University of Southern California
Artist & Gallery


The Surgeons

Few first year medical students can resist the urge to visit the surgical amphitheater. The fellows in the back row of the biochemistry lab invited me to come with them, and we watched a gall bladder being removed. It was on the left, or wrong, side and the surgeons were having a time as many of the tissue planes or vessels were reversed from the normal position. They closed the incision, by suturing individual muscle layers together, and inserted a metal sheet between the layers so as not to suture the wrong ones together. I asked a student the name of one of the muscles. He said, after hesitation, "the diaphragm." A professor, who was in the dome with us, corrected him and left the dome soon after. The student asked me not to ask any more questions in front of the faculty. All students have name tags on their coats, and he was afraid his ignorance would be reported. I learned later, and I hope he did, too, that the professors gave and received corrections from each other without hesitation or shame. Soon the operating room was left with only two surgeons finishing up and in the dome were only a woman student and myself. She told me how her vocabulary was becoming medical: she no longer "cut herself," she "sustained an injury"! I saw one operation from the dome, in which the area exposed looked like a man's knee. Actually, it was an infant's chest. They are the same size. Watching the operations, seeing living anatomy, gave a strong sense of relevance to the freshman anatomy laboratory. After so many weeks with the cadaver, it seemed marvelous that the body had circulating blood and was flexible. At this stage of training the view from the observation dome seemed to stress precision and teamwork.

-May Lesser

Excerpt & image from: Lesser, M.H. The Art of Learning Medicine. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts; 1974. p.46-7.

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