This summer, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a state of the art operating theater. While I was very excited, my main concerns were bracing myself so as to not throw up or pass out, and checking my clumsy self to be the least obtrusive I could. Surgery is a serious, quiet, sombre business, and knowing myself, I would trip over some trays, the surgeon would flinch, and the guy on the gurney would get lobotomized accidently. Thankfully, I had it all wrong.
1. It’s not really scary
I expected the sight of a cut up human body to scar me for life, but it wasn’t so bad. In fact, once cut up, human bodies don’t look very different from the inside of sheep or cows (except for the four stomach chambers I suppose).
It’s just bone and fat, muscle and blood, which instead of grossing me out, just put a lot of things into perspective. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re 5’3 or 6’2, plain or handsome, android or apple. On the gurney, after the muscle and fat has been sawed through, it really is a question of what’s on the inside.
2. Music is OK
Out of a row of operating theatres (OT’s) to choose from, I selected based entirely on the fact that Kanye West was playing. Turns out, the right way to jam out on Yeezy is while cutting up some guys innards.
This was in fact pretty common. If a surgery was lengthy and ‘routine’ and the patient was completely anesthetized, the OT staff would crank up the radio and live a little.
“We do the same surgeries day in and out,” one heart surgeon told me, in between ‘how many anesthesiologists does it take’ jokes. “I have done this exact same heart surgery more times than I can count. What’s in a little fun?”
Looking back, everyone wore Crocs so I should have known not to take them too seriously.
3. Doctors break down too
While they may be a lighthearted bunch when they can, that does not change the grim realities of medical professions. Surgeons haggle with life and death daily, and when death wins and takes its dues it is heart-breaking to watch.
One surgery I assisted was an emergency C-section. The doctors held the mother’s shaking hand through the anesthesia, and then with swift knives cut her open. The woman was having twins, and one was likely dead and the other dying. They pulled out the twin that didn’t survive and reached right back in to save the living one.
After sewing the mother back up, the ob-gyn gave her the news. “They look just like each other,” she said
Upon holding the still twin, the mother wept, choking on her tears. Many of the doctors, nurses and technicians surrounding her cried too.
Many times I saw doctors blink away tears or wipe them hastily. They’re only human, after all.
I think the most important thing I take away from this experience was that death doesn’t discriminate. Be it a star athlete in a freak accident, an old vegetative patient, or a seven year old with every zest for life.
Death can claim them all, sometimes in the same day.
After that realization smacks you in the face, it makes no sense to discriminate between the living — or not appreciate every breath.