axilla of a man with metastatic melanoma. I’ve driven the camera during a laparoscopic surgery and seen bowels ripple past each other and the spleen—a blue robin’s egg resting atop the liver. The pulsating heart and lungs of a child with coarctation of the aorta. The immaculate fist-sized uterus and delicate fimbriae in the depths of a young woman’s pelvis. Removing a patient’s gown only to see a red cauliflower-shaped cancer blooming atop the breast—the worst cancer the surgeons had seen in many years and a product of lack of access to care and self-denial. A surgeon who held the hand of every breast cancer patient in the operating room before a surgery while the anesthesia settled into the body.
My emotions have been a rollercoaster, ranging from a 2/10 when I’ve had to scrub out for the 5th time during a surgery because I touched my mask yet again to a 10/10 when racing to the operating room to see my first anal-perineal resection, when seeing a mother with newly-diagnosed breast cancer in clinic on my first day of surgery and seeing her again with her family, far more ready and confident with her decision, in the pre-operating bay and finally in the operating room and in the recovery bay on my last day of surgery.
A few mementos from the surgery experience: