Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Monday, February 18, 2008
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Battlefield, ballet theater, hospital, and church. What could these four possibly have in common?
I started reflecting on this after I visited the current edition of SurgeXperiences, a blog carnival hosted this week by Chris over at Made a Difference for That One: a Surgeon's Letters Home from Iraq (I hosted the last edition a couple of weeks ago). He centers his collection adroitly around "the love-hate relationship between surgery and war," and offers this introductory thought:
"What I realized most as I reviewed the excellent submissions this week, is that surgery, both for the patient and the surgeon, is very much like war. There is an urgency to fight against a foe who may kill if left unchecked. Both are activities with high contact and there will be blood. Both are better, far better, when over."
I don't know a whole lot about the military, but I'm pretty familiar with the ballet world, medicine, and my dear old ecclesia. Here's what struck me as comparable features among all four of these seemingly disparate arenas:
1. Training: those 10 or 15 years you spend preparing to participate fully. It's often hard and painful and can feel incredibly unfair. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right...? (I dunno - I actually have a bone to pick with that idea, because I've seen it make people morally weaker or emotionally scarred, too, in some cases...)
2. Hierarchy. Many Americans or folks with egalitarian sensibilities might chafe at operations conducted, and in fact reliant upon, a fairly rigid hierarchy. But though I strongly believe all people have equal dignity and equal rights, their unequal abilities / education / training / experience make hierarchies useful when used properly, without abuses of power or disregard for people's intrinsic worth.
3. Inside jokes, jargon, language, customs, rituals, and familiar experiences. I'm a "native speaker" in three out of the four cultures, but I can see how foreign each of them must look to those who are just "passing through," and how possessive the "natives" can be of their special knowledge of the world they inhabit.
4. Near-total outpouring / investment of onself required - and, on a related note, "the show must go on." It can't stop because you're tired or uncomfortable or emotionally stressed. You're needed for a purpose higher than satisfying your own needs. I'll admit I've often resented this. I once heard the O.R. nurses complain bitterly (and with good reason, I thought) about a time when they were called to work on the obstetric floor because the obstetric nurses were "de-briefing" all day over a traumatic loss that they hadn't even directly been involved with. For most combat medics, docs and anesthetists, surgeons, residents, performers, etc. there's no "de-briefing" allowance. If you're needed, you go to work, even if you've just seen or experienced something traumatic and wanna curl up under a blanket and cry for a while. Sorry. You're needed elsewhere and you gotta put aside your needs and your feelings (what business do you have having THOSE anyway? That's "weak!").
Just the other night I had to re-intubate someone for respiratory insufficiency in the PACU under stressful circumstances, with the next surgeon chomping at the bit wondering when we could start his case, and when I finally got the patient all settled in the ICU the phone rang with the surgeon (actually, a cardiologist who, unlike most surgeons who take about half an hour to place a pacemaker, often takes two to three hours) wondering when the heck we could get started. It was 7:30 p.m. All I wanted to do was go home and cry out some of the tension and fatigue, but instead I had to go back to the main O.R., smile, and greet the next patient as if nothing had happened (Bongi at Other Things Amanzi writes about a similar phenomenon of having to be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the next person after you've told the last person the worst news she's ever heard). This is one of the things I find challenging about my job (besides the fact that you never know what's coming and that possible disaster's always looming around the corner): the fact that you have to commit to be strong for others regardless of how bad you feel inside, and perform at your peak no matter what, no excuses. It's a little unforgiving, but I also do believe doctors, medics, and most nurses have to try to be at their best all the time while they're working, because people's lives are at stake. So, no "de-briefing" for us - that has to wait until we get home. If we ever do, that is.
The "outpouring" of care does have its rewards, of course. I am on call for four days straight this weekend and this morning had the chance to help a young boy through a procedure to reset his broken forearm. Boy in tears in the preop area, then father in tears, then mother in tears, but in the end all went well, and it was one of the smoothest anesthetics I've given a child that age in recent memory. Child woke up fully in the PACU sleepy but comfortable and calm. One can't ask for more than that.
Did have a chance to come home for a little while...just in time to wave goodbye to my family as they drove off for a school vacation week ski holiday without me. With any luck I'll be able to join them some time next week...maybe "de-brief" a little...
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
You know you've spent too much time in hospitals when the first thing you notice about people is their veins and what size IV would fit in them and the first thing that comes into your mind when a hockey player takes a skate blade to the neck is, "OMG is he okay?! Good thing his circle of Willis is intact!"
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Went to see the company's last performance in Boston this season and came out of it, as always, in total awe.
