December 5, 2010

Friendly Reminders

One of the nice things about traveling so much is it has afforded me the opportunity to read-for-pleasure for the first time in several years. I just finished digesting this 500 page behemoth:

A fictional tale of twins born to a disgraced nun slash scrub nurse in Ethiopia, the tale follows the narrative of one of the boys as he grew up in Ethiopia to two physician parents working in a small mission hospital. The protagonist follows in his parents footsteps of medicine, ultimately coming to America to train as a general surgeon.

The novel is penned by Dr. Verghese, an infectious disease doctor at Stanford who, like his characters, was also born in Ethiopia. A powerful read, with an very engaging plot and many poignant moments intertwined into the story.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the story for me where when the main character was himself on the path of medical training, both in his youth and then in medical school proper. There were some very profound statements Verghese used to describe the "transformation into a physician" and his own personal viewpoint on care of the patient. I found most of them surprisingly on-point despite the fact that the author is not a surgeon himself.

To be a good surgeon, you need to commit to being a good surgeon. It's as simple as that. You need to be meticulous in the small things, not just in the operating room, but outside. A good surgeon would want to redo this knot. You're going to tie thousands of knots in your lifetime. If you tie each one as well as humanly possible, you'll experience fewer complications. The big things in surgery depend on the little things.

I take heart from my fellow physicians who come to me when they themselves must suffer the knife. They know that Marion Stone will be as involved after the surgery as before and during. They know I have no use for surgical euphamisms such as "When in doubt, cut it out" or "Why wait when you can operate" other than for how reliably they reveal the shallowest intellects in our field. My father says "The operation with the best outcome is the one you decide not to do." Knowing when not to operate, knowing when I am in over my head-that kind of talent, that kind of "brilliance," goes unheralded.

I found the read quite inspiring as times. Too often in medical training, we get caught up in the drudgery of the day to day. Wake up, drink coffee, round, do work, go home, read, sleep. It's refreshing to feel inspired, because I can admit it is not often enough that I feel such as I trudge through my days.

Interviews are going well. Done with three, with four and five to come this week. My traveling karma has been good so far. No missed connections, flights on time. It's great to travel and experience new cities I haven't visited before. Gives me an appreciation for the vastness of America, but also for how similar we all are in ways that are not readily apparent. I'm also getting a better sense for what I am looking for in a program, but know that when it comes time to form a rank list, it's going to be insanely difficult.

That's it for now, off at the airport at 4:30am again tomorrow. Wake up, drink coffee, don suit, board plane... but then, luckily, I get a chance to reflect on where I am and what has brought me to this point. In the words of Dr. Verghese Life is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward.

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