We've all heard it: "Surgeons are butchers with student debts" or even, "To be a surgeon you have to be cold and reserved, basically a robot." Even more than what we have heard, we've played the role. You know, those surgical apps that they sell for 99 cents on the app store, where you play the bloody surgeon who cuts through numerous vessels and organs. Yet, how true is the notion that surgeons are butchers or unsentimental drones who are trained to nip and tuck? If you'd asked me hours ago, I'd have to confess that I thought it was a requirement to be unfeeling in the surgical room. That quickly changed when I struck up a conversation with a renowned neurosurgeon.
Our conversation started off innocently enough, I was attracted to her upbeat personality and sought to ask her about her medical experience. We talked for what was an hour but seemed like less than ten minutes, I was immediately entranced by her surgical practice and her awe-inspiring take on what it takes to be a surgeon. I confessed that I had read an excerpt of Kevin Dutton's book, "The Wisdom of Psychopaths," where a neurosurgeon, much like herself, spoke about his otherworldly experience while at the OR. The surgeon I read about was cold and unfeeling, she was not. He was successful in his own right and carried on his shoulders the honor of being an eminence in his field, so was she. And yet, they seemed like two different species. What was the difference between these two dissimilar and identical surgeons? Surprisingly enough, it had nothing to do with medical training, it was simply their take on life.
"I heard surgeons are cold and unfeeling, so how are you so upbeat?" She looked at me, calculating her response. Her answer was simple enough to be understandable and complex enough to sound philosophical. She said something like, "I am a neurosurgeon, the closest you can get to death in the medical field. When I have a patient on my surgical table, I have their lives in my hands. One false move can end a life. If a life is lost and I could have prevented it, it is a burden I carry. That doesn't make me cold and unfeeling, that makes me appreciate the ephemerality of life. I feel strongly and live every day as if it were the most essential, because I have lived to see its momentary and deadly hiccups." To face death on a daily basis surgeons cloak themselves with an indescribable appreciation of life and, most of all, death. This doesn't make them unfeeling, this gives them a secret insight into what is life and how beautifully fleeting it can be.
Surgeons don't just nip and tuck, they don't just cut open bodies. These admirable professionals face an aspect of life that most wouldn't dare deal with during their daily grind: fragility and ephemerality. And this only makes them more human, for their art requires a subtle taste of fear. Some, like my new neurosurgeon friend, do it with a scalpel and heels, which only makes them even more of a superhero.