It’s still dark outside as I, a rising second-year medical student, make my way through the doors of the hospital. After changing into my scrubs, I head over to the pre-operative area in search of my preceptor. Along with the third-year resident, I find my preceptor at the patient’s bedside. My preceptor points to the ultrasound, which shows the patient’s narrowed, abnormal artery. They already completed the pre-operative debrief and have begun physically preparing the patient for surgery. As the central line is placed, the patient moans.
The patient is now ready to be whisked away for surgery, and a family member starts kissing her all over her face. She squeezes the patient’s hand and wishes her the best for surgery. All the while, I’m thinking: Why the theatrics? It’s only surgery. In the hospital, we do this every day.
With Propofol for induction, the patient is finally asleep. I find a spot on the anesthesia side that gives me a good vantage point for observing. After cutting open the patient’s chest, the surgeon uses the retractor to expose the surgical field. He gently picks up the scalpel and turns his focus to the pericardium. He slices through the fibrous sac and exposes her beating heart on the table in front of me.
As I watch her heart beat on the table, and as I watch the surgery unfold, I’m filled with excitement. This is my opportunity to witness in action the specialty that I am considering for a career.
But then I think back to the patient’s family, and it dawns on my why there was so much kissing and hugging and squeezing. To them, this was not an interesting procedure. This was their life. Their longest wait. Their loss of control. And their biggest unknown.
They were afraid.
Mount Pleasant, Michigan