“It is as about as intimate as you can be with another person.” “It’s almost like theatre. You perform this ritual before and after each time.” These were two of the ways that a panel of surgeons described surgery at our Career Seminar today. The idea of surgery has this paradoxical effect on me. On the one hand, I feel totally unsuited for it. Right now, I trust my mind more than my hands, like the idea of extensive time interacting with my patients, and . . . I have a bit of a history of absent-mindedness, as my family loves to remind me of (“you’ll forget your watch in his stomach” Of course, I would never do that; I don’t even know where my watch is!) But on the other hand, it seems like a perfect fit. It is dramatic; there is an opportunity to help in a clearly defined way (the tumor is now gone); and perhaps most importantly, I could play myself on Grey’s Anatomy .
But back to this idea of “ritual”, which I found intriguing. As one of the panelists pointed out, the ER used to be called the Operating Theatre (and still is in many parts of the world). And so the idea of surgical participants going through a ritual is an interesting parallel to theatre given its likely roots in ritual. What would a conversation between Dionysus and Hippocrates be like?
There was more; one of the surgeons said that he enjoyed the “performance pressure.” It did not matter how well you performed the same surgery yesterday; today was a new challenge and today’s patient expected the same thing. I have used that exact same statement when describing acting. An audience only sees today’s performance. Do surgeons need to live in the present too? So what about this “intimacy” idea? The surgeon noted that there are few gestures more personal than the invitation to enter another person’s body. Can’t really argue with that!
So in one presentation, the words “ritual”, “theatre”, “performance” and “intimacy” all came up . . . to talk about surgery. Of course, there are many practical reasons why surgery would be an insane choice for me (length of training blah, blah, blah) but who knows?