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The Supremacy of the Scalpel


Face the patient.
“Tell us your name.”
Vital statistics are verified,
Mouths are muzzled,
Hands are scrubbed,
And in we stride, OR-bound.

The Cinderella-like transformation of the team ensues,
A carefully choreographed procession of aseptic practice,
First gowned, then gloved, a heralding twirl of waist ties—
Indeed, the dancers are off.

We wield the privilege of the scalpel,
Slice skin,
Cauterize the cutaneous,
Disrobe the depths of disease.
Like the whipping and tightening of a lasso,
We stop pathology in its place,
Fix anatomy so it dare not budge further,
And ligate vessels like the damming of ravaging rivers.

As we lean over the abdomen
To inspect the signed apple-core of the colon,
I can’t seem to forget that I met this man on Friday—
Just 34 years shy, although I suppose disease doesn’t always obey.
Upright he sat, with perfectly aligned teeth,
And a smile that rivaled the white of the hospital bed sheets.
Sitting there with his fiancée,
They seemed transposed directly out of a magazine.
As he imparted a 3-month history of difficulty digesting,
I wondered how he would swallow news of this capital-C diagnostic question.

I was asked to practice asepsis,
Yet I recognize my mind and soul remain contaminated.
Inevitably, emotion and memory flood the theatre,
As unstoppable as the stage 4 disease I related.
Perhaps it’s a sign of my lack of training?
Perhaps my seniors have better mastered the art of selfcleansing?

For you see I receive the honor of stories,
Transmit tales too intimate for callous reception.
Yet in this hands-heavy specialty,
Where people undergo editing and alteration
As if a rough draft of a treatise,
And Cancer is announced as unceremoniously as a viral respiratory infection,
I find the transmitting mouth and receiving ear oft-forgotten.
As we rush to the finish-line of discharge,
I find myself wondering if the edits ever succeeded,
And, more importantly, did their humanity go undefeated?

We may bow to the supremacy of the scalpel,
But must we be heedless of the human?

Sarah Hanafi Sarah Hanafi (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University of Alberta


Sarah Hanafi is a medical student at the University of Alberta with a vision for medicine that extends beyond the doctor’s office: she works upstream and across sectors to create healthier communities and address systemic challenges to wellbeing. Her work straddles the spheres of social services, health policy, political advocacy, community organizing, as well as research. Sarah has a vision for more connected and healthier communities - one that is inspired by a genuine passion for serving others.