The Art of Medicine

This past Friday I shadowed an orthopedic surgeon at Temple; given the occurrence that all of my doctor’s cases were mysteriously cancelled for that day, what I actually ended up doing was OR hopping, tagging along with a number of 4th year med students and residents, which gave me a well-rounded look into a variety of surgeries.

Prior to that day, I had done a little bit of research on the procedures scheduled. The website “Knee Guru” gives includes the following in its description of a Fulkerson osteotomy:

“…surgeons may attempt to improve the stability by realigning the patella by changing the forces through the whole patellar system – what is known as extensor mechanism”

That sounds almost like art, I think incredulously. I pose that idea to the resident that I get to sit next to during the first operation of the day.

“It’s not really art as much as engineering,” he replies, and I can see his point. The orthopedic surgeon’s tools, some of which look almost like wrenches, only seem to confirm this idea.

Yet later in the day, I’m watching another surgeon meticulously whittle down the bones of a knee joint in preparation for a partial replacement, sticking the parts into the groove only to remove them again after some testing and whittle down some more, and it comes to me that there is only a fine line between the art of the craftsman and the art of a sculptor.

“Beautiful.” It comes out in almost a reverent whisper, from the resident whose shoulder I’m peering over as he looks at the before and after X-rays of an ankle reconstruction. “The fibula became a little misaligned, which is a real shame…but that ankle reconstruction is just beautiful after what it went through; Dr. So-and-so is really talented.”

And I get a sense that after the years and years of experience, there must develop an inseparable art behind it all.

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