How Can Anyone Survive In Surgery?

As a medical student, I had a terrifying surgical experience. The general surgery consultant grilled me and a bunch of other medical students rigorously, and expected us to know answers to some pretty tough questions. He was a terrifying man, who only slept for 4 hours every day (according to himself), and who backhandedly disguised a praise to his registrar with a nasty comment (“great presentation Dr X, this is the first time you sound like you know what you’re talking about”).

Perhaps another thing that terrified me, was going to theatre. The scrub nurse would tell me off for not scrubbing up properly, because I wasn’t sterile enough (any more sterile and I’d have been castrated ha!). It was my first time, and the nurse didn’t have to be so mean about it! Perhaps the most terrifying scrub experience, was at a rural location where I was needed to assist in a c-section, but was delayed for a very long time because of the scrub nurse needing me to get the scrub perfectly. The consultant was yelling off “come on, I need you here right now!”. I almost gave up under the pressure, but in the end, I scrubbed up, amidst a ton of pressure.

Fast forward to now, and I still feel terrified of surgery. The consultant gives the impression of friendliness, but I feel as if she’s just as deadly, and I feel she will explode some point in the future with rage, rage at us residents for not doing an extremely brilliant job. She has high expectations I feel, and her offhanded remarks at us at times reflect this. We are all doing our very best, and we can’t help it if everything is so disorganized and chaotic!

There are days where panic just sweeps over me because of the tasks I have to balance simultaneously. Consent, x-ray forms, sorting out a man who has passed about 20 mL in the past 2 hours, patient about to be discharged soon etc. It’s just the constant stream of tasks that we have to balance that is freaking me out now. I am afraid that I’m going to make a mistake because I cannot multitask. Afraid that my memory won’t serve me correctly, because it isn’t photographic in nature, and afraid that I will forget some urgent task to be done, because I would have had 2 or 3 of those I am trying to balance at the same time. And I am afraid that I will get a stomach perforation, because I am constantly having lunch or dinner 2 or 3 hours too late. Perhaps they’ll put me through an x-ray and find free gas under my diaphragm?

So, I am still getting my head around surgery. But I am freaking out here because of the consultant, and the tasks I have to balance. The registrars are too busy to help us residents, so we are left to deal with things ourselves, learning from trial and error. What a horrible way to learn from making mistakes. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?