Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Cutter's Diary

The neon lights of the hospital corridor boldly contrast the bland gray of the morning mist creeping through over sized windows. My feet shuffle and then stumble as I absentmindedly propel myself toward the ICU. My eyes shudder, deflecting remnants of last nights sleep.

At this early hour, the hallway feels like a forgotten graveyard. My reverie is interrupted by a flurry of activity. Transport personnel wheel their patients in front of the door well that leads to the operating room. Family members scurry to give one last hug, say one last goodbye, before their loved ones are pushed through the swinging doors and into the unknown.

I can't help but stare at each face as they pass by. I recognize the strange mix of terror, hope, and desperation brought on by powerlessness.


If Dagny Taggart existed in real life she would have been a surgeon.

Josie is standing in a circle of men who don't usually take direction from a woman. They belong to an era of medicine that has long past. Like in the days of the giants, they stalk through the hospital indifferent to their surroundings. They are cardiothoracic surgeons.

Josie presents patients like a machine gun. Each diagnosis and vital sign sprays forth in rhythmic staccato. The appearance of her torso is lengthened by her unorthodox posture; one leg is a stilt while the other folds into a triangle. Her hair is slightly disheveled from missing a night of sleep.

I watch from the corner of the room with the other medical students. Josie is pretty but not in the classical sense. Her jaw juts forward and her body is sleek and thin. As she finishes her conversation with the attendings, she strides effortlessly in my direction.

Come with me. We're opening Mr. Simpson's chest.


Mr. Simpson is dying. His blood pressure is dropping and his anemia is worsening. His emergent coronary artery bypass, the night before, has kept Josie busy till daybreak.

She leans over her patient in the cardiothoracic ICU. He is too sick to take to the OR, so Josie scrubs and steriley drapes him in his room. She is on the front lines of a battlefield and has created MASH unit.

She expertly removes the sternal wires and opens the chest cavity. Her eyes survey the operative site. I watch from the corner mesmerized. Her hands move with ease and fluidity. She performs a complicated dance with the attending who is functioning as her first assist. They communicate through movement without the exchange of words.

The blood pressure stabilizes. The anesthesiologist transfuses another few units. Josie closes up and takes off her gown. Their are other patients to tend to.


I can't help but feel a touch of anxiety as I pass by the operating room doors every morning. Sometimes there is a rush of fear as if I am the one kissing my wife and saying goodbye.

But no patient enters this solemn and sterile world alone. They are accompanied by a surgeon like Josie. Someone who has sworn to protect and cure with the precision of a scalpel.

Surgeons have been called butchers and carpenters. They have been mythologized as goons and thugs.

But, if you ask me, It takes guts to willingly put another person's life in your hands. It takes skill and mastery.

I think we owe them a debt of grattitude.

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