Their latest T-shirt shows words like power, passion, strength, spirit. These words capture only fleeting glimpses of what this company is. I would pay money just to see these dancers walk across the stage, in all their muscular glory and spiritual abandon, as they do so gracefully in Ailey's enduring masterpiece Revelations. In this ballet even when they hold still it's breath-taking. And when they move, Lord...they show us the epitome of what human movement can be.
*Sigh.* This is the only company in the world that can make me feel for a moment that I missed the boat...that I should have tried harder, persisted with the dance training, if only for a slim chance to be near this kind of greatness, touch the hem of it. Ailey started the company in 1958. Four years later it was already being recognized as a national treasure: the company was chosen to tour Asia and Australia as part of the John F. Kennedy's "Special International Program for Cultural Presentations." Fifty years later it is the BEST dance company this country has to offer, I think, and has been for years.
One of my colleagues, an orthopedic surgeon I enjoy working with, once expressed surprise that I should look upon another profession, especially an artistic one, as potentially more fulfilling than the work we do to serve others in medicine. I can't explain it. I remember that when I danced and danced well, really well, I felt as if I had pushed past certain human limits and liberated the part of me that knew how to take flight, to connect with others and with music, with stories our human words can't fully express, and turn my breath and muscles into channels for some divine energy nothing else could capture.
So when I watch these perfectly beautiful, strong, powerful passionate men and women up there doing just that, I do feel a great deal of longing. One of my teachers at the Joffrey Ballet School once went on TV and described me as someone who had "the soul of a dancer." In many ways I feel like I let some of these amazing teachers down choosing a different road. But I also truly feel I'm living the life I'm supposed to be living, with the soulmates by my side, husband and children, that I'm supposed to be living with. I'll just have to be a doctor's body carrying a dancer's soul, I guess!
*Tongue was firmly planted in cheek when I wrote the title. I know there are a lot of great folks from Texas.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Why "celebrate" something so depressing as Lent? It's a liturgical season that echoes the 40 days Jesus spent praying in the desert, the "desert times" in all our lives, and the barren winter of ordinary time that leads to the rebirth of spring. It's also the big preparation time for the holiest remembrance of the year, that of Christ's death and resurrection. I love marking time with the liturgical seasons; they create a rhythm to the year of faith-practice that just sweeps you along on a journey from an infant's very earth-bound birth in an obscure village to a cataclysmic, mystically transforming event for one man and, many believe, for all.
But I have to admit I've never really LIKED this particular season, Lent. It has always seemed so gloomy. I don't like morose approaches to faith and life in general. One of my colleagues said to me light-heartedly today, "To dust I shall return? No way. I'm going to have myself cryogenically frozen!"
I don't think Jesus spent his 40 days in the desert beating himself up over past mistakes or nurturing in himself a sense of unworthiness, shame, or fear. I don't think this is what he was about or what Lent is meant to be, but in the past the season has often been described to me as a time to reflect on sinfulness and the need for repentance. I think of it as spiritual work-out time - like the sometimes hard and painful but ultimately health-building, strengthening, wonderful exercises dancers do at the ballet barre. I have found that retreats - stepping back from material cares and mundane concerns into silence and sacred space - can make that spiritual work really fruitful, but silence and sacred space are really hard to come by these days, making the demarcation of sacred time even more valuable.
I think Jesus spent his time in the desert in deep connection with Spirit and world. I appreciate what Bruce Feiler said in his program Walking the Bible, during which he visited the awe-inspiring Sinai Desert: "In the desert you are between being in extreme places, having extreme emotions, and opening yourself up to spiritual ideas that never existed before. That's why the desert is such a powerful place. You're pushed to the limits of your capacity and you crave nonhuman, nonrational support -- that is, God...That's what Jews, Christians and Muslims all have in common: a single man goes out into the desert and has a transforming experience."
For my fellow Catholic-geeks (reluctant or ardent, or both) out there: here's a Lenten Meme I found on other blogs while hopping around the Net this evening. Enjoy! :)
What is your favorite Sorrowful Mystery?
Aw, man, a Sorrowful Mystery? A favorite one? Isn't that, like, a contradiction in terms? Oh, all right...The Agony in the Garden. Jesus at his most human: feeling alone, praying his heart out, stressed out enough to show hematidrosis, yet in the end choosing to trust in God completely...
What is your favorite Station of the Cross?
Veronica wiping Jesus' face. Yes, it's a fictional incident (most likely - or maybe it's based on an incident like it and got passed down through oral tradition). But I love it. I love the healing element, the laying on of tender hands on suffering face, the courageous love of it. I love the whole "left-his-face-imprint-on-the-cloth" legend. I love its narrative cousin, the story of the Shroud of Turin. I know, I know - the shroud's a medieval hoax, right? Well, I love it. It's just so coo-ool. What can I say.
