The Playing Field of Surgeons


“I can’t think of a single reason why I should be a surgeon, but I can think of a thousand reasons why I should quit. They make it hard on purpose… there are lives in our hands. There comes a moment when it’s more than just a game, and you either take that step forward or turn around and walk away. I could quit but here’s the thing, I love the playing field.” Meredith Grey

I immersed myself into the playing field this morning as an observer. My main intent was to monitor the interaction between the “players” in theatre. It is no game.

I arrived early to catch the anaesthetist rounds, which were brief and methodical. Chatting to him en route to the theatres I sense that the patients would have been calmed by his gentle approach. Grey, blue and green colours flash past as we make our way along the corridors and up the stairs. Cold, clinical, practical. It is easy to keep grey clean. We enter the theatre block. There is a flurry of activity preparing the various theatres for the day’s slate. Beds are being wheeled past with patients in them, their eyes wide and some a little glassy.

A code is punched in for the ladies change and bathroom. In I go, suddenly a little insecure. Lockers adorn the walls with names on them; some with photos, some pet photos, my gaze takes in the shelves of clothes, small, medium and large. I hesitantly strip and put on my scrubs. Booties are put over your shoes and a cap to keep your hair at bay. I’m ready and into theatre I’m escorted.

I place myself in the corner trying to make myself as small as possible, so that I do not attract attention and heaven forbid, distract or annoy the first surgeon. The theatre sister is bustling around, the bed has been wiped down with alcohol and readied with green sheets, the anaesthetist is fiddling with his monitor and stretches over to raze the height of the bed with a remote. I hear a happy laugh outside and some chitter chatter with the nurses and in strolls the surgeon, huge smile, and big presence, in control of his domain. The patient is wheeled in, with tears plopping out of her eyes. Surgeon moves straight to her side, gentle, holding her hand, reassuring, teasing her and promising that before she knows it she will be back in the ward with her husband. While the consoling is going on the Anaesthetist is unobtrusively lifting her left arm up and preparing her drip. She is laughing now and talking about a cocktail she likes drinking. She is told that she is soon going to get sleepy, she carries on chatting, her mask is slipped on, and she is gone.

The Surgeon begins, a breast biopsy. The scalpel runs a perfect circle around her nipple and steady hands begin working. He glances up at the Anaesthetist as there is a tiny twitch and in one movement the drugs are adjusted. She is vulnerable, her body is beautifully still and pale under the intense lights, and the opened breast is being probed to find the offending lump. It is found, extricated, blue inner stitches are applied; clear exterior stitches close up the nipple. The anaesthetic is switched off. Her time is done. Before she leaves the theatre the Surgeon phones her husband and assures him of the success of the extraction.

I am invited into the Doctors lounge. I feel heady with excitement. It is all I ever imagined. We all sit around with coffee, scrubs on, I sense some Doctors looking me up and down wondering where on earth I come from, but I don’t feel excluded at all.

Next case is up, a hernia repair. Open surgery, the medical aid will not pay for keyhole surgery which would cut down the recovery time by weeks. The Anaesthetist explains that in this instance he has paralysed the patient entirely, whereas the prior had been partial. This patient is physically fit and lean, and apparently a cyclist. Music goes on, this Surgeon likes music to operate too. “Scalpel,” and the incision is made. From where I sit I see a clamp going into the one side of the opening and the assisting surgeon making space and swabbing/cauterising for the operating surgeon. I am gestured over. Skin takes on such a different texture to look at when it is opened up. Three layers of muscle deep, you see the yellow fat, muscles and the surgeon shows me the artery that he has wound up to make space. The hernia is now visible and pulled out to show me before being tucked up back into the lining and stitched. Fascinating work. Mesh is then placed over this and sutured into place again with the blue dissolvable thread before the perfect final sutures. This man will go home ltoday. Once again, as soon as he is sutured, the Surgeon comes across and phones the family telling them of the successful surgery.

Back to the lounge. I really feel part of the team now, I make my own coffee this time and glance at the newspaper, while around me the various surgeons and specialists in their field chat and catch up on fishing weekends, golf and school rugby.

The final case for my viewing is a haemorrhoid operation. I walk back to theatre to find the patient looking more like a strung up turkey, the unwilling participant of Christmas. This surgery has changed dramatically I am told. Once upon a time, these were cut out. Now they are extricated and rather strangulated. As unglamorous as the procedure is, I am so mindful of the respect that these Surgeons have for their patients and more so the pride they have in their workmanship. The third Surgeon also immediately phones the family.

I have been truly humbled by this opportunity. I was expecting a morning of huge personalities and superior attitudes to write about but instead I experienced expertise, respect, empathy and professionalism amongst each other, the nursing staff and the prone patients.

The morning slate may have been a “gentle” one compared to some others, but this band of men chose to have our lives in their hands. They love playing in this field. I loved it too.

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