A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.
After over twenty years working as a head and neck cancer surgeon, much of what I do has become routine. Even the operations that once kept me awake at night or the procedures that required a trip to the library are just part of a day’s work.
I am certain that most vocations have the same experience. The commercial airliner pilot plans her weekend while she is constantly scanning the displays and switches arrayed around her. The construction engineer carries on unrelated conversations while aligning girders that will support giant buildings. The bus driver listens to the radio as he guides his vehicle for the hundredth time through the switchbacks and the mountain passes. Things that used to command every bit of attention no longer require that degree of intensity.
Every once in a while, though, something comes along that brings everything back into a sharp-edged focus:
I had performed dozens of procedures on patients with voice box cancer over the years. My experience told me that this operation would be difficult because of this particular patient’s previous radiation, but otherwise should be straightforward.
What I found, though, was anything but routine. Nests of cancer cells were scattered throughout the tissues and a new separate cancer was identified. The original plan was quickly abandoned, and, while the patient lay on the table, I went to the family center to have a detailed discussion with her husband and children. I returned to the operating room and continued to work. Over the course of the day, there was another change of plans, another trip to the family center, and phone consultations with colleagues. I ended up performing a procedure about which I had only read. I re-checked everything. Several hours later than originally anticipated, we were finally finished.
Sitting in the recovery room waiting for her to wake up, I realized that I was in need of some recovery as well. I had spent much of the day outside of my “comfort zone” in a place requiring my full attention, all of the insight I could muster, a bit of creativity, and reliance on others. Now, I could return to the routine of postoperative care and paperwork. Although drained, I was energized and alert. I felt alive.
Happily, she did just fine, thanks to the good advice I received from my colleagues. I slept very soundly that evening.
||The following is feedback received for this blog:|
Wish I could work with you. I know I'd learn so much.
I work in Law Enforcement and I read your post, nodding yep....yep...yep...
Mostly, after 21 years, I am comfortable where I am. Due to a tragedy at another station in our troop, I volunteered to work the desk for them on a Sunday, midnight shift. I was brought way out of my comfort zone, not knowing the area, not knowing the troopers I would be working with and not used to that shift. At the end of a quiet night, I was glad I had done it. It not only helped the members of that station, but it also helped me to realize, and appreciate, how comfortable I am at the job I do at my home station.
- Holly Wood