Do you fast during Lent?
I try to observe the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday fasts but don't always do so well. I understand that there's something instructive about experiencing hunger...but it can also be impractical...
What is your Lenten resolution?
I don't recall being brought up with the idea of "giving something up" or even encountering the idea till I moved to the United States. The custom is similarly unfamiliar / absent on my husband's French side of the family. What I'd like to try this year is to recuperate some of the education I had years ago about my faith, maybe be a more rigorous apologist for those convictions that I do hold dear within the framework of my faith.
Do you use Holy Water during Lent?
I've only ever conscientiously used holy water once in my life - so no, not typically.
How many times to you go to Mass during Lent?
Weekly, as is our family's practice, but we also try to engage in Holy Week pretty actively and have a liturgically rich Triduum.
Wishing everyone who enters the season of Lent a good "desert time..."
"I guess if introspection is your thing, then the desert is the place for you." -Anthony Bourdain
Sunday, February 3, 2008
I've chosen the above painting by Gauguin as an organizational aid for the carnival. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897–1898) was painted in Tahiti and is now at our very own Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston, as far as I know. Without further ado, let's take a stroll through the questions Gauguin poses in his title!
Hard-earned knowledge also helps us do our job well. Dr. Bates, author of Suture for a Living, gives us an informative article on an overlooked but very important body part.
Buckeye Surgeon points out how the challenges of working and making decisions in the community can differ from those of working in the hallowed halls of academe in this post about an urgent operation to remove a child's spleen.
What about the rest of the team?
Makeminetrauma over at intraopOrate introduces us to the world of the surgical first assistant and reminds us all not to assume things are as easy as they look in this post about laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery.
At Livin' Large, Unsinkable MB compares her job as a circulating nurse to that of a familiar face to those of us who grew up in the 70's...
And I couldn't resist inserting my old diatribe "Have You Hugged Your Anesthesiologist Today?" from months back, about what anesthesiologists do. Go, team!
Some people think the growing interest in alternative medicine is a step in the right direction, while others decry the dangers that may lurk therein for unsuspecting patients. Whether or not we fear urban legends come true (anyone seen the film Awake yet?) or scoff at what we see as quackery, the alternatives will always be fair game. Psychic surgery? Is it a joke? Some people claim they've benefited from it. What about gallbladder flush? Sid Schwab weighs in with some strongly worded thoughts.
We have even more urgent and complicated challenges for us in the realm of ethics and morality. We face difficult questions, small and large, on a daily basis in the operating room. Should we suspend DNRs? How do we balance the information a family wants to know versus what they need to know? Should we even do a case in someone whose illness is clearly not salvageable? How about...should we use our expertise to participate in killing people? Terry over Counting Sheep offers a lucid post on the subject of lethal injection. And this heart-breaking, beautifully written post from Dr. Schwab about the death of a child reminds all of us that moral courage in the operating room covers not only decision-making before and during a procedure but also one's demeanor, sentiment, and behavior in its aftermath.
Then there's technology. Hundreds of years from now I bet people will look back on 20th- and 21st- century surgery as comparatively barbaric. But we're making progress. Minimally invasive techniques are all the rage. Off-pump cardiac surgery has been made possible by special stabilizing machinery. We can regenerate heart tissue, transplant faces, separate the conjoined. We are developing robotic techniques - I think I mentioned once that one of my most memorable cases involved the robotic removal of a boy's uterus. But what about robot rounds? I'm not sure removing the human factor is ALWAYS an improvement...
In fact, snazzier doesn't always mean better. Once again, a word from Sid about "bugs" in the O.R. and how a little common sense can be all the technology you really need - and how the body's capacity to repair itself can often outdo the high-tech stuff.
Last but not least, speaking of clean O.R.'s, I'd like to end the carnival with a link to this tribute about one more often-overlooked member of the team that helps the O.R. run smoothly. Thank you, Barb!
Thanks to all who submitted posts for this edition. I wish I could have used all of them! I'm taking the liberty of linking you to one last one from Sid, about scrubs, one from Aggravated Doc Surg, about how we should be careful how we read studies, and a humorous one from amanzimtoti that lightened up the mood a little. They made for good reading but I couldn't fit them into place under my Gauguin schema.
Tune in next time, February 17, when Chris from Made a Difference hosts surgeXperiences #115!
To quote one of my favorite childhood TV shows, this edition of surgeXperiences has been brought to you by the letter
"Where have we come from? Where are we going?
What is the meaning of our lives? We can’t comprehend.
So many pure souls under the blue circle of sky
Burn into ashes! But tell me, where is the smoke?"
-From the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, translated by Dmitri Smirnov