Charlotte's Web

They say if you want to go into surgery you have to love the OR. I've always said yeah... that makes sense. You don't become a professional baseball player if you're allergic to grass.

Which brings me to one of the most disconcerting experiences of my life. From a very young age, I was fascinated by surgery. I watched operations on the Discovery Health Channel, the UW Medical Channel (which conveniently got pumped through the cable into my dorm room in college!). I've always envisioned myself as a surgeon. Told people I wanted to be a surgeon. People always told me I looked and acted like a surgeon. Hell even my Meyers-Briggs test matched me as a best fit into... surgery. Which brings me to my first OR experience in medical school.

After the initial thrill and the incredible sight of the surgeons disassembling someone's body (dramatic embellishment) and the OH MY GOD I'M IN SURGERY! ... I was bored. I'm almost ashamed to type it, but I was. My legs ached from standing, my goggles kept fogging up, and I couldn't follow what was going on. It was horrible.

The good news: things got better. The surgeons let me do a couple menial things a few times, which helped keep my attention better. But it still felt boring. And it scared me, because I almost felt like my visions of my future self were slipping away, and needless to say that was a bit frightening.

At the beginning of our Systems Processes and Homeostasis block, we got to sign up for a variety of labs which helped reinforce a variety of the concepts we were taught in class. One of the labs was a controversial lab where we worked with anesthetized live pigs, learned how to put in central lines, and observed various effects of the cardiovascular system with some manipulation.

I signed up for it, mainly because it sounded like a cool experience. I arrived in the lab this week and found our team's pig on the table, quietly unconscious and on a ventilator. Our team divvied up tasks and the task of cutting into and exposing the internal jugular vein in order to insert the central venous line landed on me (with a little bit of coaxing by myself).

Now, I've been through 12 weeks of anatomy and dissected and studied the entire human body (which was equally thrilling and boring). Any medical student can attest to the fact that working on a cadaver is both an exciting and frustrating experience. Things adhere to each other, vessels and nerves snap if you don't meticulously search them out beforehand.

With that in mind, I made my very first incision into live tissue. Unlike preserved tissue, the scalpel glided through the dermis as smooth as silk. The capillary beds bled then closed off as the body's clotting mechanisms kicked in. I found the fascial layer beneath the dermis and slowly dissected to open the incision. Unlike in a human, where the jugular is conveniently located in the easily exposed neck, in a pig it is buried down beneath layers of muscle and connective tissue. I delve deeper, finding an experience completely contrary to that of anatomy.

And it all clicked. I saw the thyroid gland, sitting with its glistening arteries wrapping themselves around the enclosed clusters of thyroglobulin. I saw the recurrent laryngeal nerve looping back up supply CNS control. I found the carotid, briskly pulsing with the powerful pressures of the heart. The vagus running down along as its mate to its destination on the heart. And I found the jugular, slowly pulling it out of its enclosing carotid sheath.

I finally understand and appreciate surgery. The elegance of it, the concentration needed during it. The care and the meticulous nature of it. I can understand why it can seem boring if you're not locked into the moment of it, but when you're involved in it, when you're focused so intensely on what you're doing, focused so intensely on what you're planning next, its like being in 'the zone.' If I end up in surgery (and I'm keeping an open mind throughout medical school) I think this will be the experience that I can look back and point to that sold me on it. Which is funny. Because if that's the case, I didn't decide on surgery because of some dramatic and amazing experience in the OR with a human. It will have been because of a pig.

Jesus, my future professional career can theoretically now be traced all the way back to Babe