This week in shadowing, we saw a coronary artery bypass. Because we shadow anesthesiology, we get to see the doctors and nurses set up. It is like setting up a show, everything must be done a certain way in a certain order. From inserting the catheter to carefully draping him so only the necessary areas of his body were exposed (in his case, his entire torso and his legs) and even unwrapping the towels a certain way, everything must be done just so and this was all before he was even cut open. A nurse got us step stools to stand on so we could see. The surgeons walked in at the last minute, taking the drill and the blade and adjusting the lights above. Then, they got to work and we stood there mesmerized until we had to go back to class.
On the walk back to campus, I was in a daze. Upon reflecting on the experience, I found it to be simply bizarre to consider how the show and many others like it are continuing in operating rooms all over the world while we walk outside in the light of day. I couldn't stop thinking about the aftermath of the show. When I was in fourth grade, I was the wicked witch of the west for my class’ version of the Wizard of the Oz and the face paint dyed my face green for three days after. The show was over but I felt like it was still happening to me.
The man who underwent surgery today is going to wake up and hurt. But the surgeons had to break him to fix him. It was simply another day of work for these doctors. The anesthesiologists likely won’t see the patient again, but the surgeons, the ones who weren’t even there from start to finish, will be the ones to see him again when he wakes up. He will go home eventually and have a long, difficult recovery from this invasive surgery.
I admired the patient’s bravery and the surgeons’ dexterity. I was amazed at the anesthesiologists’ ability to compute complex body statistics against powerful medications. If I walked out in a daze and the man under the knife walks out in pain, how do the doctors walk out? Do they hurt, too, when they imagine what it feels like later to have the many sutures down your chest? Do they smile when they think about the years of life they added to his by just doing their job? In the operating room, they are all one show: surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, perfusionists, and even us undergraduate students. Outside, we are a fragmented entity that carries only our unique perspective of the show, combined with some input from their explanations.
As a doctor, I will need to learn how to make sense of the show every day. To care for children with medical complexity, children whose needs do not fit inside a single diagnosis or a single medication, I will need to work in teams to put on good shows. But at the end of the day, when I will go home hopefully to my family, I wonder where I will put it. I am an empathic, emotional, and sensitive human being, but I am also driven and dedicated. I believe that I will learn how to integrate what I see of and the role I play in the show into who I am, without losing myself in the process.
Hannah Todd is a rising senior at Rice University, where she is majoring in Spanish and Policy Studies with a minor in Medical Humanities. Additionally, she is concurrently pursuing her Master's in Public Health at the University of Texas and ultimately plans to attend medical school, which would allow her to integrate personal, academic, and professional experience into care for and policy regarding children with medical complexity.