Complications

A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science

Atul Gawande

Metropolitan Books

When you are in the operating room for the first time and see the surgeon press his scalpel to someone's body, you either shudder in horror or gape in awe. I gaped. It wasn't the blood and guts that enthralled me. It was the idea that a mere person would ever have the confidence to wield that scalpel. I wondered how the surgeon knew that all the steps would go as planned, that bleeding would be controlled and organs would not be injured. He didn't, but still he cut.

Later, I was allowed to make an incision myself. The surgeon drew a six-inch dotted line across the patient's abdomen and then, to my surprise, had the nurse hand me the knife. It was, I remember, still warm. I put the blade to the skin and cut. The experience was odd and addictive, mixing exhilaration, anxiety, a righteous faith that operating was somehow beneficial, and the slightly nauseating discovery that it took more force than I realized. The moment made me want to be a surgeon -- someone with the assurance to proceed as if cutting were routine.