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Second Day as a Surgery Student

“There must be a better way to make a living than this!”

Silence, except for the persistent heartbeat.
The beat of the ticking time bomb, the dying heart.
It beat uselessly, against flapping intima, seeping vessels
Blood oozing and clotting and weeping everywhere.
An aortic dissection — a dissected body
Laying open, uselessly repaired.
Hand over hand squeezed dripping laps into the cell saver
For hours
Warm blood waterfalling over my student hands while
Seasoned surgeons grafted against a ripping aorta
A stranger, wandering and confused, memory meandering.
Surgeons thought it was hopeless,
Left no other choice.
Intimal flaps flipping across valves, blood pressure bottoming
To the operating room they went
Middle of the night
For hours
Sutured in a bright new aorta, came off bypass
Every needle puncture gushed. Coagulating, bleeding.
Defeated, surgeon threw down instruments, stomped from the room, exclaiming.

It lingered.
Resident crossed to other side of the table, handed me the needle.
Fresh flesh, best practice.
Heart still beating, close the chest.
Blood still oozing
First time suturing
First patient dying
Under my hands, must approximate edges
Not too big of a bite now
Family waiting, don’t butcher him
Nurses impatient, huffing and cleaning
Resident critiquing
Hands shaking, not breathing, patient still dying, patient still bleeding
Flat line.

Don’t breathe; don’t let them see you cry.
First patient dies
While you piece them back together
You feel the heart stop beating.

Editors’ note: This piecce was originally published in the 2017 edition of Penn State College of Medicine’s humanities journal, Wild Onions.

Lexy Adams Lexy Adams (2 Posts)

Managing Editor Emeritus

Penn State Hershey College of Medicine

Lexy is a medical student at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, where she serves as the Class of 2018 secretary and helps at the free clinic, LionCare. She completed her undergraduate degree and her Masters in Public Health at Yale University. At Yale, she played varsity field hockey, served as a freshman counselor in Branford College, and worked for the Global Health Leadership Institute. In the future, she plans to be a general surgeon in the Army and to continue her work in international health and social justice.