Theatre is so called for a reason (I know in the US they call it the Operating Room or OR but we call it theatre) that reason being it is a show featuring numerous performers on a sort of stage. You would be wrong to assume that the patient is the star of the show, they are asleep, covered up from head to toe apart from the gaping naked maw of their abdomen.
The stars of the show are the surgeons, obviously! We are centre stage, illuminated from above and all activity happens around us and because of us. I love being in theatre, it is my natural habitat if you like. Scrubbed and gowned, masked and hatted, removed from the normal obligations to look a particular way, even the rules of personal space are gone and we touch hands and hips with each other as we work.
Watching two surgeons operate together who know what they are doing is truly beautiful. It is like watching a dance, hands come together and apart, instruments come in and out, pink viscera are pulled apart and rejoined wordlessly. Operating with someone whose mind you can either read or predict is a joy. I have the pleasure of that just now working with my current boss.
I love the feeling of the warm theatre lights, the rituals of scrubbing and gowning, prepping the skin and the traditional “is it ok to start?” to the anaesthetic team. If someone told me that I could never operate again I would be devastated. I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to do surgery. Washing my hands to start a case takes me away from the ward, from all the annoying admin crap, from the endless ward reviews and A&E consults of the mad, the fabricating, the distress and all the unfixables and unhelpables are temporarily gone.
I love that I am reduced in theatre to a pair of hands and a brain. It is the only time that what I do is not influenced by what I look like, what I wear, that I am a woman, that I am tall or short or fat or thin. I am also unreachable by the outside world thanks to the sterility and being scrubbed at the table. I’m a pair of hands and a brain doing what they have been trained to do.
It has taken me a long time to see that perhaps one of the reasons I so like surgery is because being good at it is independent from both appearance and personality and purely on whether or not you are any good. It helps make my job pleasant and easy when patients and nurses like me of course. I am pathetically desperate to be popular and liked, so I am told. I enjoy immensely that the one part that really matters is down to me as a surgeon.
I have become quite vain this year about how I do an operation, always making it look good, minimising the movements, being on top of the kit I need next. This is new for me as previously I only cared about the end result, now I am obsessed with the process. I am rather enjoying this vanity, it being a welcome relief from my usual concerns over my appearance and weight.
There can be so much drama in theatre; bleeding, rivers of bile, holes in great veins sucking air into the circulation, dead and dying intestines, dead and dying patients, grunting and struggling surgeons. It is an ensemble performance, a complex cast of people make it happen and everyone on the team matters.
The only slightly depressing thing is how do we motivate everyone on the team to feel the same? How can I make the 50 or so people also involved in my patients care feel that they should be doing their best efforts? I do my best because I am personally responsible for what I do to them and have to face them before and after and deal with the complications.
If it was a movie production and we were all actors how could the supporting extras be convinced that the success of the show depends on them? I don’t know, but I thank everyone in theatre and appreciate their work and have no problem doing that at all. The patient thanks me after all and so I pass that gratitude on to the team.
The drama. The fun. The challenge. It’s great. Happy new year readers.