I certainly didn’t grow up wanting to become a doctor. Although my dad was a physician and my mom was a psychiatric nurse, medicine and nursing weren’t exactly what I had in mind. I had lots of interests: drawing, painting, sculpting, cooking, writing poems and short stories, and reading philosophy--not exactly profitable aspirations, but enriching nonetheless. Frankly, I never really envisioned myself “becoming” much of anything. In high school, I cultivated an obsession with classical French cooking, and cooked my way through “From Julia Child’s Kitchen.” From her explicitly written instructions and detailed step-by-step drawings, I learned proper technique. Whether it was chopping an onion, boning a chicken, beating egg yolks and sugar until they formed “the ribbon”, or baking baguettes, I felt like a chef, imagining myself working alongside my breathy, 6'2" idol. What I loved most about Julia was her attitude toward culinary mishaps: they happened to everyone, even her, but there was always a fix. “Oh dear! I’ve just cracked my bûche de Noël while attempting to roulade. Let’s see...I’ll just spackle over it with a little buttercream, and plop a meringue mushroom on top to hide the defect. There! No one will ever know the difference.”
There’s a humorous old adage that quite accurately describes the practice of anesthesia as “hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” Cartoons often depict anesthesiologists as oafish, unintelligent doctors, who sit on our asses behind the surgical drape, reading the newspaper or chatting on our cell phones whilst lazily reaching up--without so much as looking--to silence an alarm or adjust the dial on our anesthetic vaporizer. In my seven years as an operating room physician, I’ve somehow managed to miss out on that kind of (in)action. Somewhere along the line, I inherited the proverbial black cloud, prompting my self-deprecating nickname, “The Duchess of Catastrophe.”
On a completely involuntary level, my experience as an anesthesiologist has involved a disproportionate amount of terror with grossly insufficient levels of boredom, to the point where my residents and anesthetists purposely traded shifts so as not to be on call with me. OK, I admit, that’s probably stretching the truth a bit, but you get my drift, right? Apparently, I’m a magnet for disaster. The worst part of it all is that I absolutely detest crisis and drama, especially in the operating room. I’ve given this a fair amount of consideration over the years, and have concluded that there is some crazy universal law in effect, operating under the principle of “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Yes, as unfortunate as it may seem at times, I’m definitely the right person for this all-too-often hair-raising, but mostly gratifying job. Give me your failed code blue airways, your super-morbidly obese dialysis patients in need of IV* access, your bleeding parturient whose congenital heart disease is in need of an updated repair, and your septic 95 year old with a perforated diverticulum. Hey, you can even throw in a ruptured aortic aneurysm for good measure: the fainter the glimmer of life, the brighter I’ll keep the home fire burning. Maybe being an expert at what I do isn’t such a curse after all.
Being a good anesthesiologist is a lot like being a good cook--both science and art in part--seasoned by knowledge and experience, steeped heavily in versatility and intuition, and liberally peppered with a healthy dose of anticipation, preparation, humility, and humor. I’ll put it to you this way: had an anesthesiologist been available somewhere amidst all the king’s horses and men, Humpty Dumpty would’ve been put back together again. I wonder if my love of cooking is what drove me to shift gears during my internship from surgery to anesthesia. Anyone can dice an onion, peel a carrot, or truss a chicken. However, making delicious and sustaining soup from these few simple ingredients mandates more than just knife skills--it demands innovation, ingenuity, and vision. Bon appetit!
(and to my surgeon friends, whom I couldn't do without, you know I love and respect you! It's all in good fun...XOXO)
|Christmas 2008...me & my homemade saucisse de Toulouse, made especially for our holiday cassoulet. Julia Child would definitely approve!|