Monday, September 5, 2011

Out of the Frying Pan

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Out of the Frying Pan…

Surgery Rotation Week 1: Complete

I had a lot of expectations. People told me a lot of things. It would be like boot camp. You’ll get yelled at. You won’t sleep. It will consume your life. It will consume you. You’ll love it! You’ll hate it!

Some of these things are true. Some of them may become true. But the strongest feeling I have is that it’s not as bad as I was expecting. Maybe this is the point of all the warning. Maybe we’re prepared for a horror and are relieved when it’s only terrible.

Last week I worked about 13 hours on the weekdays and 6 hours on Saturday with a day off on Sunday. That’s a lotta hours. But as I write this (at midnight on my first Sunday), my roommate just walked in having worked all day since 5:30 AM. And we’re supposed to also read the assigned 1200 page textbook in these 8 weeks. And do three sets of online modules.

And it’s also challenging physically. Standing hour upon hour is rather taxing on one’s feet and back. I think people who do this for a living adjust (I’d guess that some of it actually comes from bone remodeling, but I haven’t had time to look it up).

There’s a lot of machismo, people almost bragging about how little they slept or how much they work. There is rudeness, some of it necessary and some of it silly. It’s like visiting a foreign country with strange customs and peculiar traditions; you constantly need to be scanning to see what other people are doing, how they’re moving, how they’re speaking, what they’re doing.

On top of it all, I started missing meals because the work was so heavy. It was so busy, I didn’t realize I was hungry until after the mealtime had long passed. But after a few days like this, I figured out to eat in the little scraps of time between sprints, and to make up for it with large meals when I could get them.

The limits of human consciousness are being pushed.

Why is it done this way? Several ideas come to mine. It might be as a rite of passage. It might be because surgery has so much to teach and only 8 weeks to teach it in. It might be because they can get a lot of free work out of us. But I think the most likely is that it was done this way by the last group of surgeons, so why change now?

Whatever the reason they do it, it has this benefit: it tempers the soul. The finest steel comes through the hottest fire. I’ll know how far I can stretch, how fast I can think, how many hours I can work if I need to. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs:
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear.
It is suffering that shows what a person is made of. Physical, mental, spiritual suffering. None of these are excluded from this rotation. And my character will be exposed.

The sermon at church today was about despair and darkness. And, for the first time in a long time, I heard something completely new (at least to me): one of the advantages of despair is that it proves to you that you’re not a mercenary, that you’re not worshipping God because of what you get out of it. Of course, God knows you. But you don’t know you.

And in an analogous way, I don’t know what I can survive. I thought it was less than this. I thought I needed more breaks and more food and more sleep than I’ve been getting. I thought I wouldn’t be able to focus after working so many hours. But I can. One week on surgery has proved to me that I am much stronger than I thought. And not just me. We all are. Human beings are. It’s just rare that we push ourselves to our limits. And if I survive these next seven weeks, I will learn an invaluable lesson: I am stronger than I thought. If I survive.


  1. So glad you gave us a window in your new adventure David....Mom said she wanted to be a fly on the wall (Aunt Jackie too) and you gave us this opportunity :) Love you and proud of you too....

  2. "But I think the most likely is that it was done this way by the last group of surgeons, so why change now?

    Whatever the reason they do it, it has this benefit: it tempers the soul. "

    Do you reject that the listed benefit is not also the reason? In the ultimate collectivist spirit, we decide that the well being of the ultimate care givers is expendable; to what end?
    To give better care to everyone else. A strange mutt of brilliance and perverseness, but what it produces? It makes bilbos out of butter knifes.

    As fire to iron, so need to the soul.
    Both toughning and tempring but not without toll.