This is an interesting topic, and one that I was pondering myself late last night.
I’ll set the scene as best I can for you.
My team and I were standing in the Operating Room beneath the monotonous ticking of a rather old clock, not unlikes the ones you used to see in elementary school classrooms.
I really wish they’d skip the bureaucracy for once and just buy a goddamn digital one, if only to spare me the migraines.
Tick! Tick! Tick!
It was 1:04am, which told me we had just entered our sixth consecutive hour of surgery.
I was wrist-deep in a 55 year-old heavy smoker and lifelong layabout. His chart had told me earlier in the day that when the nurses had attempted to weigh him, the scale didn’t even register a number.
Whenever that’s happened in the past, S.O.P has been to simply write “N/A” in the box provided. Which is exactly what they had dutifully done this time.
That said, if someone had taken a moment to draw a crude walrus or some similarly revolting sea mammal, I’d have made no effort whatsoever to hide my amusement. Looking at the patient in that moment, our machines making his gray lungs inflate like grotesque party balloons, I almost wanted to the pull the plug on the guy and toss my latex gloves in surgical waste.
Of course, I’m a professional who has taken a sacred oath to preserve life, regardless of whether they happen to look like Jabba the Hutt.
So I soldiered on.
This was supposed to be a straightforward Angioplasty, which typically takes me 45 minutes to 1 hour; but the guy’s heart kept wanting to tap out like the woman who’s endured domestic abuse for so long, she’s finally come to think it really is her fault and not the piece of shit doing it to her.
Three times I had to call for the defibrillator, and three times it had failed to do its job, leaving me to massage the life back into his heart with my fingers.
That’s why he had to crack him open.
…and that’s why I felt a little down.
The surgery seemed like it was taking the scenic route to nowhere and had stopped for french fries.
And it’s not like I could just call it quits — this whole thing was on me. At least if it went to shit.
“Guys,” I said, stopping a moment and looking up at my team. “I’m feeling a little doubtful about my abilities. Sometime I wonder if I’m even making a difference at the end of the day, you know?”
There was a moment of silence and all I could hear were the instruments.
…and that goddamn clock.
“Dr. Ash?” I heard a voice say. It was Beth, one of the assistants. Around fifty, mother of two. She’s a real peach.
“Dr. Ash, I don’t think you have any reason to be so self-critical. After fast-tracking your way through Harvard Medical school and graduating at the age of 21, I can remember the doctors tacking up your picture on the bulletin board in the break room. Do you know what the caption read? ‘Hot Docs to Watch in 2006/2007.’ You’re the closest thing to a real-life Doogie Howser I think anyone’s ever seen. When you arrived at our hospital, I was pleased as punch! In fact, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that, right guys?”
I looked around the room and saw the masks nodding in agreement. Seriously, the best team going, these guys. Couldn’t do it without ’em.
“Come to think of it, weren’t you also done your residency in no time flat?” said Jon, our respiratory therapist that evening. I hadn’t seen him in a while before last night.
“I mean, I looked it up last month on a break, but yeah – you’re the youngest Cardiovascular Surgeon in North America at the moment, are you not? Hell, I think that’s pretty damn impressive in its own right, if you’ll pardon my language, Doc. I tell all my friends I get to work with the Dr. James Ash and they’re all, ‘Dude, whatever. That guy was on 60 Minutes for an interview with Mike Wallace!’ Ha! They don’t even believe me!”
I’ve never been good with accepting compliments, and I thought the team was giving me a little too much credit for what simply comes naturally.
I’ve always thought the real gift has been knowing I have the power to help. That’s the real motivator. But this guy under the blue curtains? Ultimately, do any of my repairs help him in the long run? Does he even have a long run left in him?
“But guys,” I began, “sometimes I feel like I can’t really—”
“But nothing!” said David, the Anesthesiologist. “Dude, you are a fucking rock star! My job requires a hell of a lot of knowledge and careful attention, but whenever you scrub in, it’s like I disappear!”
“Dave, come on, I–”
“No-no, I’m not mad! I envy you, man! I love those vintage Porsches you drive to work, for instance! It lets everyone know that you’re not just some filthy rich guy, but a filthy rich guy with taste! I mean, if you simply bought a new Escalade every time they released a new model, I’d think you were a real douche. But that’s not your style. And hey, speaking of models, where was it your wife last worked again? Beth and I were talking about this earlier, but we couldn’t agree.”
These guys were too much. Best staff in the business, hands down.
“Well, she’s been fortunate to have had quite a bit of work recently,” I said, “but what I think she’s most proud of is the experience she gained working for Victoria’s—”
“VICTORIA’S SECRET! Ha-ha! In your face, Beth!”
Beth rolled her eyes and I was glad she couldn’t see me smiling under my mask.
Hand to God, without these guys, I would be nothing.
“Hey, and another thing!” Dave began again. “After you take out the trash and clean the cat’s litter box, like I asked you to take care of YESTERDAY, why don’t you walk your ass to the store and pick up another 18-pack of Pop-Tarts. That was supposed to last the family the whole week, but look at you! Covered in Pop Tart crumbs! AGAIN!!”
God, I’m on it, Mom. Right after this game of Minecraft.
Sheesh! She can be a real bitch sometimes.
I enjoy a relaxing Pop Tart now and then. I don’t see the harm in that.