“With a Scalpel in Your Hand You Feel Unstoppable”

“Surgeons are control freaks. With a scalpel in your hand you feel unstoppable. There’s no fear, there’s no pain. You’re ten feet tall and bulletproof. And then you leave the OR. And all that perfection, all that beautiful control, just falls to crap.” -Meredeth Grey

I come from a family of medical professionals. My Grandmother was a nurse, my biological Grandfather was a surgeon, my Nonno was family practitioner,  my step grandmother was a nurse, my great-aunt was the head of nursing for Kaiser hospital Oakland, my aunt is nurse, and the list goes on. I have second cousins, step- aunts and uncles, and other distant relatives who have titles far too difficult to figure out all in the medical field. Seriously. I am surrounded by medical professionals. Despite medicine being the family business, I have never been corralled into becoming a doctor, nurse, podiatrist, psychiatrist, whatever. In an alternate universe, however, where having a family wasn’t high on my priority list, and I didn’t have so many other things I wanted to pursue, I would totally become a general surgeon- no questions asked.

I have a profound interest in medicine (it’s clearly in my blood and with all of the family members passing down “the medical gene,” I would guess that it flows through my veins as abundantly as red blood cells), though it hasn’t always been that way. Without the family prodding, I had to discover the fascination on my own. I used to watch House (before the plot became more about the character’s drama than about the medical drama) and am a Grey’s Anatomy addict- seriously. For years, my interest lay dormant, fulfilled by my weekly dose of medical dramas.  This past summer however, while browsing through the hundreds of books lining the walls of my parent’s office, I came across one called Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande. A small novel, about 250 pages packed full of case studies, and surgery explanations (I know how to insert a direct line into a patients chest- the hard part is getting the IV around the clavicle bone and into the main artery without puncturing the artery all the way through. Apparently, it’s a lot harder than it sounds).  Every page captivated me and I got through the book quickly, readily picking up the sequil- Better: A Surgeons Notes on Performance.

Apprenhensively, I went to my various grandparents to explore what it was like to be doctor or a nurse. Cautiously, I asked questions because I wasn’t sure where they would stand on the idea of their beloved granddaughter considering becoming a surgeon. My Nonno seemed impartial, simply doling out facts and antic dotes while my Grandma discouraged the idea immediately. Ultimately it didn’t matter what either of them  said, I have no interest in continuing my schooling for another 7 years with 7 more years as an intern before I become a resident- even then it’s a lot of work.

So I live vicariously through surgeon’s memoirs and Grey’s Anatomy. I imagine myself a general surgeon or diagnostician (If I was to, I would specialize in one of those).  The tiny problem with being an amateur medophile is that I now am an amateur hypochondriac. I use they word “hypochondriac,” but I mean more that through my research I have become well-informed and I am intrinsically a worrier. However, I do not wake up in the morning with a pain in my arm (probably from sleeping on it funny) and immediately suspect that I have a spinal cord tumor. It’s more along the lines of that for a couple of days I’m feeling foggy, have cluster headaches, a sore throat and a crick in my neck (from sleeping on it funny) and call my parents to make sure I don’t have meningococcal meningitis. Or I get a huge gash on my leg from running into the rusty stairs in the back of my building and watch it, wash it and whipe it very carefully to insure I don’t contract necrotizing fasciitis, but everyone else is worried about tetanus.

The world of medicine inspires me and interests me, but it’s not the world FOR me. I don’t think I could ever actually insert a central line in the real world or watch people die every day. We all have impracticale, unattainable fantasies, mine is to be Meredith Grey.


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