For medical students like me during the early 90s, watching surgery live was an awe-inspiring experience.10 students standing several feet away from the operating table, vision blocked by the backs of the surgeons and assistants, theatre nurses watching us like hawks to make sure we did not accidentally touch anything and make it unsterile – not that we could actually see much surgery!
Back then, we had very limited audiovisual technology for surgical recordings. And unlike now, there was no digital or internet access to videos of surgery. It was amazing enough just to be in the operating room and know that a live human body was being cut open right in front of us.
As surgical residents in the late 90s and early 2000s, the focus shifted from watching to assisting. Assisting simple cases, and then more complex ones. Finally, the day would come where we would operate our own first major ‘case’, assisted of course by one of our seniors. This is a watershed moment in every surgeon’s life – like independently holding the steering wheel and driving a car for the first time.
With time, surgery becomes a routine process. Yes, we grow in experience, fine-tune our skills, start doing more complex procedures, adopt newer technology, try to do path-breaking surgeries, develop our own techniques, publish our work, train our juniors – but nothing matches the thrill of our first independent surgery.
Outcomes become our priorities – how well our patients do, how low is the recurrence rate, how much of our surgery involves minimally invasive techniques, and so on. Occasionally, though, the old spark is rekindled – in this recent instance, an aggressive retroperitoneal sarcoma involving several organs.
There is no textbook description for this kind of an operation since each case is unique. A complex and challenging surgery lasting several hours, performed along with my skilled colleague Dr Elvis Joseph, reminded me why I chose to be a surgeon – that even while focusing on patient-centric and outcomes-based healthcare, we can still feel the exhilaration of our craft.