Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Blood, Barbarism, and Healing (warning, a bit gory)

Today I watched two canine surgeries, both to remove growths. The first was a golf-ball sized cytohemangioma (well, that gets close to what it was, anyway) sitting under the dog's jaw; it was mobile. The second was an axillary lipoma about the size of a softball, sitting beneath the animal's armpit. It too was mobile.

I am fascinated by surgery, and I feel extraordinarily privileged to watch it in the capacity of a medical artist. I went to look at the board to see what was on tap for the day, got suited up in scrubs and proceeded into anesthesiology to get booties, hat and mask. The dogs were already intubated, being monitored by an anesthesia tech while being prepped. They were shaved and washed, temperatures constantly being taken, and being respirated artificially. When the surgeon was ready, they were trnsferred to the surgical gurney and taken into the operating room.

Surgery is a paradox. In the back of my mind, as I witness what is going on, I sense it. But it wasn't until just a few minutes ago that it dawned on me that there is such a stark contrast of things going on all at once. The dog is absolutely under control, and the entire room is sterile. Everyone is gowned to the nines. You could easily do a beautiful human surgery in there: there's a heart monitor, a respirator, the works. All the instruments have been sterilised and wrapped in neat packets, and the solutions all bottled by the manufacturer. Science abounds and everyone knows their jobs; their very movements are economical and elegantly efficient, like ballet.

And then the scalpel bears down-- that shining sharp so fine that it is almost as if the skin takes a moment to realise that it has been cut before it starts to bleed perfunctorily. As the second cut is made, blood begins to flood the field. Perhaps, as the blade cuts yet again, there will be a small fountain of blood. Techs and assistants begin to dab and aspirate, as though the flesh were doing something naughty, like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

In the end, the Thing must come out, and there is no magic way to do it except to cut. You can't disguise blood. The contrast of that sterile room with the spatters of blood on the sterile field and the latex-clad hands of the surgeon can't be missed. They certainly are in control...mostly...but the animal, after all, bleeds. And the bleeding is cauterised in a crisp, efficient, almost masterful way, while what cannot be cauterised is simply tied off. But, in the end...the Thing must be cut out. It comes down to knife versus flesh.

They ease it out and sever its connective tissue roots and vessels. In the case of the jaw tumor, the skin had to come with it, and suturing was a complicated affair. The lipoma, a white mass looking and apparently hefting like a silicone ball, simply popped out. There the suturing was simple. Very straightforward, and much easier to draw, too.

When this surgery is over, the room will most certainly have to be cleaned up. There's a big difference between a pre-op surgery and a post-op. Something has happened, and it was messy. But it had to happen.

I can't help making the parallel with sin. No matter how I sterilise and isolate my sin, studying its causes and prognosticating over it, no matter my faith in the Surgeon, the Thing must come out, and it will be a time of pain. It will come down to Knife versus Flesh.

Merciful Lord, and Doctor of my soul: Let Your Grace be my anesthesia to enable me to stay still beneath the Knife which means goodness and healing to me.

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Matthew 9:11-13


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:02 PM  
Anonymous Angie said...

Good thoughts. Sometimes we find it too easy to ponder or analyze our sin, perhaps hoping that will substitute for--or at least delay--the painful extraction.

I also found your post, Another Horizon [Aug. 23], encouraging. Thanks for the reminder to those of us at home with little ones that, in regard to developing our gifts, "not now" doesn't necessarily mean "never."

Best wishes as you embark on your medical illustration internship!

9:30 AM  
Blogger craigellachie said...

Thank you for your kind words, Angie! I didn't even know anyone but a few familiar friends was reading this. And no, "not now" definitely does not mean "not ever". Seek ye first!

9:57 PM  

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