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A Month of General & Trauma Surgery

How to Survive a Month of General and Trauma Surgery at my County Hospital:

  • Apologize, in advance, to friends and family. You’re not going to be around much.
  • Learn to scrub in, to stand very still for hours, to befriend the scrub nurse.
  • Don’t say anything too stupid.
  • Learn to sew skin with tools resembling a fishhook, a pair of pliers, a pair of tweezers. Buy pigs’ feet at the supermarket, cut, sew—practice, practice, practice.
  • Sew up a patient after surgery. Suture faster when the anesthesiologist says the patient will wake up in three minutes.
  • Learn to sew fascia, to sew bowel.
  • Agree that to wake up at 0500 is to sleep in.
  • Hold a man’s leg while your intern saws off his gangrenous foot. Watch a gigli saw move through a limb without flinching.
  • Work with gloves covered in blood, in fat, in pus, in shit.
  • Become indifferent to the smell of electrocauterized flesh.
  • Stand behind your surgeon when he tells a little old lady that all the nodes had cancer in them.
  • Wonder if you’re changing, having seen what you have.
  • Fall asleep on the resident room couch. Dream of endless, running subcuticular stitches.
  • In the trauma bay, cut the shirt off a six year old after a car crash has shattered both his femurs.
  • Wonder about a world that allows such things to happen.
  • During laparoscopic operations, don’t jerk the camera around or the surgeons will feel carsick.
  • During call nights, laugh with the interns until your belly hurts.
  • Help to cut out or off a gallbladder, an appendix,  a tumor, half a colon, a foot, a leg, a breast, both breasts.
  • Don’t be too upset when someone chews you out.
  • Be smarter. Work harder. Do a better job. Don’t be a pushover for anyone. Don’t be an asshole to anyone. Eat when you can. Sleep when you can. If you’ve got anything left, study.
  • Realize that you’ve got it better than many, many others.

Do all this and I’m guessing that on your first day you will see all the cutting and sewing, all the blood and pus and pain, and you will think that is disgusting, frightening, beautiful. On your last day, I’m guessing that you will see all of it again and you will think that it’s Tuesday. Just Tuesday. All this saving and losing, all this organization and chaos existed before you knew anything about it, existed despite your knowing nothing about it. It may seem strange but after you leave it will all go on…and on. Maybe you will see how different the world is than you supposed it to be four weeks ago. Maybe you will realize that you’re doing fine, just fine. And maybe then you will agree with me that the most astounding thing about the human soul is its malleability.

Comments

9 Responses to “A Month of General & Trauma Surgery”

  • You will not arrive at mid-life and feel as though you did nothing that made a difference.

    Envious
    S

    • thank you, s. but you’re too kind; i did nothing beyond what an average clinical med student would do. as for making a difference, there’s no time like the present, etc. etc.

  • That’s what makes it so incredibly disorienting…it has been done, is being done by people just like u…and yet, it changes you so thoroughly that you can’t imagine not knowing these things bone deep…it’s a Tuesday. I like that. 🙂

    • It “is being done by people just like you.” Very well said. Every now and then, I’ll be chatting with a heart surgeon, or a life-flight pilot and I’ll find it very strange that they are just an ordinary guy / gal.

  • Cymru Llewes

    7:16 am Feb-7-2012

    Reply

    “Be smarter. Work harder. Do a better job. Don’t be a pushover for anyone. Don’t be an asshole to anyone. Eat when you can. Sleep when you can. If you’ve got anything left, study.”

    This is the secret to a good life.

  • […] my Month of General & Trauma Surgery, the importance of simple actions first suggested themselves to me. The steadiness of your hands is […]

  • “Be smarter. Work harder. Do a better job. Don’t be a pushover for anyone. Don’t be an asshole to anyone. Eat when you can. Sleep when you can. If you’ve got anything left, study.”

    This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Annie Dillard:

    “Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength.”

    I used this quotation in my PhD program admissions essay. It’s a shame that I withdrew as an ABD; the work no longer excited me.

    I’m in the middle of Spellwright and am glad to have discovered your work. Thanks for a great novel!

    • That’s a wonderful Dillard quotation! I might have to steal that from you…or…her I suppose 😉 And thank you for the kind words about Spellwright. I hope the words continue to come alive for you. If you ever pick up the sequel, let me know what you think. Personally, I think it’s a better book, but, personally, I’m biased 😉

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