Confession One: I am an OR moron. Take me out of the OR, and I’m like any other third-year medical student. High achieving with at least some capacity for normal adult functioning. I study, I cook, I pay my bills. I attend medical school, for goodness sake. Most people in this world would consider that the pinnacle of young adult functioning. But in the OR, none of this matters. In the OR, I’m like half a person. Any semblance of normal adult functioning flies right out the window. In the OR, I don’t know what to do with myself. I forget how to use my hands. My body becomes this awkward, foreign entity whose only mission in this world is to break sterile field. My mouth is dry. My back hurts. Is it hot in here? All I want to do is sit down. What is the point of hands again? I’m an OR moron.
Confession Two: The ballet of surgery both mystifies and bores me. In the OR, I often find myself dissociating from the surgery unfolding in front of me and drifting into this other realm where I ponder about how amazing it is that I’m holding someone’s bowels. My hands are literally in someone’s body cavity, and the reality is that the patient will wake up in a few hours and never have known that my hands were there at all. Whoa. Now you see them, now you don’t. Like magic. Isn’t surgery incredible? I’ll zone out like this for about two minutes and then realize that I have four hours left in the surgery standing there with my hands in someone’s slippery insides. Something in that body cavity reeks. My feet are starting to hurt, and I have many more hours of watching someone else do surgery to look forward to while I stand awkwardly and watch. Moment of awe and wonder over.
Confession Three: I physically cannot handle the OR. I almost passed out during my first surgery of third year. Yes, I know. It happens on occasion to all medical students. My residents were very sympathetic. Maybe I didn’t eat enough that day? Poor medical student. But then it happened again two days later, and I’m pretty sure my residents wanted to kill me. Just call me “Queen of the Vasovagal.” I have naturally low blood pressure and a constitution that might best be described as “sensitive.” Like an orchid or a lotus flower, I need more time for self-care than is allotted in the OR. I can’t say that I haven’t tried though. I’ve chugged water immediately before going into the OR. I’ve gobbled down snacks and sugary things. I’ve tried all the usual tricks to beat my blood pressure and blood sugar into submission. Sometimes these things help. Other times, my body inadvertently goes into this weird, queasy state where it attempts to get me out of the OR in the most public and embarrassing fashion possible no matter how hard I try to avoid it. It’s as though I’m allergic to surgery. Most people with allergies are advised to avoid their triggers, but avoiding the OR just isn’t possible when you’re a third year medical student.
Final Confession: I am thankful for my fellow medical students who want to become surgeons. My undying gratitude goes to those of my peers with steely constitutions and bladders of steel. The anti-orchids, if you will. I will admire you for the rest of my career: those of you whose bodies know what they’re doing during this perplexing ballet of hands and instruments, who don’t vasovagal at the drop of a hat, who delight in every instrument pass, suture, knot and suction. I do not understand your fascination with surgery, but I admire it nonetheless. In contrast to you, future surgeons, I will begrudgingly vasovagal my way through my various surgical rotations during third year, and then I will be done with the OR. You, on the other hand, will romp from OR to OR for years to come; and then one day, fellow medical students, you will be the ones in charge. All I ask is that on the way, you have mercy on that poor third year with the strong vasovagal response. Acknowledge her presence in the OR, tolerate her occasional need to step away from the operating table to avoid passing out into the patient and above all, be kind. Kindness makes all things more tolerable, especially for those of us destined to be OR wannabes.