Miss Aida
There’s nothing dignified about surgery.

“Quite different from House, eh?” Chris remarked nonchalantly as we tried our damndest to stay out of the way of the surgeons.

It was a pretty straightforward operation. They were widening the femoral profundus artery, by grafting part of the saphenous vein onto it. Pretty straightforward stuff, as far as surgery goes.

It was our first day in the wards, and I couldn’t believe our luck at being able to get into the operating theatre the very first day. I didn’t even know how to scrub up, and there was no one else in the changing room for me to ask. I put on my scrubs and wandered down to the theatre, where the nurse kindly asked me if it was my first time.

I replied in the affirmative, and she smiled, and let me know that scrubs are not meant to be worn over clothes.

Embarassing but true.

Regardless of my little faux pas, I was more than ready to head back into the room. I walked in the same time they wheeled the patient in.

The lady could have been anyone. Elderly, a little bit sickly. She had the slightly worried look people wear in times of stress. I smiled at her reassuringly, as she squinted at me through her glasses. I doubt my optimism helped, and she continued to look suspicious, even as they anaesthetized her.

Once she was unconscious, the real process began, the process of preparing her for surgery, and I was struck at how undignified the whole process was. She was stripped of her white gown, and lay naked stomach down as the team carefully painted the leg to be operated on with iodine. The yellow was bright in the light, and the unhuman colour reminded me of the yellow man in Sin City.

It was surreal, looking at the exposed yellow leg and the fat stomach, with the rest of the body swathed in green sterilized cloth. As they started surgery, the Jackson 5 started blaring on the radio.

When they made the cut, the incision bled, and Chris and I watched the blood drip into the vacuum canisters with interest, blood so red it had to be arterial blood, but mixed with white, which we later assumed to be lipids.

The team had hooked up the television so we could watch, and we spent half the time with our eyes stuck to the screen and half the time craning our necks over the surgeons’ shoulders.

It was strange, but I saw the surgery almost like a story was being told.

Sometimes it seemed cruel and unrespectful, the way the surgeons handled the body. As if it was mere flesh and blood, nothing more than, rather than a human being. Being poked and prodded and cut. I hoped never to be in the position. It seemed painful, the way the flesh was being cut away from its natural state.

Then the flesh was finally parted, and the arteries were revealed, pulsing ever so clearly. The grafts were made, and the surgeons were more relaxed, more natural. It was clear that they loved what they were doing, and they took pride in teaching us to be part of their world. The patient was no longer a patient, but a patient with a medical complication that they could help.

Then, in the final moments of surgery, the surgeon stitched up the wound so carefully, so reverently, with such care, that I found it difficult to reconcile the image of the seeming callousness that happened. It was a transformation, from cold professional, to the tenderness that I saw. It was a paradox, but I dare say it was a paradox that needed to co-exist.

It was an important moment for me. It was only two hours of the day, but I believe I learnt more in that two hours than I did for the rest of the day.

I am feeling decidedly optimistic.
15 Responses
  1. anas Says:

    nicely written. i like your writing style, ada kelass... :)

  2. I would feel nauseated inside the first 5 minutes. I once watched a post-mortem being done, and suffice to say I know I'm not able to do medic. I don't mind the sights, but the smell..only god knows.

    Mad skillz required :)

  3. Anonymous Says:

    i wanna go to clinical!!! argh, cant wait for nex semester!!!!

  4. amir Says:

    check your ekg g

  5. i second erina:


  6. Miza Says:

    Hmm my sister dissecting people already? :S

  7. you're (almost) always optimistic

  8. Aliaa Says:

    That was definitely one of your better pieces.. I found myself rivetted!

    Sounds a lot like Grey's Anatomy by the way! hahah...


  9. anas Says:

    tu anas mane plak tu.. i rase i tak penah bagi comment pun tapi tibe2 ade name i plak..haha

  10. dania Says:


    The first thing I realised after reading your post.

    A passionate one too I must say.

    I read that it does help to be optimistic towards the patience, especially during the critical moments. It helps them release endorphins and keep their mind stay well.

    So yeah :) I'm sure it must've help the elderly woman to go through the surgery with that much more courage with your assurance.

  11. Laily Says:

    "a paradox that needs to co-exist" - without doubt i'm with you in this one.

    the way the surgical staff handle the patient in the OT seems a little too offhandish at times, but sometimes humanity weaves through and the staff are the kindest human beings around.

    but maybe it was not you and i who had to slug the heavy thighs onto the stand so we wouldn't know :)

  12. IF Says:

    Clearly someone who really likes what she's doing...

    You'll make a good doctor Aida :)

  13. historian Says:

    You should read about the body snatchers in the early days of medicine. The westerners are so cold they r willing to dissect any dead bodies to learn about the human body...what u see as detachment is part of their culture...they hv very long history of surgery while you r just the second or third generation of malays born out of the NEP. Thank Mahathir and wife one of the first malay doctors...

    just hope that your detachment will come not due to monetary reasons..

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